Unforgettable Names: The Secret Weapon of Blockbuster Drugs

Several weeks ago, we fielded a poll to ask our followers where the name “Aspirin” comes from. Despite the highly scientific answer, 82% of people knew that the name was derived from Acetyl and Spirea Ulmaria. What makes names like Aspirin rise to the top as one of the most memorable pharmaceutical names?  

In this blog, we’ll dive into how some of the largest drug names attained their staple status. They say, “You either have to be first, best, or different,” and whether or not your product ticks any of these boxes, in this competitive industry, a forgettable brand identity can cost millions or billions of potential dollars. Think about drug names like Aspirin, Xanax, and Viagra. How and why were these drugs popularized, and what’s the key to becoming the next blockbuster drug? 


Let’s start with Aspirin, a name that has stood the test of time. Introduced in the late 19th century, Aspirin wasn’t the first pain reliever, but its wide availability and effective branding made it a household name. The name “Aspirin” itself was a strategic choice. It received its name from the plant Spirea Ulmaria because it is a botanical source of salicylic acid, and the letter ‘A’ stands for acetyl. This unique and memorable name, coupled with a distinctive logo and packaging, helped Aspirin stand out on pharmacy shelves. 


Introduced in 1981, Xanax wasn’t the first anti-anxiety medication but quickly gained popularity for its effectiveness. It was popularized for its widespread use and recognition as a go-to medication for anxiety disorders. The name Xanax arose out of the complexity of its scientific name, “Alprazolam.” The team behind the medication deemed this name far too complicated but ultimately combined the letters “Z” and “A” from alprazolam to create “Xan,” and added “ax” to the end for phonetic appeal. This resulted in the memorable, 2-syllable name Xanax. The brand’s appeal lies in its efficacy, ease of use, and memorable name, contributing to its status as a top-prescribed medication for anxiety. 


Launched in the late 1990s, Viagra revolutionized the treatment of erectile dysfunction. Its memorable name and successful marketing campaigns catapulted it to blockbuster status. The name “Viagra” was derived from the word “vigor,” which means physical strength and energy. The naming process involved combining “vigor” with “Niagara,” a reference to the powerful waterfall known for its strength and force. This combination of elements symbolized the strength and vitality associated with the medication’s patient benefits. Decades later, Viagra remains one of the most recognized medications of its kind.  

 When you compare these three names, Aspirin and Xanax are both scientific-based names, meaning they leverage something specific about the indication, mechanism of action, chemical component, etc. While the tones are unique, both names are also short, contributing to the overall memorability component of the names. Viagra, on the other hand, is an example of an aspirational name: names that speak to the physical or emotional benefits of the product. Strategic naming strategies such as these are closely tied to your target audience. What messages will resonate the clearest with your audience? How can you convey what makes your asset best or different while ensuring your name is easy to say, spell, and remember? 

Examining the rise to fame of Aspirin, Xanax, and Viagra reveals a simple but potent message. Whether you’re a first-in-class medication or not, a strong brand strategy can determine whether your asset becomes a globally recognized name. While not all of the examples above were first-in-class medications, they shared memorable names that resonated with consumers, patients, and healthcare professionals alike, which was an important component to becoming globally recognized and successful medications. 

If you found this blog insightful and would like to schedule a free consultation for your brand, please contact our team of naming experts.