Item: “She calls her startup Rapunzel, and for good reason: Angela Christiano is working on growing a full head of hair in the lab.” – Stat, August 12, 2016
The startup is so new it doesn’t yet have a website, but it has generated plenty of buzz in the scientific community. And the name story is so good that I can’t resist sharing it.
Angela Christiano, a researcher at Columbia University, suffers from alopecia areata, a condition that causes sudden and severe hair loss. Dissatisfied with the two hair-loss products currently one the market, Propecia and Rogaine – both of which were developed 20 years ago – she’s working on a method that uses patients’ own stem cells to create hair. Her research is especially promising for women, who can’t use Propecia because of its strong hormonal effects.
Whence “Rapunzel”? It’s the name of the title character in a Grimm Brothers tale who is saved by her hair. Imprisoned in a tall tower by a sorceress, Rapunzel must let down her “splendid long hair, as fine as spun gold” to serve as a ladder for her jailer: “She untied her braids, wound them around a window hook, let her hair fall twenty yards to the ground, and the sorceress climbed up it.” Later, a prince uses the same route to reach and rescue Rapunzel (and impregnate her, in the original version). Rapunzel is named after a turnip-like edible plant (rapunzel in German, rapion in English, campunula rapunculus in Latin) that Rapunzel’s father, a poor farmer, stole from the sorceress’s garden. (Rapunzel is also the star of the 2010 Disney animated feature Tangled. And she’s a character in Stephen Sondheim’s 1986 musical Into the Woods.)
Illustration by Trina Schart Hyman for Rapunzel, retold by Barbara Rogasky; New York: Holiday House, 1982. Found here, accompanying an interesting analysis of the Rapunzel story.
Long, strong, abundant hair is so central to the Rapunzel tale that I’m not surprised Christiano made the association and appropriated the name. It’s an excellent example of a suggestive name – it doesn’t describe the product or its effects, but instead employs a potent analogy. Trademark lawyers approve of suggestive names, which are easier to protect than descriptive names. But they’re not the easiest names to come up with. If Christiano had turned to crowdsourcing or name generators instead of memory and imagination, she’d probably have ended up with a name like Hairly or Growthify – derivative, nondistinctive, and uninspiring.
Rapunzel isn’t the only clever name Christiano has developed. Her earlier hair-growth venture was named Vixen Pharmaceuticals. A vixen is a female fox; alopecia areata translates to “mangy fox,” from alopex, the Greek word for fox.
(Hat tip: Will McGuinness.)