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Objective To determine the noun for ‘women who attend antenatal clinics’ that is most accepted by the women themselves.

Design Cross sectional study.

Setting Consultant-led antenatal clinics in Cornwall.

Population All women attending consultant-led antenatal clinics over a two-month period.

Methods The women were surveyed by written questionnaire.

Main outcome measures The first, second and third choices of descriptions offered to women attending antenatal clinics. Secondary outcome measures include the relation of maternal age, gestation, civil status, occupation and obstetric history to the individual's choice of description.

Results Questionnaires were received from 446 women, constituting 13% of the antenatal population of Cornwall. Their median age was 28 years and median gestation 22 weeks; 255 (57%) had one or more children and 289 (65%) were married. The most popular choice of description was ‘patient’ (39% of first choices made), whereas the most accepted description was ‘pregnant woman’ (26% of totalled second and third choices). While women who selected ‘patient’ as first choice were slightly younger (mean 27.5 years) than the remaining women (mean 28.4 years), the choice of ‘pregnant woman’ was not related to any of the other recorded characteristics of the respondents. Commercial terms that consistently were selected least included ‘client’, ‘consumer’ and ‘customer’.

Conclusion Some professional bodies and government organisations have criticised the use of the term ‘patient’ to describe antenatal women. In this, the largest study to investigate what the women themselves would choose, ‘patient’ is the most favoured term.