Current Issue

What’s in a Name?
By Karlo Pastrovic
The livelihood of one of the world’s biggest businesses (and, oh yeah, maybe a new lifesaving remedy or two)

The names on the bottles on the following picture are brand names for drugs that have been trademarked by Pfizer, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies. These drugs are not, however, for sale. In fact, their precise medicinal purpose is yet to be determined. Their potential uses, as listed on the application for trademark to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, are deliberately broad and their exact purpose will be revealed when the drug comes closer to being approved for sale. For example, Truesc is registered as being for possible treatment of “cardiovascular disease, central nervous system diseases and disorders, neurological disorders, urological disorders, gastrointestinal

brand names for drugs that
have been trademarked by
Pfizer, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies.
Computer-graphic imaging by hypertecture
disorders, musculoskeletal disorders, allergies, diabetes, hypertension, erectile dysfunction, sexual dysfunction, stroke, cancer, migraines, pain, inflammation and inflammatory diseases, respiratory and infectious diseases, and immunological, bacterial, viral, and fungal disorders; pharmaceutical preparations for the treatment of general anxiety and panic disorders.” It sounds like an advertisement for a 19th-century miracle cure-all elixir instead of what it is — the standard nonspecific claim on the future, protecting a drug’s most valuable property: its name.
    To graduate from just a collection of letters, each trademarked name is subjected to extensive research and survives a lengthy elimination trial. First, a branding company makes up hundreds, if not thousands, of words — presumably many of them are computer generated. That list is winnowed down to about a hundred or so that
get presented to the pharmaceutical company. Based on market research, speculation, or just the way a name sounds, the list is narrowed down again to a mere handful. But the most crucial factor to a name’s survival is its approval by the myriad international governing bodies that evaluate trademark infringement and singularity. The process can take years; it is, in fact, so arduous that frequently several names are registered as backups (many of them will have long careers as second choices without ever actually seeing the light of day). A precious commodity, a name still under consideration but not yet registered as a trademark is a closely guarded secret.
    For a new name to be approved it must first of all be completely different from any other drug name already in existence. This is to ensure not only the protection of an existing drug’s right to its trademark, but, more
A potential drug name is often tested
by being spoken over the phone
to a physician who writes
it down.
important, to avoid any confusion that could lead to a patient receiving the wrong medicine. A potential drug name is often tested by being spoken over the phone to a physician who writes it down. That handwriting is then analyzed for the possibility of being misread or mistaken for any other drug.
    A single drug may be sold in over a hundred countries. Doctors communicating across borders, sometimes through a chain of translations — or traveling patients seeking a medicine in a foreign language — necessitates that a drug have the same brand name worldwide. Moreover, any cross-cultural confusion that a brand name might cause is also a critical consideration. For example, not all letters are pronounced the same in all languages, such as h, j, k and w, so these letters are often avoided in branding. Interestingly, the letter x, which is not used in many languages, appears in a number of drug brand names where it is
recognized and understood.
    “The development of a name is basically the development of language,” says R. John Fidelino of the branding company Interbrand Wood Healthcare, which coined the name Viagra. “When a drug is finally named, the name essentially enters a culture’s language, like a new word. And the impressions of the drug become its meaning.”
    So, in a world where Viagra means “better sex,” what will all these names come to mean? We may find out in the years to come. But to us, for now, they remain mere words — undefined and patiently awaiting a meaning.  

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