Provocative Prescriptions

A glimpse into the uncomfortable world of impotence drug names.

Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones newsletter.

(Update 5/5/98: Last month, we asked readers to suggest names for new impotence drugs. And the winner is: Dan Bloom of Andover, Mass., with his imposing Obeliskon. It’s somewhat subtle, certainly evocative, and most importantly, not crude. Congrats, Dan. Your mug is on the way. Honorable mentions go to the promising Arise and Revive, the unmarketable Phalloflate and Schwing!, and the most-suggested name, unfortunately already in use as the name of an impotence drug manufacturer: Upjohn.)

When Pfizer announced a little over a week ago that they had come up with, and been granted FDA approval for, a new impotence drug which could be taken orally, it was big news. They called it Viagra. What’s behind the name? Some people (like myself) immediately think vitality + gushing. But then, we didn’t name it, the folks at Pfizer did. What were they thinking? The MoJo Wire takes a look at the naming of Viagra and other recent impotence drugs:



Who makes it: Pfizer. 47,000 employees.

Claim to fame: It’s the first pill for impotence, and it only works when the man is aroused.

How the name came about: Pfizer says they just liked the way it sounded, “positive and short—a name people can remember.” It also works in all the major languages. They did point out, without being asked, “It’s not related to the Niagara Falls.”

Rejected names: Pfizer wouldn’t tell us. They don’t want to give any ideas to their competitors.

Downside: It takes an hour to work, and some men’s vision gets a blue tint.



Who makes it: Vivus. 300 employees.

Claim to fame: A catheter like device, it’s applied into the urethra. Works within 15 minutes.

How the name came about: The decidedly non-projectile sounding name is actually an acronym which stands for Medicated Urethral System for Erection. Even though the acronym stands for the method of delivery and not the the actual drug itself, Vivus liked the name so much they decided to use it anyway.

Rejected names: They decided names like “Erect-Med” and “Erectile” were too graphic. Says Michael Miller, spokesperson for Vivus, “We have a very sensitive subject here. People don’t need to be reminded of it every time they get the drug.”

Downside: See “Claim to fame.” Their promotional literature highlights two possible problems: “pain” and “urethral scraping.”



Who makes it: Zonagen Inc. 39 employees.

Claim to fame: It’s a pill, just like Viagra, but it only takes 15-30 minutes to work. (FDA approval pending)

How the name came about: It’s a “vasodilator,” meaning it dilates the blood vessels in the penis, allowing blood to flow in. Says a Zonagen spokesperson, “We didn’t do a great deal of research. Plus nobody else was using it.”

Rejected names: None, it was the first name they came up with.

Downside: It’s not on the market yet. Once it is, it will likely be more expensive than Viagra.



Who makes it: Pharmacia & Upjohn. 30,000 employees

Claim to fame: The active ingredients were introduced to the public at a urology convention when a doctor decided to give a personal demonstration. On the podium, he dropped his pants and proudly revealed an “impressively erect penis”—results brought on, he pointed out, by the drug that would later be marketed as Caverject.

How the name came about: Caver= Corpus Cavernosum, the tissues inside the penis that fill with blood to make an erection. Ject = well, as Upjohn told us, “the ‘ject’ part speaks for itself, doesn’t it.”

Rejected names: They wouldn’t give us any, “It’d change the way we brainstorm and affect our creativity.”

Downside: It’s injected. Though according to the New York Times, “Some men prefer local injections to pills.”

We Recommend


Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.