A Historical Perspective
Accounts that may relate to symptoms of schizophrenia date back as far as 2000 BC in Book of Hearts, a part of the ancient Ebers papyrus. However, a recent study1 into the ancient Greek and Roman literature showed that whilst the general population probably had an awareness of psychotic disorders, there was no condition that would meet the modern diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia in these societies.
This nonspecific concept of madness has been around for many thousands of years and schizophrenia was only classified as a distinct mental disorder by Kraepelin in 1887. He was the first to make a distinction in the psychotic disorders between what he called dementia praecox (a term first used by psychiatrist Benedict A. Morel) and manic depression. Kraepelin believed that dementia praecox was primarily a disease of the brain, and particularly a form of dementia. Kraepelin named the disorder 'dementia praecox' (early dementia) to distinguish it from other forms of dementia (such as Alzheimer's disease) which typically occur late in life. He used this term because his studies focused on young adults with dementia.
The term schizophrenia is derived from the Greek words 'schizo' (split) and 'phrene' (mind) and was coined by Eugene Bleuler to refer to the lack of interaction between thought processes and perception. He was also the first to describe the symptoms as "positive" or "negative". Bleuler changed the name to schizophrenia as it was obvious that Krapelin's name was misleading. The word "praecox" implied precocious or early onset, hence premature dementia, as opposed to senile dementia from old age. Bleuler realised the illness was not a dementia (it did not always lead to mental deterioration) and could sometimes occur late as well as early in life and was therefore misnamed.
With the name 'schizophrenia' Bleuler intended the name to capture the separation of function between personality, thinking, memory, and perception, however it is commonly misunderstood to mean that affected persons have a 'split personality' (something akin to the character in Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde). Although it is commonly confused with multiple personality disorder, schizophrenia has nothing to do with the manifestation of distinct multiple personalities within a person. The confusion perhaps arises in part due to the meaning of Blueler's term 'schizophrenia'. Interestingly, the first known misuse of this term to mean 'split personality' (in the Jekyll and Hyde sense) was in an article by the poet T. S. Eliot in 1933.
Schizophrenia: Diagnosis and presentation (signs and symptoms)