This is a lesson for people learning to speak English as a foreign language. I have chosen common American brands for this article.
An English learner recently asked me a question on Facebook about the word ‘Xerox.’ Even though it is a brand name, she heard people use it as a synonym for ‘photocopy.’ This is very common in English!
A brand name is the name of a company, or an official name given to a product by the company that makes it. For example, Xerox [/’ziɚɑks/] is a company name and a brand of photocopy machines. It was one of the first companies in the world to make a photocopy machine, so people started using the word ‘xerox’ as a synonym of ‘photocopy,’ (both a noun and a verb):
I need a xerox of this document.
Can you xerox this document for me?
A brand name can also be a trademark. A trademark is a word, phrase, or logo that identifies a certain product. No one else can use the trademark without the permission of the company that owns the trademark. For many companies, it’s a real problem when their brand name or trademark becomes the common, everyday term for that product!
There are many brand names and trademarks in that have become common nouns in English. This usually occurs when a company invents a product. The brand name or trademark becomes a synonym for that product.
Here is a list of brand names that have become common nouns in Canada & America:
Band-aid is the brand name of a small adhesive bandage made by the company Johnson and Johnson. In American English, band-aid is now the word commonly used for all small bandages, even if they are made buy a different company. (The British use the term ‘plaster’ instead of band-aid.)
A frisbee is a plastic flying disc (around 8-10 inches in diametre). One person throws a frisbee to another person who catches it. It’s a fun way to relax outside. There’s even a sport called ‘Ultimate Frisbee’ that has developed from this flying disc! The name Frisbee, however, is the trademark of the Wham-O toy company!
Kleenex is the generic term used for paper facial tissue (the kind you use to blow your nose!). Kleenex is actually the brand name of facial tissues made by Kimberly-Clark, but it has become a commonly-used name for all facial tissues.
This is the name for small pieces of paper with a light glue or adhesive on one side of the paper. You can put a post-it on anything and easily remove it. Post-it is actually the brand name of a range of products made by 3M!
A q-tip is a small stick with cotton swab or cotton bud on each end. They are used for a variety things such as cleaning ears, putting on makeup, or even doing arts and crafts! The brand name Q-tip, however, is owned by Unilever.
The company Rollerblade was the first to introduce in-line skates. Before, roller skates usually had 4 wheels in a ‘quad’ formation (2 wheels at the front of the boot, 2 at the back). In-line skates have 3-5 wheels in one line. People rarely use the term in-line skates, however. It’s more common to say ‘roller blades.’ To ‘rollerblade’ is also a verb.
This is a common name for clear, adhesive (sticky) tape, even though it’s actually a brand name for a variety of products made by 3M.
(the brand name is spelled Wite-out)
The correct name for this product is ‘correction fluid,’ a light, white, paint-like substance that can cover up mistakes on a piece of paper. Once it has dried, you can write over it. The product Wite-out is made by the Bic Corporation, but white-out has become both a noun and verb used for correction fluid.
This is a blue liquid used to clean mirrors, windows, or other hard surfaces. Any similar cleaner is called windex, even though Windex is a trademark owned by the SC Johnson company. Some people even use windex as a verb, for example, “I have to windex the mirrors.”
Small, clear bags, used for storing food in the refrigerator or in packed lunches, are often called zip-loc bags. The top of the bag locks together like a zipper. Zip-Loc is actually a brand name for products made by SC Johnson.