41 Brand Names People Use as Generic Terms

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Many items we use every day, like zippers and escalators, were once brand names. Even heroin, which no one should use any day, was a brand name. These names are or were trademarked, but are now often used to describe any brand in a product category.

1. Jet Ski

You might think you’re riding around on a Jet Ski, but if it’s not made by Kawasaki Heavy Industries, it’s just a personal watercraft.

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2. Bubble Wrap

Wikimedia Commons

Bubble Wrap is probably the greatest contribution made to our society by Sealed Air Corporation, which they rightly trademarked.

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3. Onesies

Thinkstock

The term Onesies, referring to infant bodysuits, is owned by Gerber Childrenswear. According to their website, the trademark is aggressively enforced. (Twosies and Funzies also belong to Gerber.)

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4. Jacuzzi

Wikimedia Commons

Jacuzzi is not only a brand of hot tubs and bathtubs; they also make mattresses and toilets.

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5. Crock-Pot

Crock-Pot.com

The Crock-Pot, a brand name for the slow cooker, was originally developed as a beanery appliance.

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6. Fluffernutter

Wikimedia Commons

Fluffernutter is a registered trademark of the makers of Marshmallow Fluff, Durkee-Mower, Inc.

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7. Seeing Eye Dog

Wikimedia Commons

Technically it's only a Seeing Eye Dog if it's trained by Seeing Eye of Morristown New Jersey. Otherwise it's a guide dog. (We're as guilty of this as anyone.)

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8. Breathalyzer

Wikimedia Commons

Breathalyzer is owned by the Indiana University Foundation. In 1931 Indiana University professor Rolla N. Harger created the contraption—originally called the Drunk-O-Meter—as a device to test the sobriety of drivers. Suspected tipplers breathed into a special balloon, and Harger's device got a reading on how much they'd had to drink. By 1936 Harger had patented his creation, and he eventually signed the invention over to Indiana University.

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9. Zamboni

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The Zamboni is an ice resurfacer named after its inventor, Frank Zamboni.

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10. Chapstick 

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Chapstick is a brand name of lip balm produced by Pfizer. In the event that you find yourself enjoying this product too much, websites dedicated to helping Chapstick addicts are available.

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11. Kleenex

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The perfect time to remind a friend or family member that Kleenex is a brand name for a tissue is right when they are desperately begging you to hand them one.

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12. Ping-Pong 

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Ping Pong was trademarked in 1901 as a brand of table tennis products named for the sound the ball makes when it hits the table.

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13. Popsicle 

Thinkstock

Popsicle is a registered trademark of Unilever. Like many great things in life, the Popsicle was invented by accident. As the story goes, one winter night in 1905, 11-year-old Frank Epperson left a mixture of soda and water with a stick in it on his porch. Almost 20 years later, Frank began selling his creation at a lemonade stand and the treat has been popular ever since.

Today, Unilever recommends that you call generic frozen pops on a stick “pops,” “ice pops” or “freezer pops.” Although, depending on where you’re from, offering someone a “pop” could get very confusing.

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14. Q-Tips

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When Q-tips were originally released, they were called Baby Gays. The name was changed to Q-tips—the “Q” standing for quality—in 1926. Although they have changed hands several times since then, Unilever owns the brand today.

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15. Rollerblades

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Two hockey player brothers designed Rollerblade inline skates from a pair of old roller skates in 1979. They were the only brand of inline skates until the mid-eighties, when several other companies emerged.

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16. Scotch Tape

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According to legend, Scotch tape earned its name when a frustrated customer told a 3M scientist to “take it back to your Scotch bosses and tell them to put more adhesive on it.” Today, Scotch "Magic Tape" is only manufactured in one place in the world: Hutchinson, Minn.

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17. Sharpie

Wikimedia Commons

The permanent marker was invented in 1956, but the Sharpie wasn’t introduced until 1964. Today, the products are almost synonymous with one another.

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18. Realtor

Thinkstock

Realtor was a trademark designed specifically to separate its users from most other real estate agents. To use the word Realtor, you need to follow a strict code of ethics and be a member of the National Association of Realtors.

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19. Tupperware

Wikimedia Commons

Tupperware is a brand that got its name from its creator, Earle Silas Tupper.

