Articles about medical product and company naming

How to Name a Medical Device

First published in Medical Design & Outsourcing, May 15, 2020

All naming has its challenges, but medical device naming especially so. Not only is the medical field a crowded one when it comes to trademarks, but marks must accomplish multiple things in a somewhat restricted playing field. To assist marketers and others confronted with this task, here are some basic tips.

Consider sound and sense

Healthcare — from surgical equipment to pharmaceutical products — is rife with invented names that mash together Greek and Latinate morphemes — Adcetris, Sylatron, Duexis, to mention a few. The medical device sector is no different. And while these morphemic marriages more easily vault the high hurdles of trademark clearance, they can also sound unnatural.

The best invented names are pleasing to the ear. Sense (what the name means) is important, but sound no less so. Altrua (a pacemaker manufactured by Boston Scientific) is bookended with vowels, and, as such, sounds calm and welcoming. On the other hand, the Vitatron pacemaker made by Medtronic sounds more mechanical. There is nothing wrong with a mechanical tonality per se but be sure it’s appropriate for the device’s target market.

Who’s the audience?

If it isn’t possible to appeal to everyone, at the very least avoid a name that appeals to one group but turns others off. For example, a name that appeals to the high-performance needs of surgeons may be less inviting to patients or administrators. That said, it’s crucial to consider the broad audience of medical professionals because there is often an entire care team involved in the selection and use of medical devices. A physician may prescribe the use of a device, but a nurse may administer it, or even choose it from amongst similar options.

Though it’s rare for a name to appeal to all audiences, it can happen. Take Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci robot-assisted system. Its name appeals to surgeons because it implies artistry and mastery. For healthcare systems, it bestows an element of class to their hospitals. For patients, the name invokes genius. And who wouldn’t want a genius for a surgeon?

All that said, think twice before traveling this naming route. Patent and trademark databases are cluttered with artistically and musically inspired medical device names; to find one with tolerable risk levels is like finding a needle in a haystack.

Anchor abstractions in reality

A name like Airis, Hitachi’s open MRI scanner, is a superior lexical blend because it is grounded in two meaningful words: air and iris. The name suggests a non-claustrophobic or “airy” experience plus vision, as the iris is the thin, annular structure of the eye that regulates the amount of light passing through.

So, if you do decide to use an abstract or fanciful naming construction, try to use recognizable words or word parts as road signs. A name with meaning can lead to a better story than an abstract collection of sounds.

Don’t overlook the FDA

The agency regulates device names, so medtech companies must be careful when developing names not to suggest a benefit claim that is untrue or hovers on the border of untruth. A device can be rejected if its name leads to false impressions or overstates its effectiveness. And as with every naming project, an IP attorney must carefully vet the name to be sure it doesn’t sound too similar to existing trademarks.

Don’t be too scary

When considering device naming, especially for patient-facing names, it’s crucial to avoid scary or unappealing imagery even if it is brilliantly suggestive. Kraken, a fearsome mythological creature with twisting tentacles, may be a marvelous name for an alcoholic beverage, but it’s too threatening for a surgical device. This doesn’t mean you should avoid unusual names. A good example of this is the Octopus, Medtronic’s whimsically named tissue stabilizing device.

At the same time, don’t let personal fears guide your naming. For example, you may not like references to sharp needle points. But, to a diabetic, a sharp point is a positive as it allows the needle to pierce the skin more easily. This is why Everpoint, a cardiovascular needle manufactured by Johnson & Johnson’s Ethicon division, is a fine name.

Another approach is to take a word part that is functional and cold and transform it into an aspirational name. The Harmonic Scalpel, also manufactured by Ethicon, uses ultrasonic energy to cut, dissect and seal in surgery. The name Harmonic includes the “onic” of ultrasonic but has more pleasing associations.

In closing, standing out from the pack is important. But don’t attempt to do so with a name that is painful to say, doesn’t consider everyone who will be exposed to the device — from health administrators and medical professionals to patients and their families — or overly promises or falsely positions the offering. Equally important, be sure your name doesn’t compound the fears people already have around surgery.