The worldwide burden of kidney disease is rising, but public awareness remains limited, underscoring the need for more effective communication by stakeholders in the kidney health community. Despite this need for clarity, the nomenclature for describing kidney function and disease lacks uniformity. In June 2019, Kidney Disease: Improving Global Outcomes (KDIGO) convened a consensus conference with the goal of standardizing and refining the nomenclature used in the English language to describe kidney function and disease, and of developing a glossary that could be used by journals in scientific publications. Guiding principles of the conference were that the revised nomenclature should be patient-centred, precise, and consistent with nomenclature used in the KDIGO guidelines. Conference attendees reached general consensus on the following recommendations: (i) to use ‘kidney’ rather than ‘renal’ or ‘nephro’ when referring to kidney disease and kidney function; (ii) to use ‘kidney failure’ with appropriate descriptions of the presence or absence of symptoms, signs, and treatment rather than ‘end-stage’ kidney disease; (iii) to use the KDIGO definition and classification of acute kidney diseases and disorders (AKD) and acute kidney injury (AKI) rather than alternative descriptions to define and classify the severity of AKD and AKI; (iv) to use the KDIGO definition and classification of chronic kidney disease (CKD) rather than alternative descriptions to define and classify the severity of CKD; and (v) to use specific kidney measures, such as albuminuria or decreased glomerular filtration rate, rather than ‘abnormal or reduced kidney function’ to describe alterations in kidney structure and function. A proposed five-part glossary contains specific items for which there was general agreement. Conference attendees acknowledged limitations of the recommendations and glossary but considered that standardizing scientific nomenclature is essential for improving communication.Published on behalf of the European Society of Cardiology. All rights reserved. © The Author(s) 2020. For permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.