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20. Velcro

Wikimedia Commons

George de Mastreal invented Velcro when he discovered that burrs stuck to matted dog fur. Today, it is the world’s most prominent brand of hook and loop fasteners.

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21. Weed Eater

Wikimedia Commons

Weed Eater is owned by Husqvarna Outdoor Products.

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22. Wite-Out

Thinkstock

Don’t ask BIC what’s in their line of correction fluid. The exact ingredients of Wite-out are confidential.

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23. Band-Aids

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Johnson & Johnson manufactured gauze and adhesive tape separately until Earle Dickson had the idea to combine them to create Band-Aids for his accident-prone wife.

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24. TASER 

Thinkstock

Taser is a trademark of TASER International, and shouldn’t technically be used as a verb. To be fair, “Don’t hit me with that electroshock weapon, bro!” is probably hard to shout under duress. Bonus fact: TASER is an acronym. It stands for "Thomas A. Swift's Electric Rifle."

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25. X-acto Knife

Wikimedia Commons

X-acto began in 1917 as a medical company that created syringes. Eventually, they began creating surgical scalpels that evolved into hobby knives. X-acto is a brand and a division of Elmer’s.

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26. Dumpster

Thinkstock

Dumpster is a brand name, which is true, although the word has become largely genericized and the trademark is not widely enforced. The APA has even dropped the recommendation to capitalize the word. The Dumpster got its name from the Dempster Brothers Inc., who combined their name with the word “dump” to create the Dempster Dumpster.

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27. Novocain

Thinkstock

Novacain is actually the brand name of Procaine Hydrochloride owned by Hospira Inc.

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28. Xerox

Wikimedia Commons

Xerox has been trying to stop people from calling photocopying "xeroxing" for years. "Use Xerox only as an adjective to identify our products and services," said a 2010 print ad, "not a verb, 'to Xerox,' or a noun, 'Xeroxes.' Something to keep in mind that will help us keep it together."

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29. Post-Its

Wikimedia Commons

Everyone knows Post-its, a trademark of 3M, were not the invention of Romy and Michele. A very different duo is responsible—Dr. Spencer Silver invented the adhesive in 1968 and scientist Art Fry thought up a practical use for it in 1974. A few years later, Post-its were available for sale (first under the name Press ‘N Peel).

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30. Ouija Board

Wikimedia Commons

The Ouija Board was first introduced by Elijah Bond in 1890 as a practical way to communicate with spirits, making dealing with a pesky ghost much more convenient. Today, it is trademark of Hasbro Inc.

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31. Plexiglas

Wikimedia Commons

Plexiglas, which got its start in World War II aircraft canopies, has since become the better-known name for acrylic glass or polymethyl methacrylate.

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32. Styrofoam

Wikimedia Commons

No matter how many picnics you’ve been to or how much time you spend at the water cooler, you’ve never had a drink out of a true Styrofoam cup. Expanded polystyrene is the generic name for the material that we typically think of as Styrofoam. The brand is a trademark of the Dow Chemical Company that is made in sheaths for construction projects and is never made in the shape of a plate, cup or cooler.

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33. Formica 

Thinkstock

If not made by the Diller Corporation, you should call it a decorative laminate. Catchy.

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34, 35 & 36. Frisbee, Hula Hoop & Slip'n Slide

Wikimedia Commons

Frisbee is currently owned by WHAM-O. In 2010, Manley Toys Ltd. challenged WHAM-O, arguing that the terms Frisbee, Hula Hoop and Slip’n Slide have already become generic in the public lexicon, but it didn't really go anywhere.

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37. Windbreaker 

Wikimedia Commons

Windbreaker is a trademarked word for jackets made by Celebration Trading Inc., though this is currently in court.

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38. Stetson

Wikimedia Commons

Stetsons are hats made by the John B. Stetson Company. They are not a generic term for cowboy hats. And if you use it that way, Stetson will send you a very terse letter, as the Washington Post found out.

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39. PowerPoint

Thinkstock

On their website, Microsoft suggests that unless you are using their software, your PowerPoint is a “presentation and graphics program.”

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40. GED

The GED is certainly the most famous of the high school equivalency diplomas, but this one is trademarked by the American Council on Education.

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41. Google

Getty Images

Bing it.

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May 9, 2014 - 2:55pm
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