Part 1 – The Top 50 Brand Names People use as Generic Terms

Many people call items by a name which is widely recognised and is even used across different languages with the same meaning. What the majority don’t realise is that they are often using brand names owned by specific companies rather than their actual generic product name. Here are some popular items in alphabetical order that we all know and love and may be surprised to learn that we’re actually using a legally owned brand name every time we mention it.

1. Airfix

A popular name in the UK for any kind of model kit due to the historic dominance of the brand. It’s actually a name owned by train set giant Hornby Railways and any non-Airfix model should be known as a “plastic injection-moulded scale model kit” which doesn’t trip off the tongue quite so neatly.


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2. App

Downloading an app has become commonly used terminology over the last few years to signify downloading software, typically to smartphones or other similar technologies. Many think it’s just a media-shortened version of ‘application’. Not so, it’s a previously owned trademark of Apple Inc for a digital distributing platform but have since relinquished the legal right to the term following a court case.


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3. Astroturf

Astroturf is a trade name owned by the Monsanto Company – formerly known as Astro Turf LLC – the generic product is called artificial turf. The brand became popular in the 1980s as sport stadiums replaced grass and it became a regular talking point between commentators about how it affected play with the company name quickly becoming the media-friendly term.


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4. Band-Aid

Used as a daily term across America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand as a request to cover a cut on the body, the sticky plastic product is actually called an adhesive bandage and is a trademark owned by Johnson & Johnson.


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5. Biro

The only name really known for disposable pens and found in the drawers of offices across the world, the word Biro is actually a French-owned trade name for the product of the ballpoint pen. Société Bic have the name legally associated with them with the use of this brand becoming the name of all throwaway pens due to the name of the inventor –  László Bíró.


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6. Bubble Wrap

Great for stress-relieving the world over, Bubble Wrap has become synonymous with relaxation by popping the individual air pockets as much as it is known for its product wrapping solutions. The globally known name though should only legally be used by one company – Sealed Air.

bubble wrap

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7. Cashpoint

A phrase said innumerable times each day; ‘going to the cashpoint’ is known as the only word to describe withdrawing cash at the ‘hole in the wall’. Cashpoint though is in fact a branded term owned Lloyds Bank and so anyone not banking with them or not using one of their machines should really be saying they are ‘going to the automated teller machine (ATM)’ or to the cash machine.

Cash Point

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8. Chapstick

Ask most people to draw the packaging for lip balm and the majority will create a short, cylindrical lidded item with a solid centre and say it is called a Chap Stick. This isn’t a generic name though, it’s a brand which is owned by Pfizer and invented in the 1880s. The logo has been in use since the early 1930s.


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9. Cigarette Boat

A recent terminology entrant for the generic product of a go-fast boat, this Cigarette Racing owned brand was originally known as a rum runner and became a term for any fast moving speed boat due to their illicit use in the past to smuggle first rum and then contraband cigarettes and were faster than boats owned by the police.

cigarette boat

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10. Coke

Ask for a can of Coke and any store owner or restaurant waiting staff will know exactly what you want. Whilst it may be their own branded soft drink or cola you’re served, the word Coke has become synonymous with the drink owned by Coca-Cola and despite being a common term, it’s legally still an owned trademark.


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11. Crock-Pot

A familiar term in the USA to describe the electric vessel used to cook a meal at a slow and steady pace at a low heat. Crock-Pot is a brand owned by Sunbeam Products. The generic term – and more commonly used in the UK – is a slow cooker.


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12. Dictaphone

Anyone who has worked in an office environment has probably used the handy audio accessory they call their dictaphone to take recordings of letters or meetings. In fact, the only company legally allowed to use the name is Nuance Communications and unless purchased from them, executives everywhere should be reaching for their dictation machine.


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13. Fibreglass

Owens Corning are the company with the legal right to call their product fibreglass. A term used worldwide, it should really be known by everyone else as glass wool unless they placed their order with the company who trademarked the name along with the colour ‘pink’ when they started to dye their product in the 1950s.


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14. Filofax

The must-have item of any go-getting business man or woman in the 1980s, the term Filofax quickly became a part of daily terminology to describe the handheld and often leather bound diary. However, Filofax belongs to only one company – the Letts Filofax Group – and for any Yuppies owning non-Letts products, they should really have been pencilling in a meeting in their personal organizer.


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15. Frisbee

Despite a court battle in 2010 to prove that the word Frisbee had become part of common language and so couldn’t be a trademarked name, the challenge by Manley Toys Ltd failed and the name for a flying disc continues to be only legally usable by Wham-O.


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16. Hoover

The household name for the machine tasked with sucking all the dirt and debris from the carpet may be Hoover, but they are all – other than those manufactured by the Hoover Company – officially known as vacuum cleaners. Even though there are now more popular producers of vacuum cleaners in the industry, the term ‘to hoover’ has stuck.


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17. iPod

Known as the name for a handy personal digital music storage device and sold in their millions by Apple Inc. after first launching in October 2001, anyone not owning one manufactured by this company should be talking about their track listings they hold on their portable media player.


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18. Jacuzzi

Jacuzzi is a company with an impressive range of products including mattresses and toilets. The name has become the colloquialism for what should otherwise be called a hot tub or whirlpool bath.


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19. JCB

For anyone either in the construction industry or even seeing the machinery on the roadside generally, excavators are usually known as a JCB. The official name however is a backhoe loader and is the name given to any digger with a front loader on an arm. The name is owned by JC Bamford Excavators Ltd.


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20. Jeep

The common name given to any SUV type vehicle due to its general style and look is Jeep. However, Chrysler own the trademark and anyone else really should be calling their car a compact sport utility vehicle. Chrysler themselves highlighted this issue with an advertising campaign which said ‘they invented the term SUV because they can’t call them a JEEP’.

 2012 Jeep

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21. Jet Ski

When you next take to the water and tell your friends you are going to be riding a Jet Ski, check who has manufactured it. If it’s not made by Kawasaki Heavy Industries, you need to explain you’re taking a personal watercraft out for a spin – although you’ll probably have to then explain what one is as the term is now globally generic.


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22. Kleenex

If a friend is having a bad time and asks you to pass a Kleenex and all you have to hand is a facial tissue, let them off this time but explain the difference when they feel better. Trademark owner Kimberley-Clark will thank you.


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23. Lava Lamp

No home in the 1970s was complete without a Mathmos Lava Lamp and whilst they went out of fashion for a couple of decades, their re-emergence saw the term lava lamp instantly resurrected even when not made by the trademark owner. Officially, the product is actually a liquid motion lamp.

Lava lamp

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24. Lilo

No trip to the beach would be the same without a Lilo, a popular term used by holiday makers in the UK. However, unless it’s been created for your enjoyment by Li-lo themselves, you’re going to be relaxing instead on an air mattress.


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25. Matchbox

Children of the 1960s and 1970s would collect their Matchbox cars in earnest and swap with friends to gather an impressive garage full of small metal vehicles. Whilst at one time other brands didn’t widely exist, this Mattel owned trademark as become a common name for die cast toys – in particular cars.


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