The People's Perspective on Medicine

Bizarre Brand Name Drugs Drive Readers Crazy!

Have you tried pronouncing brand name drugs these days? It's enough to make you gag. There's Otezla, Xeljanz, Xarelto or Zytiga. What is it with Xs and Zs?
An elderly woman with a tableful of medications looking overwhelmed and confused

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but a drug with the wrong brand name might sell less well. There was a time when pharmaceutical manufacturers created brand name drugs that made sense. Take Synthroid. It is synthetic thyroid medicine. Synthroid is a perfect description for the ingredient levothyroxine. It has been a big best seller. Then there’s the sleeping pill Restoril (temazepam). You do not need a pharmacy degree to figure out that this sedative is intended to help you get some much-needed rest. At the opposite end, there is Provigil (modafinil). It has the FDA’s blessing for easing excessive sleepiness that is brought on by narcolepsy, shift work disorder or obstructive sleep apnea. The name Provigil suggests improved vigilance. It is a stimulant.

Reader Decries Today’s Brand Name Drugs:

Q. How do drug companies come up with such un-pronounceable names for their new drugs? Most of the names don’t seem to be related to the use of the product. Many are advertised on TV and lack any kind of memorable moniker. It’s like having to learn another language.

Older drugs do have memorable and pronounceable names. They are short, like Motrin or Advil, something English speakers can relate to. Is there a formula drug companies use for branding a new product?

A. Branding is a mysterious process. You are right that drug companies used to try and match the name to the condition. Think about sedatives and sleeping pills. Tranxene offered tranquility and Halcion references “halcyon,” a fancy word for a peaceful time.

Evista is a drug developed for osteoporosis prevention and treatment. The generic name is raloxifene. Rumor has it that the namers adopted the word “vista” for its implication of a long or beautiful view because they hoped to convey that women without broken bones have a “better view on life.”

Viagra (sildenafil) is a household name. We’ve been told that the company was hoping to create the impression of vigor, energy, optimism and power. A consultant for the company boasted that:

“After only a few short months on the market, the name Viagra has come to be used as a verb, a noun, and an adjective. The word ‘Viagra’ now signals power and proactivity.”

We’ve been told that Premarin was developed for its origins: pregnant mare’s urine. It was one of the best-selling drugs in America for many years. Now, many women shun this drug for a variety of reasons, not the least because the pregnant mares have been reported to have a pretty dismal life.

Brand Name Drugs that Make Little Sense:

Now, brands such as Otezla (for psoriasis), Xeljanz (for ulcerative colitis) or Xarelto (for blood clot prevention) sound like they come from outer space. You can almost imagine a sci-fi movie where the aliens come from the planet XELJANZ.

We don’t know why Xs, Vs and Zs are so popular in modern brand name drugs. Here are just a few more brand names that don’t make a lot of sense to us:

Xanax (a brand name anti-anxiety agent for alprazolam)

Avastin (a cancer drug known generically as bevacizumab) has earned billions

Rituxan (rituximab) has also earned billions for treating rheumatoid arthritis, chronic lymphocytic leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Sovaldi (sofosbuvir) is another one of the billion-dollar brand name drugs. It is sold for the treatment of hepatitis C.

Zytiga (abiraterone) is a prostate cancer drug that is quite pricey. A month’s supply could cost over $10,000.

A reader (Phelps…see below in the comment section) brought to our attention two popular antihistamines: Zyrtec (cetirizine) and Xyzal (levocetirizine). Perhaps you have seen the “wise” owl Xyzal commercial. They managed to get an X, Y and Z in that name and come up with an interesting pronunciation. What they don’t mention in the commercial is the potential for post-use itch: Here is a link.

The Itch That Won’t Quit | Itching After Stopping Xyzal (Levocetirazine)

The Bottom Line on Brand Name Drugs:

We agree with our reader that brand name drugs might as well be part of a made-up language from another planet. Perhaps the companies figure that if it is exotic-sounding they can charge exotic prices.

What do you think about brand name drugs? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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Actually, the names are computer generated to not match any words in anybody’s language anywhere. Why the particular spate of x,y,z first letter names currently being used is probably marketing types having their way.

Viagra conjures up the immense power of Niagara Falls. Replace the “r” with an “n” and rearrange some letters and Viagra becomes vagina. Levitra implies “levitate.”

I pray God will keep me from needing any of these drugs. So far, prayers have been answered and I am grateful beyond measure.

If the names were easier, you would be able to give the doctors the correct name of the drug when they ask what meds you are on. Miss pronouncing it could make it sound like a different medication and result in wrong prescriptions given. I keep a written list of my medications so this won’t happen.

I do surveys online for virtual cash which I mostly spend online for watching movies or use a gift card at Starbucks.

A recent long survey was all about this subject and which X, Y, and Z names were most effective. When I was allowed to write what I though, instead of a multiple choice, I told them (in more polite terms) to drop the stupid names that no one could pronounce. I told them a patient should be able to remember the name of their medication and should have no problem reading it. I told them they were way too enamored of letters that sound like “Z”.

I’m sure someone with a degree but no real world experience decided that difficult names made them seem more important, to which I say “B.S.”!

Perhaps when the drug namers run out of imagination with the X’x and Z’s they’ll cycle back around to the A’s and B’s. After a TIA I went on Plavix anticoagulant. After the first scrip the insurance said I’d have to use the generic that starts with “plog…”. When I first heard the name I imagined something alien, but alive crawling out of the drain in a chemistry lab. I wonder if the FDA does any testing for things like that?

If it has a weird name I refuse to take it. Eighty years old. No problem.

Another question is how do they come up with the genetic name such as bevacizumab? The chemist must have a system. What is it.

X, q and z are sexy letters that Pharma paid for research has shown to make people think a drug will be more effective. That is, they have more of a placebo effect. So those letters are commonly used in drug names.

I think the crazy names they have now are just plain unpronounceable. Some of us older people have problems even remembering our own names. If I had to suddenly name my prescriptions in an emergency I would stutter and stammer. Most young people with a memory don’t take any of these prescribed drugs. KISS=Keep It Simple Stupid.

LATUDA…I!!!!…….is the one that drives me up a wall…How in the hell did they come up with such a stupid name…??…..

I can’t pronounce some of the generic drugs I take so I type them up, print it out and give it to my health care provider…let them figure it out!

My favorite is the much-advertised XYZAL. Is this supposed to be pronounced X-Y-Z-al?

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