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Medication trade names; are they intended to “Trick” or can they help to “Treat”?

Have you ever wondered where medication tradenames come from? Can understanding tradenames be helpful to practitioners or patients? Can brand names affect their market share or have implications in patient care? The answer is: yes, some “tradenames” can serve these purposes.

Good appealing tradenames stick -“Trick”- the memory of both patients and prescribers (the actual end-users). Tradenames reflect whether medications are being primarily marketed to practitioners or to the public. Mostly, tradenames do not say much to the layperson. But, when it comes to over the counter (OTC) medications, they are usually simple, easily pronounced and can incorporate a direct message to patients. For example, Panadol cold & Flu day® (paracetamol, Phenylephrine HCl, Dextromethorphan HBr) includes the indication in the name, while Panadol Night® (paracetamol, diphenhydramine hydrochloride) explains when to take the product. These hints can increase consumers’ awareness, confidence in OTC selection and may ultimately improve compliance [1]. In contrast, when pharmaceutical companies target health care professionals, their aim is to create an appealing trade name that “sticks to mind” in order to have a better chance of creating prescription habits in favour of their medication and to distinguish their product among competitors. Some tradenames reflect a drug characteristic or a rational explanation, like Augmentin®(amoxicillin, clavulanic acid), which is meant to convey the meaning of an “augmented” effect to the health care professional in that clavulanic acid has an augmented effect to amoxicillin to combat against bacterial resistance and broaden antimicrobial coverage.

On the other hand, tradenames can also help to better “Treat” patients by helping to explain the indication or dosing frequency for a medication. The most interesting pattern is denoting how often to take the medication, (e.g. Cefobid® [cefperazone]; cefperazone, bid-twice daily, Singulair® (montelukast); drug is taken once daily (single) to treat asthma (air). Whereas, others denote the drug duration of action, (e.g. Lasix® [furosemide]; its effect last for SIX- to eight hours [half-life]), Apidra® (insulin glulisine; rAPID RApid acting insulin). Other tradenames point out the targeted patients that will benefit from certain drug therapy, such as Herceptin® (Trastuzumab), which is used is used for HER 2-receptor positive patients with breast cancer. Lastly, names can indicate the drug effect to help the pharmacist during counseling sessions, for example Emend® (Aprepitant) means putting emesis to an end.

Learning tradenames is considered a memorization challenge for medical/pharmacy students transitioning from preclinical to clinical settings [2]. Decoding the hidden messages in tradenames, can increase the learning experience and hence, the prescriber self-confidence which could impact prescribing patterns [3]. For instance, practitioners might get confused between similar sounding names Lopressor® (metoprolol) and Lyrica® (gabapentin). However, decoding the message may help them to distinguish which drug affects blood pressure and which drug makes you lyrical after becoming pain free. Physicians are more likely to prescribe drugs that they are most familiar with [4], which could also result in increasing the drug’s market share. Therefore, careful education, documentation, evaluation and publication of this line of work underscores the impact that naming drugs can have in healthcare practice.


  1. Brabers, A.E., et al., Where to buy OTC medications? A cross-sectional survey investigating consumers’ confidence in over-the-counter (OTC) skills and their attitudes towards the availability of OTC painkillers. BMJ Open, 2013. 3(9): p. e003455.
  2. Hansen, A.J. Brand name or generic? Study probes use of drug names, which ties to health care costs. 2018; Available from:
  3. Afzal Khan, M.I., Mirshad PV, Jeyam Xavier Ignatius. , How confident are the students and interns to prescribe ? – An assessment based on their views and suggestions. . Natl J Physiol Pharm Pharmacol. , 2014. 4(2): p. 138-142.
  4. Flegel, K., The adverse effects of brand-name drug prescribing. CMAJ, 2012. 184(5): p. 616.

Biography: Yasmin Elsobky is a 2019 Building Capacity Bursary recipient, a drug information specialist and co-founder at NAPHS Consultancy, and an early-career researcher at El-Galaa Military Medical Complex (GMMC), Egypt. She completed a B.Pharm.Sci at Misr International University (MIU), is a board-certified pharmacotherapy specialist (BCPS) from the Board of Pharmacy Specialties (BPS), USA and has a diploma in public health from the High Institute for Public Health (HIPH) in Biostatistics at Alexandria University.

The blog was co-written with Dr. Islam Mohamed, an assistant professor in Northstate University College of Pharmacy (CNUCOP) in California, USA. In 2008, he was awarded a full Fulbright Scholarship for studying MS in Neuroscience from the State University of New York at Buffalo (SUNY Buffalo) and in 2014, he earned his PhD in Clinical and Experimental Therapeutics from the College of Pharmacy, University of Georgia.

No conflicts of interest.

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