Although it is not a particularly difficult concept, sometimes students have trouble remembering the different names that the subclavian artery takes on as it passes through the superior mediastinum and base of the neck into the axilla (as the axillary artery) and arm (as the brachial artery), or they don’t quite get that it is the same vessel with three different names.
One thing I do in lecture and lab is to analogize this name change using name changes for streets in town. Fortunately, I work at a university (Benedictine University in Lisle, IL) that is situated on a road (College Road) that changes name to the north (Yackley Avenue) and to the south (Wehrli Road) without changing direction appreciably. Every student has to drive along these roads to get to school. I tell my students that the subclavian artery is like Yackley Avenue, and when it crosses the lateral edge of the first rib (in this analogy, Maple Avenue, see Figure), it changes name to the axillary artery (College Avenue); it changes name again after crossing the inferior margin of the teres major muscle (Hobson Road, see Figure), at which point it becomes the brachial artery (Wehrli Road). I would wager that many (most?) towns in the United States have roads that change names in the same way, so that the analogy could be adapted to local conditions. A particularly good example, in Washington, DC, is Constitution Avenue, which starts as I-66E, changes to US-50E/Constitution Avenue after crossing Roosevelt Bridge, and then turns into Maryland Avenue after crossing 2nd Street NE.
Of course, every semester the students and I question the sanity of anatomists and city planners alike for changing a perfectly good name again and again. I wonder how many students, driving home from my anatomy class, are thinking about the different names for the main artery of the upper limb as they drive along Yackley Avenue/College Road/Wehrli Road?
Robert McCarthy is an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Benedictine University in Lisle, IL, where he teaches human anatomy and evolution to undergraduate biology and health science students. Robert is a biological anthropologist who studies the evolution of speech and language, the primate skull, hominin evolution, and human anatomic variation.