Using brand names

Kleenex. Band-Aid. ChapStick. What do these words have in common? They are all trademarked. If you bought a store brand box of thingies to blow your nose into, you’re actually using facial tissues, not Kleenex. Likewise, if you rub something on your lips that doesn’t come in a tube labeled ChapStick, you’re using plain old lip balm.

JetSki, Google, Crock-Pot, Post-it—the list goes on.

What does this mean for your writing? Generally, it is okay to reference brand names in writing. The main point to remember is brand names need to be treated like other proper nouns. This means brand names should be capitalized. (Generic names do not require capitalization.)

Example: I had such a bad cold last week that I sneezed my way through three boxes of Kleenex.

However, be mindful of using brand names correctly. For instance, if you are writing a blog post about your nasty cold, you shouldn’t post a photo of you holding a box of facial tissues labeled “Joe Shmoe’s brand of facial tissues” and then reference the brand name Kleenex in a caption. If your post rockets in popularity, it’s possible the trademark police could come after you because brand names should be used to reference that particular brand only.

Here is a list of trademarks often thought to be generic (should be capitalized):
Band-Aid
Bubble Wrap
ChapStick
Crock-Pot
Frisbee
Google
Hacky Sack
Jacuzzi
Jeep
Kleenex
Kool-Aid
Memory Stick
Onesies
Popsicle
Post-it
Q-tip
Rollerblade
Scotch Tape
Sharpie
Styrofoam
Tupperware
Wite-Out

Want to learn more?
Mental Floss has a funny and informative blog post about trademarks at risk of becoming generic. Check it out.

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5 thoughts on “Using brand names

  1. These are all trademark names that have become generic. Like it or not, that is the evolution of language in action. If you don’t agree with it, you shouldn’t use US spelling.

  2. I agree with Jules. Nobody is going to say they went to the craft store to buy spherical expanded polystyrene insulation for their kid’s solar system project. It’s always funny though when you see something with the generic name written on the label. I literally laughed out loud the first time I took some trash down to my apartment’s dumpster and saw that I was throwing it into a “front loading waste receptacle.” Trampoline, escalator, zipper, videotape, laundromat, aspirin, and countless other items started out as brand names but are now legally considered generic. It’s only a matter of time before the other brands follow suit.

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