20 Drug Name Origins That May Surprise You


Drug names are about as unpronounceable as Latin animal names.

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:

  • Actigall: acts on the gallbladder
  • Bactroban: “ban” bacteria
  • Emend: ends emesis
  • Emla: abbreviation for Eutectic Mixture of Local Anesthetics
  • Glucophage: phage=“to eat” in Greek, gluco=glucose
  • Halcion: Greek myth of halcyon involves a period of calmness and dreaming
  • Lasix: lasts 6 hours
  • Montelukast: developed in Montreal
  • Morphine: Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams
  • Muse: abbreviation for Medicated Urethral Suppository for Erection
  • Nystatin: derived from the New York State Health Department Laboratory
  • Premarin: pregnant mare’s urine
  • Prevacid: prevent acid
  • Protonix: nix the proton pumps
  • Rapamune: made from bacteria discovered on the island of Rapa Nui
  • Serepax: sere=serene, pax=peace
  • Sonata: sona, which means “sleepy” in Portuguese
  • Ursodiol: originally derived from bear bile, or ursa
  • Valium: vale, which is Latin for “goodnight”
  • 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.

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