December 11, 2002
What's In A Name? by Madonna Dries Christensen | printable version
A recognizable trademark is one of a company's most valuable assets. We may not always know the name of the company behind a product, but we're familiar with Alpo dog food, Campbell's soup, Chiquita bananas, Smucker's jam, and thousands of others. Several generations of children have grown up singing the Oscar Mayer weiner jingle.
Writers are notoriously careless when using trademarked names. Probably the most abused company name is Jockey. Many writers use the word "jockey" to describe a style of underwear, the opposite of boxers. For example, "Looking at me from his front window, the young man was wearing only jockey shorts."
Even if Jockey shorts had been correctly used, the man's underwear must have been on backwards and inside out for the observer (across the street) to note the label. And she'd need binoculars or extremely good eyesight. Unless a label is visible, or important to the story, use briefs, bikinis, boxers, or long johns to describe the style of underwear. A jockey might wear Jockey underwear or any of a dozen other brands.
Ziploc and Baggie are plastic bags. If you own stock in the company and want to promote the product you'll want to use the whole name. If not, just say plastic bag; quite likely readers don't care who made it. The same goes for disposable tissues. Unless the box is visible, and it's clearly Kleenex or some other brand, tissue will do. Not every recliner chair is made by La-Z-Boy. If it is, spell it correctly, not Lazyboy or Lazy-boy.
Look closely at a bottle of Dr Pepper. There's no period after Dr, yet most writers put one there.
Coca-Cola or Coke is a trademarked name; coke is slang for cocaine.
Rollerblade is one brand of inline skates. Even if someone's skates are made by Rollerblade, don't write "She was rollerblading on the boardwalk." Her activity is inline skating.
He was wearing Nikes. Wrong. There's no (s) in Nike. He was wearing Nike sneakers.
There are many gelatin products, but only one is JELL-O (not jello/jell-o).
One does not xerox a document. One might copy a document on a Xerox machine.
A newspaper editor mentioned Vic's Vapor rub. Who is Vic? It's Vicks VapoRub.
Jeep (capital J) is a personal civilian automobile, while a jeep is a general purpose, all-terrain vehicle, usually for military use.
Hormel makes a meat product called Spam; spam is unsolicited E-mail.
Here's the correct spelling of some trademarked names: Bac-Os, Band-Aid, Bic, Brillo, Clorox, Crisco, Dacron, Dolby, eBay, egg beaters, Fiberglas, Fig Newtons, Formica, Frisbee, Goodwill (Industries), Jacuzzi, Jif (not Jiff, peanut butter), Kmart, Laundromat, Lycra (spandex fabric), Lysol, Mace, Masonite, Musak, Novacain, Orlon, Ouija (board), Pampers (diapers), Plexiglas, Polaroid, Popscicle, Post-it (notes), Pullman (trains), Pyrex, Q-tips, Sara Lee, Scotch Tape, 7-Eleven, Styrofoam, Tabasco, Technicolor, Teflon, TelePrompter, Valium, Vaseline, Velcro, Walkman, Wal-mart, Weight Watchers, and Wite-Out (correction product).
Unless mentioning a specific brand, these are a few of many generic terms: aspirin, baking soda, bleach, cellophane, cola, corn flakes, duct tape, ginger ale, kerosene, lanolin, nylon, oatmeal, oleomargarine, potato chips, raisin bran, root beer, and yo-yo.
When in doubt about a product's spelling, look it up. Check your cupboard, refrigerator, newspaper, telephone book, or your favorite online search engine. If possible, look at the product's Web page. The above mentioned Oscar Mayer weiner was spelled Meyer on dozens of unofficial sites.
What's in a name? Think of trademarked names in terms of your byline. If your name is Mari Joennes, would you want it spelled Mary Jones above a published story?
Madonna Dries Christensen of Sarasota, Florida is currently on the editorial board Doorways magazine and is past Contributing Editor to Writer's Guidelines and News magazine. She's been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize for fiction and has published nonfiction, fiction, and poetry, in more than 100 publications. She is also the author of the [as yet unpublished book] book, Swinging Sisters.