When Brand Names Become Generic

atkins-bookshelf-wordsThe English language is like a linguistic magpie, collecting words from languages around the world, from specific industries, from the ever-evolving texts, and from the world of marketing — specifically trademarks or brand names. Most people don’t reach for facial tissue, they reach for a Kleenex; they apply a Band-Aid, not an adhesive bandage, to a wound, and they make a Xerox of a document, as opposed to a photocopy. These words, like Kleenex, Band-Aid, and Xerox, are known as generic trademarks, genericized trademarks, or propriety eponyms. Through usage a trademarked name or brand becomes a generic term — a common noun or verb used in daily conversation and writing. In the world of lexicography, a generic trademark is considered a form of metonymy — a figure of speech that uses a word or phrase as a substitute for something for which it is closely related (e.g., the White House for U.S. Government or Wall Street for big business).

The generic trademark is the  bane of every corporation that has spent millions or billions of dollars to develop a product or service and its unique name, and potentially loses the ability to legally protect that valuable trademark. While most companies vigorously protect their trademarks through the decades, some abandon their trademarks or are forced to give them up based on the rulings from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that deem that a brand name, like linoleum (for floor covering) can no longer be legally protected.

In a brand-dominated culture, it is not surprising how many brand names become generic trademarks. What is surprising is how many generic trademarks have become so entrenched in the English lexicon that most people don’t realize that they were once brand names. Over time, the generic trademarks’ connection to a corporation and its original invention has been completely lost. Below is a list of some of the most common generic trademarks, followed by the corporation that originally trademarked the product or service, and its generic description.

Asprin (Bayer Healthcare, LLC): acetylsalicylic acid
Baggies (Pactic Corporation): food storage bag
Band-Aid (Johnson & Johnson): adhesive bandage
Bubble Wrap (Sealed Air): air inflated cushioning
Cellophane (DuPont): thin transparent wrapping material
Chapstick (Morton Manufacturing Company): lip balm
Clorox (Clorox Corporation): bleach
Coke (Coca-Cola Company): soft drink
Dry Ice (Dry Ice Corporation): solid carbon dioxide
Dumpster (Dempster Brothers): mobile garbage bin
Escalator (Otis Elevator Company): moving stairway
Frisbee (Wham-O): flying disc
Google (Google): to seek information online (using Google search engine), web searching
Heroin (Friedrich Bayer & Company): analgesic drug derived from morphine
Hi-Liter (Avery Dennison): highlighter, pen with vivid colors
iPod (Apple): portable media player
Jacuzzi (Jacuzzi Corporation): whirlpool bath or hot tub
Jell-O (Kraft Foods): gelatin dessert
Jumbotron (Sony): large screen television
Kitty Litter (Edward Lowe Industries):
Kleenex (Kimberly Clark): facial tissue
Laundromat (Westinghouse Electric): coin laundry shop
Onesies (Geber Products Company): infant or adult bodysuit
Ping Pong  (Parker Brothers): table tennis
Plexiglass (Rohm and Haas): moldable plastic
Popsicle (Joe Lowe Company): frozen ice treat
Post-It (3M): sticky note
Q-Tip (Unilever): cotton swab
Realtor (National Association of Realtors): real estate agent
Rollerblade (Nordica) inline skates
Spandex (DuPont): polyurethane-polyurea copolymer

Stetson (John B. Stetson Company): cowboy hat
Styrofoam (Dow Chemical Company): extruded polystyrene foam
Super Glue (Super Glue Corporation): cyanoacrylate adhesive
Taser (Taser Systems): stun gun
Thermos (Thermos LLC): vacuum flask
Velcro (Velcro Industries): hook-and-loop fastener
Viagra (Pfizer): drug used to treat erectile dysfunction
Videotape (Ampex Corporation): audio and video recording tape
Webster’s Dictionary: a dictionary
Wite-Out (BIC): correction fluid
Xerox (Xerox): to photocopy or a photocopy machine
ZIP code (U.S. Postal Service): postal code system
Zipper (B.F. Goodrich): interlocking-teeth fastener

Read related posts: Apocope

For further reading: businessinsider.com/trademarked-brands-that-everyone-uses-as-generic-names-2012-6#bubble-wrap-1