20 Drug Name Origins That May Surprise You

DECEMBER 17, 2015
Drug names are about as unpronounceable as Latin animal names.
We’ve already established that many branded and generic drug names are nearly impossible to pronounce, but a few of their name origins are just as comical.
I remember my disbelief as a pharmacy student when I learned how drug names came into existence. Scientific journals discuss how their names were created, but I cannot attest to the verified truthfulness of each origin on the below list.
Whether these origins are accurate or not, they are still good for a chuckle.
Here are 20 of my favorites:
  1. Actigall: acts on the gallbladder
  2. Bactroban: “ban” bacteria
  3. Emend: ends emesis
  4. Emla: abbreviation for Eutectic Mixture of Local Anesthetics
  5. Glucophage: phage=“to eat” in Greek, gluco=glucose
  6. Halcion: Greek myth of halcyon involves a period of calmness and dreaming
  7. Lasix: lasts 6 hours
  8. Montelukast: developed in Montreal
  9. Morphine: Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams
  10. Muse: abbreviation for Medicated Urethral Suppository for Erection
  11. Nystatin: derived from the New York State Health Department Laboratory
  12. Premarin: pregnant mare’s urine
  13. Prevacid: prevent acid
  14. Protonix: nix the proton pumps
  15. Rapamune: made from bacteria discovered on the island of Rapa Nui
  16. Serepax: sere=serene, pax=peace
  17. Sonata: sona, which means “sleepy” in Portuguese
  18. Ursodiol: originally derived from bear bile, or ursa
  19. Valium: vale, which is Latin for “goodnight”
  20. Zicam: zinc works at the ICAM-1 receptor
It’s amazing how creative drug companies can be when it comes to naming their products. If you weren’t already aware of these drug name origins, feel free to impress one of your friends or coworkers with your newly acquired knowledge.

Alex Barker, PharmD
Alex Barker, PharmD
Alex Barker is the founder of The Happy PharmD, which helps pharmacists create an inspiring career, break free from the mundane "pill-flipping" life. He is a Full-time Pharmacist, Media Company founder, franchise owner, Business Coach, Speaker, and Author. He's also the Founder of Pharmacy School HQ, which helps students get into pharmacy school and become residents.