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Firms test names for products

Since you asked

They said on the network news that the cancer drug that ImClone got into trouble with when it wasn't approved was Erbitux. After the story there was a commercial for Viagra, then one for Lipitor. Where do they come up with the names for these drugs?

' Molly C., Ashland

One thing about having lots of new products, Molly: Somebody has to name them all. Ibuprofen means a certain drug, but Equate is a made-up name for the product containing the drug.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the testing of possible names for new products is a booming industry. Market research firms conduct actual testing long before the manufacturer does any marketing. The researchers' goal is to find out which combinations of syllables people have a favorable reaction to, and which they don't. Manufacturers pay big bucks for this information.

Sometimes names get so popular they become almost generic. Aspirin was once a trademark (of Bayer's), as was escalator (of the Otis Elevator Co.). Others in or near this category include Kleenex and Scotch tape.

Sometimes the process goes very wrong. Ford Motor Co. once turned down the names Saxon, Arrow and Belmont and named a car, yup, the Edsel. (OK, maybe a name alone isn't enough to make a product).

Have you noticed all those SUVs named for rugged natural features or national parks?

While our reactions to nonsense syllables may remain a bit of a mystery, it's a safe bet you won't soon be seeing products like a drug called Fizzle or a car named the Zyzzyva.

Send questions to Since You Asked, Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to