That title's a tease: I don't know for sure how Zafgen got its name. But here's what I do know; tell me if you don't reach the same conclusion I did:
- Zafgen's corporate tagline is "Dedicated to the treatment of obesity."
- The short home-page description says Zafgen is "the first biopharmaceutical company dedicated to developing novel obesity therapeutics based on vascular targeting in adipose tissue (fat)."
- No member of the management team, the board of the directors, or the scientific advisory board is named Zafkin or Zafkowitz or Zaffington or anything else that might indicate that Zafgen is an eponym. But...
- The Yiddish word for "plump" is zaftig (literally "juicy," but invariably used in reference to embonpoint).
Is it unreasonable to infer that Zafgen is the world's first pharmaceutical company with a Yiddish-Greek name?
That's what Howard J. Wilk suggested in a post to the American Name Society listserv. When I e-mailed Mr. Wilk (who calls himself "a chemist and wannabe namer") to learn more, he directed me to "Weighing Options," an article about obesity research in the April 13 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, in which Zafgen is mentioned. He also wrote:
At first glance, and at the considerable risk of cultural stereotyping based on surname analysis, I'd venture that the three members of Zafgen's management team—Drs. Hughes, Vath, and Nichols—aren't Members of the Tribe. Still, their obesity research may have exposed them to a relevant Yiddish word or two.
Here's a bigger question: according to my little bible of combining forms, Word Parts Dictionary, -gen means "something that produces" (from Greek genēs, "born"). So wouldn't that make "Zafgen" a cause of embiggenment, not its potential cure?
For further research: Zaftique, the website that produces weight loss through aesthetic bewilderment.