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  • Writer's pictureCassandra L. Wilkinson

Brand Name vs. Generic Term: The Evolution and Incorporation of Inventions and Their Names Into Comm

What is that actor’s name that is in that alien movie that came out last year? You know, the guy with the tattoos on his face…..? When I can’t remember, I just Google it or IMDB1 it. This is just one example of what I am sure are the many ways in which I use brand names in a generally descriptive way to take the place of actions in my everyday language. Many items and words we use daily, like zippers and Kleenex, were once brand names. Surprisingly to me, even heroin was once a brand name (Heroin was first manufactured by Bayer pharmaceutical company of Germany in 1898 as a treatment for tuberculosis and a remedy for morphine addiction2). Many of these names are or were trademarked, but are now often used to describe any brand in a product category or used as a descriptive term or action.
Below are some examples of other brand names that are used generically by many. How many of these do you use?
What is the correct term? Personal watercraft.
How is a Jet Ski different? Only Jet Ski’s are produced by Kawasaki Heavy Industries.
What is the correct term? Air bubble packaging.
Bubble Wrap was manufactured by Sealed Air Corporation, which they trademarked in 1960. Bubble Wrap was originally called Air Cap and was marketed for use as wallpaper and greenhouse insulation. It was only when IBM started using Bubble Wrap as packaging material for the IBM computers, that it became popular.

What is the correct term? Infant bodysuit.
The term Onesies is owned by Gerber Childrenswear and has been vigorously defended by Gerber in the past several years. “That is the cutest infant bodysuit I have ever seen!”
What is the correct term? Hot tub.
The Jacuzzi company introduced their hot tub in 1956, which was equipped with a hydrotherapy pump and was invented to relieve the pain of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Jacuzzi also manufactures bathtubs, mattresses, and toilets.
What is the correct term? Slow cooker.
The Crock-Pot was originally developed as a beanery appliance by Irving Naxon in 1940. Mr. Naxon was inspired to create a portable cooking appliance that would have a heating element that would evenly surrounded a cooking pot with heat, would have the same effect on food that an oven would have, and would also be of low cost and use minimal electricity.3
What is the correct term? Tissue or disposable handkerchief.
The Kleenex was introduced in 1924 by the Kimberly-Clark company and marketed as a substitute for facial towels, but was re-branded as a disposable handkerchief substitute, which greatly improved sales.

What is the correct term? Frozen ice treat on a stick.
The Popsicle was invented in 1905 by Frank Epperson and is a registered trademark of Unilever. Unilever recommends that you call generic frozen pops on a stick “pops,” “ice pops” or “freezer pops” and makes it clear on the Unilever website that Popsicle is “not a name for just any frozen pop on a stick."4
What is the correct term? Adhesive bandage.
The Band-Aid was introduced by Johnson & Johnson in 1920. In the beginning, the bandages were individually made by hand, but that was not found to be cost effective. Today, Band-Aids can be found in a seemingly endless array of sizes, colors, shapes, special uses, anti-bacterial, varied materials, and with “advanced healing” properties.
What is the correct term? Moldable plastic or polymethyl methacrylate (whatever that is…)
Plexiglas was introduced in 1936 by Rohm and Hass. Otto Rohm patented Plexiglas just in time for it to be utilized in World War II aircraft canopies as bullet-resistant glazing. Plexiglas many uses and benefits and can be found today in homes and factories for safety glazing, electrical and chemical applications, skylights and windscreens and hundreds of other beneficial applications.
What is the correct term? Web search engine.
Google is a web search engine that provides specialized searches through blogs, catalogs, videos, news items and more. Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google, Inc in September of 1998. Google is now considered to be the world's largest search engine. Do you still use the phone book to look things up or just “Google” it?
What is the correct term? Blood-thinning drug or acetylsalicylic acid.
Aspirin was introduced in 1897 by Bayer Healthcare, LLC. Aspirin used to aid in pain relief of arthritis, toothaches and muscle aches, to reduce fever and cramps, and, as evident above, has a main purpose of alleviating and thwarting blood clots. Side note: as part of the Treaty of Versailles, Bayer was required to give up its trademark on Aspirin when Germany was defeated in World War I.
And lastly….
What is the correct term? Separable fastener.
The first semblance of a zipper model traces back to Elias Howe, the founder of the sewing machine. In 1851, he created a patent for a device entitled An Automatic Continuous Clothing Closure, which had a similar function to the modern zipper, although the design was significantly different. The Zipper as we know today was patented by Gideon Sundback and introduced in 1917 by Universal Fastener Company. However, in this one example, the term Zipper has officially been declared generic.
It seems to me that many of these products were shortened to the brand name for the sake of comparative ease of use. I don’t think we will ever hear a child ask for a “frozen ice treat on a stick” when then word “popsicle” is much easier and already part of everyone’s vocabulary.
1. Internet Movie Database or 2. 3. 4.
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