Naming Your Brand

In a crowded field, how to choose a name real enough to please the feds and original enough to differentiate your product
Oct 15, 2007
By Pharmaceutical Executive Editors

Clayton Tolley
Choosing a name for a new pharmaceutical product used to be a pretty straightforward proposition. Twenty years ago, most drug names were descriptive or functional in nature; they relied on the indication, therapeutic category, or generic name for their creative direction.

The primary goal of descriptive names was to create an identity that would send a clear message to healthcare professionals—the ones who needed to remember the name and write the prescription.

Descriptive names often relied upon scientific or Latin-based terms familiar to most physicians. So, Spectracef, an oral antibiotic, took its cue from the generic cefditoren and the antibiotic classes cephalosporins and cephamycins. It used familiar word parts, which helped first-time hearers more easily understand, accept, and adopt the new name.


When drug companies started advertising directly to consumers in 1997, names needed to speak not just to doctors and pharmacists, but also to patients and their families or caregivers. Consumers started taking on a bigger role and asking for certain brands, and names based on familiar medical terminology weren't so familiar anymore. Consumers usually don't know generic names; they just know they want to feel better. A new opportunity emerged to communicate benefits directly to consumers by way of more emotional and aspirational names.


Names like Sanctura, Boniva, and Alvesco spring from entirely different creative strategies and involve an attempt to convey an emotional benefit or a promising message. Sanctura, created for the treatment of overactive bladder, borrows from the word sanctuary in order to convey a feeling of security and comfort. Boniva, which is used to manage osteoporosis, combines the words bone and viva to suggest the idea of long life. Alvesco, indicated for asthma, is created from the concept of alfresco, to make one think of open air.

In some cases, the name may not represent any tangible benefit. Instead, it may attempt to communicate a tone or feeling the pharma company wants to embody in the brand. Zyvox, for instance, doesn't have any inherent meaning, but the tone suggest strength, an important quality for an antibiotic.


Most popular names
A practical reason for the shift away from purely descriptive names is the shrinking number of legally available choices. Approximately 400,000 brands are registered and protected in Class 5 of the US Patent and Trademark Office. This is partly because of the exponential growth of the industry, but also because each player is taking up more trademark territory.

Medium-size and small firms have joined big pharma companies in applying for trademark protection for their next big idea.

Trademarking names in Phase II and early Phase III can help some smaller companies differentiate and build awareness, but it means one less name available, even though the product may never leave the lab.

Larger companies claim even more trademark space because of the number of products in their pipelines and their financial ability to register for many more names than they plan to use immediately.

The strategy is to have a bank of available names should a first-choice name get rejected by the regulatory agencies. Gaining regulatory approval of names is becoming more difficult due to the potential for medication errors as a result of sound-alike and look-alike qualities.


Regulatory agencies have also begun rejecting more names because they feel the names are too fanciful or make a claim that clinical data cannot support.

Given dwindling options and restrictions, how can your team ensure they are selecting a name that will differentiate your product—and get approved? Consider then these steps:

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