Origins of Prescription Drug Names

October 1, 2014 • Prescription Drugs • Views: 12533

What’s your name,’ Coraline asked the cat. ‘Look, I’m Coraline. Okay?’
‘Cats don’t have names,’ it said.
No?’ said Coraline.
No,’ said the cat. ‘Now you people have names. That’s because you don’t know who you are. We know who we are, so we don’t need names.”

[From Coraline, by Neil Gaiman]

Cats may not have names.  But drugs do.  And some are weird.  Have you ever wondered where those names came from?  Over the past 20 years or so of my career I’ve tried to make a mental note of the drugs whose names have an interesting story behind them.  Some are more interesting than others.  Here are a few that I can remember.



PREMARIN:  Just about everyone knows this one.  Premarin used to be a wildly popular estrogen replacement supplement, often used in combination with a progesterone.  The name Premarin is an abbreviation of how this drug is produced.  Premarin comes from PREgnant MARe urINe.  Yes.  That’s right.  Horse pee.

LASIX:  A powerful diuretic used to reduce edema and lower blood pressure.  The name Lasix comes from the fact that it LAsts SIX hours.  I sometimes remind my patients that the drug has often been used to improve the race performance of horses (that’s true!).  But that I don’t recommend them racing a Thoroughbred just yet. 

NYSTATIN:  An anti-fungal medication developed by researchers doing studies at the New York State Department of Health.  Thus, they appropriately named their ingenious discovery N.Y. STATIN! 

VICODIN:  A powerful combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen.  Touted as being 6 times the potency of codeine.  Thus, they named it Vi (Roman Numeral 6) Codin.  Six times Codeine.  Get it?

TYLENOL:  Speaking of acetaminophen, do you know where the name TYLENOL comes from?  Well, for you chemistry buffs, you might remember that the chemical name for acetaminophen is n-acetyl-para-amino-phenol.  Look again closely.  n-aceTYL-para-amino-phENOL.  Aren’t they clever? 

AMBIEN:  First in a new class of sleep aids, now sold generically under the name zolpidem.  But the original brand name promised a good night’s sleep…translating into a GOOD MORNING!  “AM” stands for morning and BIEN is Spanish for GOOD.  Hence:  AM-BIEN.  Good morning!

NAMENDA:  Namenda is indicated for treating Alzheimer’s disease.  It works by targeting specific receptors known as NMDA receptors.  Buy a few vowels and there you have it:  Namenda!


So those are a few that I can recall.  Got any good ones that you know?  Share them in the comments below.  Please! 





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Author: Jason Poquette

8 Responses to Origins of Prescription Drug Names

  1. Steve Leuck says:

    Jason: Great history lesson! I always thought the “least clever” name was from the generic nsaid called fluribiprofen. Another Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drug “ANSAID”.

  2. @geekpharm says:

    approximately 10 years ago, I knew a drug rep for Viagra. He was supposed to hold a big birthday celebration for Viagra, inviting all his physician contacts so he had boxes of Viagra-branded paperplates, cups, napkins, and a coffee-table- style book that described the history of Viagra. The book had a section about the name. Many people think it purposefully brings to mind the image of Niagara Falls: the rushing, flowing, sheer power of all that water, etc. But the book explained that there’s actually a think-tank responsible for coming up with drug names and putting them in a big database that gets picked from at random when a new drug is developed. Kinda disappointed in that one, but think its an interesting explanation for *some* brand names

    That drug rep also hooked me up with a really sweet Viagra-branded tie. lol

    • Rocky says:

      In my head, for fun, I sometimes think of Viagra as Via-gara. Which, if you replace the “V” with an “N” yields …

  3. @geekpharm says:

    Oh, and don’t forget about Warfarin: its a product of coumARIN that was first developed by the Wisconsin Alumnia Research Foundation (WARF)

  4. Rocky says:

    Coreg (carvedilol) Cardiac Output Regulator. MS Contin (morphine sulfate Continuous release. Folic acid (mainly found in lettuce, a Foliage). Macrobid (Macrodantin just twice a day, BID). Lescol (less cholesterol). EMLA (Eutectic Mixture of Local Anesthetic). Dolophine (methadone) dolor is Spanish for pain. Tenormin (normalize hyperTension). Lopressor (self evident). Imdur (Isosorbide Mononitrate DUR, duration, extended release. Protonix (nix the protons produced in stomach). Aciphex (rabeprazole) work on Acid and pH, exes them out.

  5. Teresa says:

    I always liked VePesid, another name for etoposide, which was called VP-16 during development.

  6. jasonpoquette says:

    These are great everyone! Thanks for the contributions! Feel free to share this link with your colleagues!

  7. Bob Gard says:

    I always remember hearing as a pharmacy student that Searle named most of their products to be easily figured out: Calan (Calcium Antagonist), Cytotec (Cyto , proTECtion), Daypro (Good Day), Arthrotec (ARTHRitis proTECtion)… I’m sure there are many others! This was fun to remember these!!

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