Where Do They Come Up With All Those Goofy Names for Prescription Drugs Anyway?

04/28/2008 04:20 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

I was spreading pine straw around the bushes in my yard in Atlanta, Georgia, when I started thinking about... you guessed it! The goofy names that drug companies come up with for their prescription drugs.

Folks in the blue states are often interested in the customs of us red state folks since they don't get to read about them in the op-ed pages of papers like the New York Times (unless it is a scornful piece like the one about how the locals were rooting for abortion clinic bomber Eric Rudolph to get away... Run Rudolph Run!). Like when I wrote about the Georgia drought ("Drought and the Power of Prayer", Part 1 and Part 2), people thanked me for the update on what is going on down here.

Well, here is another interesting fascinoma (as we called it in med school). You see, most people think that the US is divided into red states and blue states. But within individual states there is also a division between red counties and blue counties.

In Georgia, the blue counties include Fulton and the other affluent areas in metropolitan Atlanta. The red counties are those below the so called 'fault line' or 'gnat line' in the southern half of the state. That is where the land is flat and the rivers run smoothly -- or there are more gnats, take your pick.

And another interesting thing is that the red and blue parts are mutually inter-dependent. You see it is the job of the red parts to wander through the vast pine forests of South Georgia, gathering up pine needles and bundling them up so that they can ship them to Metro Atlanta (blue parts) where executives and professionals can take Saturdays off to buy the bundles of pine straw at the local garden center and dutifully spread it in their gardens. Nobody really knows why this ritual is necessary, but if the blue part people didn't buy the pine straw then the red part people might starve to death since there is no other industry in their area. And the red part people might rise up in revolution and caste out the blue part people farther north.

Anyway the mandatory spreading of the pine straw that I share with my fellow Atlantans of the executive and professional classes is such a boring ritual that my mind naturally wandered. Who comes up with the names of prescription drugs anyway?

Take for example the drug Abilify. An antipsychotic drug, the name is apparently meant to represent a new verb that will stimulate non-functioning mental patients to jump out of their chairs and start climbing the corporate ladder. Or how about that other anti-psychotic, Trilafon? The makers of this drug were obviously trying to suggest "try laughing". Obviously the manufacturers of this pill had never personally experienced the scary delusions or hallucinations that their pill was meant to treat, otherwise they would have never made such a zany suggestion. Here's another one from the antipsychotic category: Mellaril. I suggest that the marketing people for that drug come up with a catchy tune with the words "Mellow out with mellaril". Maybe something from the Country and Western category?

Lest we think that goofy drug names are restricted to the anti-psychotic class (whose patrons might be thought to not be able to complain since they were, well... psychotic), let's look at asthma drugs. Singulair is obviously meant to imply that you will only need to take one (single!) drug to get some... air. Well, Singulair may be making you want to go out to go out and catch some air since it may be making you, well... nuts. Oh, one more from the asthma category: Serevent. This one is supposed to make us think of "breathing easy" (i.e. "SEREne VENTilation"). Kind of strange though for a drug that was described as causing patients to "die while clutching their inhalers".