Xcellent Names for Drugz

Ever wondered why so many prescription drug names are loaded with x’s and z’s (Celebrex, Flomax, Zocor etc.)? “[U]se of these letters relates to the imperative to make a brand name highly visible in a crowd,” explains Rob Stepney in the British Medical Journal. “Reflecting their infrequent occurrence in English words, x and z count for 8 and 10 points in Scrabble, the highest values (along with j and q) in the game. So names that contain them are likely to seem special and be memorable. ‘If you meet them in running text, they stand out,’ is the way one industry insider explained.” The trend, however, is relatively recent, which Stepney attributes to a couple factors. “I suggest that this phenomenon arose because of the fast rate at which new products were being introduced, the fact that the difference between many “me too” drugs was more apparent than real, the immense rewards that were seen to accrue from innovative marketing, and the fact that the ploys available for use in the naming of drugs are so restricted.” (HT: Marginal Revolution) [%comments]


I've been reading the blog at babynamewizard.com (about trends in baby names) for some time, and they've also seen a rise in baby names with high scrabble values.


The problem now is that so many have the X and Z in their names and they are confusing to sort out. Plavix, Chantix, etc... very few of them sounds like their function, which means you may have heard of the drug, and may want to learn more about it, but you're battling nonsensical names.

The same goes for all those Web 2.0 company names. But at least the drug companies use all the vowels!



And then we have the phenomenon of Blackwater, the defense contractor, rebranding itself as "Xe" (as in "X E CUTE"?), because the reputation associated with "Blackwater" had become so sullied.

Ian Kemmish

Further proof of the old saw that you can sell any old tat to a marketing "professional". As a shareholder in some pharmaceutical companies, I often get word-various when reading press releases because the drug brand names are all so similar.

It can only be a matter of time before the same fate befalls some unfortunate patient.....

Califorina Dan

An important issue is the number of 'normal' name variants that have been either copyrighted or already used.


What astounds me, too, is the number of drugs with three-syllable names. Is there something inherently more attractive or trustworthy about three-syllables? Seroquel, Abilify, Geodon, Risperdal, Celexa, Lexapro, Wellbutrin, and on and on and on....


Sounds like medicine has the same issues that car manufacturers have: The need for cool, distinctive names for their products.

Hey, how about the leverage each other??? For instance, percocet could become "The Hummer of Pain Killers," while the a Corvette could become "Candy Apple Red Viagra." And generics could be called "Chevys," as in "Does Xanax come in Chevy's yet?"

Aspirin could be "The F-150 of Over-the-Counter Pain Relief."

Just my way of making the world simpler.

Eric M. Jones

@6: Abilify....A...Bil...i...Fy

As for X and Z, I had this bet going that Nixon could never win election because of that X thing....



And so I give you, Quajazix!


I heard there's a drug out there called "Pharmaceutical." The marketing department said they didn't name it, because the research scientist already gave it a name in the lab.


It is very interesting to see that with just putting a catchy name companies or products can sell more because the consumers will always remember them. And as for drugs, it seems that X's and Z's do the trick. But now that all, or almost all drugs have the same types of names wouldn't that make it more confusing for consumers? Or more probable for them to get mixed up with the names of the drugs because all of them are so similar? So, what I mean that using those catchy names could have its pros and cons because it may make it easier for consumers to remember that name but more probable for them to get them mixed up. Maybe a new drug that comes out without a totally different, more bizarre name without those X's and Y's becomes even catchier and then a new trend begins.


Unless you're holding back on drug names with J's and Q's, the explanation is already self-defeating.


It seems that there is an increasing demand for the usage of the letters X and Z, but for the safety of consumers, drug companies should rely on other letters to mark the distiction of their drug for another.

In order to keep control as to who uses which letters, the government, or the drug companies, should impose a price for the usage of certain letters, making this way those who have greater inelasticity for using distinct letters for their prescribed drug possible, and therefore, easier to distinguish from the rest.

The increase in demand on behalf of the producers for X or Z will eventually shift if the government does not take action, and this is due to change in consumer tastes. People will be seen confused in pharmacies, and this could possibly lead to complaints in the naming of their prescribed drugs. This would lead to drug companies not use the letters which initially were thought of as being ?infrequent?.



When I once worked in pharma, though not in sales or marketing, I heard that X and Z conferred a sense of "high-tech"-ness to the products, i.e., words with these letters sounded science-y. I worked for the company that co-developed and now owns Cialis. There the naming was purposefully intended to be distinct from Viagra, the latter intended to play upon the words Niagra (as in Falls) and Vigor. Cialis was marketed more at women (let the badgering begin) since (a) Viagra was already well established and (b) the product's much longer half-life provided the impetus to position it as a take-your-time wine-and-dine marketing campaign (god I hate those bathtubs).


I have already trademarked my teleportation drug, hereafter to be known as XYZZY.


But we can use the same line of reasoning to deduce there is something more at play here. The letters "Q" and "J" are, Scrabble-wise, worth just as much as "Z" and "X". They are about as infrequently used as "X" and "Z". Yet no drug company is lining up to call their latest product Jujigoprin, or Quilliquol.

So in addition to their rarity, there must be some other factor that makes "Z" and "X" desirable.

Julia Barton

It's fun to do this with ordinary names, too! On "Weekend America" a few years back, we had the team that came up with "Prozac" take on the presidential primary roster. Very amusing.



I worked for many years researching and creating trademarks for pharma and, besides the reasons already mentioned, it is (or was) easier to create new drug names with Z and X because there were fewer existing trademarks with those letters. Using Z & X not only made the trademark stand out, it made it easier to clear a new trademark for use in multiple countries.

Now there are companies that create these names by the dozens with computer programs. One of my favorite rejects was "ANUQUAZ". No lie.

Vicki Unatin, RN

There is a new drug with x in name like ixtia or something. Can't think of fit For cardiac or BP