The name derives from American orthopaedic surgeon Dudley Joy Morton (1884-1960), who originally described it as part of Morton's triad (a.k.a Morton's syndrome or Morton's foot syndrome): a congenital short first metatarsal bone, a hypermobile first metatarsal segment, and calluses under the second and third metatarsals.
Although commonly described as a disorder, it is sufficiently common to be considered a normal variant of foot shape (its prevalence varies with different populations, but around 10% of feet worldwide have this form). In shoe-wearing cultures it can be problematic: for instance, in causing nail problems from wearing shoes with a profile that doesn't accommodate the longer second toe.
It has a long association with disputed anthropological and ethnic interpretations. Morton called it Metatarsus atavicus, considering it an atavism recalling prehuman grasping toes. In statuary and shoe fitting it has been called the Greek foot (as opposed to the Egyptian foot, where the great toe is longer). It was an idealised form in Greek sculpture, and this persisted as an aesthetic standard through Roman and Renaissance periods and later (the Statue of Liberty has toes of this proportion). The French call it pied ancestral or pied de Néanderthal.
Confusion has arisen from the term also sometimes being used for a different condition, Morton's neuroma, a term coined by Thomas George Morton (1835-1903) for a syndrome involving pain caused by neuroma between the third and fourth toes.
- Zur Historie der Civinini-Durlacher-Neuropathie, genannt Morton Metatarsalgie, Kuhn H, Gerdes-Kuhn R and Küster H.-H, Fuss & Sprunggelenk, Volume 1, Number 4 / November, 2003 
- Metatarsus atavicus: the identification of a distinct type of foot disorder. D. J. Morton, 1927. 9: 531-544. The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Boston, 1927, 9: 531-544.
- Morton's syndrome (Dudley Joy Morton), Who Named It?
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- Toes - relative lengths of first and second Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man.
- PDF (550 KiB), John Kirkup, EFORT (Bulletin of European Orthopaedics), #11, Nov. 1999.
- PDF (396 KiB) US National Park Service publication.
- "British feet - podiatrist/archaeologist Phyllis Jackson distinguishes Saxon feet from Celtic feet" Discover Magazine, June, 1996, Retrieved July, 2006
- Fett HC, Pool CC (1949) Plantar interdigit neuroma or Morton's toe. American Journal of Surgery 78:522-525.