Blog | The Naming Lab

Name Continuum – Meaningful to Abstract

Abstract Name Perceptions

When you first discover an abstract name at the beginning of its life in the marketplace, how many times do you hear a little voice inside your head that says: “It doesn’t say anything to me!”, “What does it mean?”, “That doesn’t work in English!”, “It looks like a letter-scramble.”

But what we may want to ask ourselves is – “Is there any such thing as a totally abstract name – isn’t there some kind of embedded meaning you can find in these names?”

It’s true that outside of any framework, abstract names are hard to pin down. Even the notion of “abstractness” in a name seems relative because there are several contextual factors that can affect how a name is perceived: medical background, linguistic diversity and semantic overlap.

So let’s see now how the notion of abstractness works in the world of pharmaceutical branding:

For most American oncologists, the brand name Tykerb® would be instantly associated with the product’s mechanism of action for treating breast cancer: Tyrosine Kinase ERB receptor blocker. Doctors can intuitively decode the letters TY, K and ERB within the brand. But if you were to show the same name to US patients, you would most likely get a vacant shrug or a “What are they trying to say here?”

Yes, there is some meaning in the name, but perhaps not everyone sees it. Would these different perceptions make Tykerb® a totally abstract brand name?

If you were to present the ophthalmic drug Rescula® to an American patient, the blended roots in the name, “rescue” and “ocular”, would be easily perceived. But the same name could make Spanish patients struggle. They wouldn’t see any roots and would probably end up viewing the name as abstract. Would these differences in perception make Rescula® a totally abstract name?

For a name invested with evocative meanings, Mycamine®, an antifungal, is a perfect example. “Myco” is the scientific root for fungus that marketers would want to communicate. Doctors would instantly decode the message, but Spanish speakers might not identify “Myco”. They would more likely see mi camino. – and evoke a meaning of “my way”. Would these perceptions make Mycamine® an unequivocally evocative name across the world?

What is the learning here?

The Pharmaceutical Name Continuum

There is no such thing as a single, consistent market perception of name style within a multicultural marketplace that has a large span of scientific knowledge and linguistic diversity.

What we need is some kind of framework for looking at the context, range and visibility of perceptual meanings within a name.

At ixxéo we have developed a model to embrace these types of perceptual meanings within a semantic “name style” continuum that underlies pharmaceutical brand names. Our continuum has been arbitrarily, but also logically, segmented into 4 distinct areas: “meaningful”, “evocative”, “encoded” and “abstract”.

1. ”Meaningful”

Names in this category are suggestive in nature, built on words or roots from key languages that are directly identifiable by a “universal” audience. The semantic content is overt, and relevant connections with the indication, type of drug, benefit of treatment, or other marketing messages are easy to spot.

Let’s begin by looking at some “Meaningful” names:

TANDEMACT® – a combination treatment for Type II Diabetes from Takeda. The name seems to suggest that the product’s two ingredients, pioglitazone and glimepride, “act in tandem” with each other.

EFFENTORA® – fentanyl citrate for chronic cancer pain from Cephalon Europe. The name originally stems from the ingredient fentanyl and oral – the medication comes in buccal pills held in the mouth until they dissolve.

2. ”Evocative”

Although these names have somewhat less semantic content, they are designed with universal pieces of language inherently obvious to patients and doctors. Names in this category contain a root or semantic fragment – in at least one key language – embedded in the name that can evoke a metaphor related to lifestyle, condition, drug composition, its mechanism, or treatment benefit.

Can you see the roots in these “Evocative” names?

EUCREAS® – a combination treatment for Type II diabetes from Novartis. The name comes from EU, a Greek root that means good or well and pancreas –to evoke a notion of benefit to the pancreas.

TWYNSTA® – a combination product for hypertension from Boehringer Ingelheim. The name seems to spring from “twin stability” to evoke a metaphor of balance – and a story of two ingredients that target one benefit.

3. ”Encoded”

Names in this category are derived from science and targeted for doctors – who can decode and identify a semantic fragment embedded within the name that references the intended indication, drug class, composition, or mode of action. The encoded element could be a letter-string or syllable, an acronym, or a letter-marker invested with specific meaning in key languages.

Can you read the science in these “Encoded” names?

HERCEPTIN® – for breast cancer from Genentech. The name comes from the drug’s mechanism of action, “HER2 Receptor Inhibitor”. Although its origin is scientific, the name sounds fluid, familiar, not like science at all.

COZAAR® – for hypertension from Merck & Co. The name is built around AAR, to reflect the stressed syllable in its generic name, losartan. The letter-marker AAR encodes “Angiotensin 2 Receptor” inhibitor from the drug’s mechanism of action. Together with the science, the first part of the name looks and sounds like “cozy”, to add a warm feeling.

4. “Abstract”

These names are said to be alinguistic because they have no apparent semantic content in key languages. As arbitrary letter sequences, designed with letters, letter-strings, and syllables, they rely on the perception of cognitive, non-semantic elements – visual, verbal, emotional – to shape the name’s identity and character, and convey a distinctive look, sound, or feeling.

ENBREL® – for rheumatoid arthritis from Pfizer. Fragments of “envelop”, “embrace” and “umbrella” invest the name with a warm, protective feeling. When spoken aloud, stress on the last syllable with a slight rise in pitch gives the name a strong, bright, upbeat tonality. Could this project a positive outlook about treatment outcome?

DAXAS® –for COPD treatment from Nycomed. The name is characterized by a sharp tonality. Could that be a metaphor for crisp, clear air and, by extension, clear breathing?

Right now, you may be thinking: what’s the point of a pharmaceutical name continuum to assess the types and levels of meaning and associations in names?

Our aim is to create an intuitive framework of name categories that will give you a sense for their value, variety, effect and relativity, as a preliminary step in exploring ixxéo’s array of distinctive pharmaceutical naming styles.

How would you perceive the name Viagra®? Would you say it is an evocative or abstract name?

What about the name Vidaza®?