Trivia Teaser

Which is the only US President to have fathered twins?

Richard Nixon
John F Kennedy
George W Bush
Abraham Lincoln

Trade Names


By Christine Lovatt

What do the words escalator, zipper and yo-yo have in common? They all started life as trade names.

A successful product sometimes becomes so well-known it eventually becomes a generic term for that sort of product.

When does a trade name become a word? The easiest way to tell is when it appears in the dictionary in lower case (this varies according to the age of your dictionary!).

The words kerosene, trampoline, linoleum, formica, aspirin, escalator and cellophane all appear in the Oxford and Collins dictionaries. All were once trade names, but now only one appears as a proper noun –  have a guess which one it is (see below*).

Some, such as jacuzzi and hoover, are named after the inventor or manufacturer. The yo-yo was invented hundreds of years ago, and has had many names, but in 1929, the design was modified and given the name Yo-Yo, which was trademarked. It means ‘come come’ in Filipino.

Despite the fact that Chrysler has taken extraordinary steps to keep Jeep as a trade name, it appears in the Oxford English Dictionary as jeep.

Lycra, Vaseline, Catseye, Velcro and Thermos still have a capital initial. However, in the 50s, the American Thermos Company tried to stop rival products using the name Thermos. A court case found that they were too late. The generic use of thermos had become so firmly impressed as a part of the everyday language of the American public that it had already fallen into the public domain.

Internet is still a trademarked term, but it’s used as a word in everyday use, so is well on the way to appearing in the dictionary as a generic term.

Not only do these words become common nouns, they sometimes go on to become verbs. You can hoover the carpet or zip up the road, having yo-yoed from one position to another. Or adjectives -- a band-aid solution is a temporary or makeshift one.

It seems to be the price a successful company must pay, that having built a good product, it then loses the trade name, but makes a contribution to the dictionary.


Happy puzzling!


* formica




1 Response to

Trade Names

November 21, 2007 at 11:26 AM


One I use all the time is Google. An example could be, "I’m going to go and google it". Meaning, to search online.