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