How a Vaccine Is Like a Craft Beer


If your jabs were from Pfizer, the name of the vaccine was Comirnaty. Moderna’s was Spikevax.

Most of the time a name makes a difference. But it can be tough to get a good one.

New Product Names


Pharmaceutical firms that need new product names tend to like “y’s.” One naming expert said that the letter “Y” provides “a very stark visual differentiation.” In addition, Pfizer was looking to convey a sense of community through its mRNA vaccine name.

For new drug names, the FDA is especially worried about mix-ups. They want to be sure that a name’s sound or appearance is not similar to others. They have people write the name, they do computer searches and simulation studies. As they describe it, they want to sure that the drug is accurately procured and prescribed. Also, it has to be “prepared, dispensed, and administered.” An “overly fanciful” name would be unacceptable. Spelling and pronunciation make a difference. You can see why the regulatory name approval process can take two years.

You can also see how Pfizer wound up with Comirnaty.


Not so long ago, beer was named Pale Ale, or Porter or Lager. Now though, the name of a craft beer is supposed to make it memorable. At Cisco Breweries on the island of Nantucket, they produce Whale’s Tale Pale Ale and Shark Tracker Light Lager. Meanwhile, Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing Company produces Salted Caramel Brownie Brown Ale.

In the trademark office, beer faces some of the same naming challenges as vaccines. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) rejects names that are “geographically descriptive” like New York Brewery and those with surnames such as Jones Brewery. They also said no to COW CREEK because it was too similar to the BULL CREEK BREWING mark. The result is a much smaller pool of potential new names.

Below, you can see the proliferation of breweries (since 1873) with new products that need names:

However, the pandemic appears to have moderated microbrewery growth:

Our Bottom Line: A Mixed Economic System

Through the FDA and big Pharma, and the USPTO and craft breweries, we have the perfect example of a mixed economic system. We have government regulating the naming process and elevating the cost of production. But also, we have big and little firms behaving like market participants. They know they can use names to compete. However, I suspect that the proliferation of names is making it increasingly difficult.

Do you agree with me that Comirnaty is not a great name for a vaccine?

My sources and more: It is always a pleasure to read one of WSJ’s quirky front page articles. Their focus on vaccine names was no exception. From there, I checked out the FDA’s name approval criteria. Then, after returning to our beer naming post, we had the synergy. For the beer post, we had looked at this Harvard Law Review paper, an NPR report, and a Chicago Tribune article. We suggested that, for some smiles, you might look at this Thrillist blog and Gizmodo’s new name list. (Please note that some sections from today were in our original brewery post.)

Originally published at on January 13, 2022.




Located at the intersection of current events, history, and economics, econlife® slices away all of the layers that make economics boring and complex.

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Econlife Team

Econlife Team

Located at the intersection of current events, history, and economics, econlife® slices away all of the layers that make economics boring and complex.

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