Hearing about that hot new anti-impotence pill, you may have thought, How nice that such drugs need no longer be lovingly injected into the penis. You may also have thought, Viagra, now that’s a beautiful name. It is, in fact, the result of painstaking semiotic research. How best to connote the might of manliness and the resilience of youth? With a classical resonance, such as “Priapex,” or an onomatopoetic riff, perhaps “Boingomyecin”?
“We want a name that people can remember,” says Andy McCormick, a Pfizer spokesman, “that won’t offend anyone in another language. And it has nothing to do with Niagara Falls.” Yet I keep thinking of the mighty Horseshoe Falls, of abandoning oneself to the churning white froth, the honeymoon bliss, the ever-rigid wax-museum figures. Furthermore, “Viagra” differs by one letter and the merest anagrammatic nuance from genitals that a newly Viagrated male might pleasure – and that, too, hardly seems accidental.
So though drug nomenclature isn’t scientific, it’s not as arbitrary as, say, clothing colors – “available in bourbon, Schadenfreude, jalapeño, and Alice B. Toklas.” Vivus Pharmaceuticals named its penile suppository – side effects of which include “pain, bleeding when misused, and fainting” – “Muse.” Who wouldn’t be inspired to paint, dance, or write at the sight of his own bleeding urethra?