International Nonproprietary Name

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WHO has a constitutional mandate to "develop, establish and promote international standards with respect to biological, pharmaceutical and similar products".

The World Health Organization collaborates closely with INN experts and national nomenclature committees to select a single name of worldwide acceptability for each active substance that is to be marketed as a pharmaceutical. To avoid confusion, which could jeopardize the safety of patients, trade-marks should neither be derived from INNs nor contain common stems used in INNs.


An International Nonproprietary Name (INN; also known as rINN, for recommended International Nonproprietary Name, a name which is still under consideration being known as a pINN for proposed International Nonproprietary Name) is an official nonproprietary or generic name given to a pharmaceutical drug, as designated by the World Health Organization (WHO). The plethora of named proprietary preparations containing a given substance can lead to confusion about the identity of the active ingredient. Like other systems of drug nomenclature, INNs facilitate communication by providing a standard name for each substance; they are designed to be unique and distinct so as to avoid confusion in prescribing.[1] A similar role is played in chemistry by IUPAC names, though those are less suited to common usage, being typically very long and unwieldy.

WHO issues INNs in English, Latin, French, Russian, Spanish, Arabic, and Chinese. A drug's INN names are often cognate across most or all of the languages, but they also allow small inflectional, diacritic, and transliterational differences that are usually transparent and trivial for nonspeakers (as is true of most international scientific vocabulary). For example, although "paracetamolum" (la) has an inflectional difference from "paracetamol" (en), and although "paracétamol" (fr) has a diacritic difference, the differences are trivial; users can easily recognize the "same word". And although "парацетамол" (ru) and "paracetamol" (en) have a transliterational difference, they sound similar, and for Russian speakers who can recognize Latin script or English speakers who can recognize Cyrillic script, they look similar; users can recognize the "same word". The result is to make medicines bought anywhere in the world to be as easily identifiable as possible to people who do not speak that language. Notably, the "same word" principle allows health professionals and patients who do not speak the same language to communicate to some degree and to avoid potentially life threatening confusions from drug interactions.

WHO established the INN system in 1953 and the 57th INN Consultation was convened in October 2013.[2]

Name stems[edit]

Drugs from the same therapeutic or chemical class are usually given names with the same stem. Stems are mostly placed word-finally, but in some cases word-initial stems are used. They are collected in a publication informally known as the Stem Book.[3]

Examples are:[3]

Linguistic discussion[edit]

The term stem is not used consistently in linguistics. It has been defined as a form to which affixes (of any type) can be attached.[4] Under a different and apparently more common view, this is the definition of a root,[5] while a stem consists of the root plus optional derivational affixes, meaning that it is the part of a word to which inflectional affixes are added.[6] INN stems employ the first definition, while under the more common alternative they would be described as roots.

Name changes[edit]

A number of modifications are made to British Approved Names and other older nonproprietary names. This is to ensure similar pronunciation across major languages:[7]

  • ae or oe is replaced by e (e.g. estradiol vs. oestradiol)
  • ph is replaced by f (e.g. amfetamine vs. amphetamine)
  • th is replaced by t (e.g. metamfetamine vs. methamphetamine)
  • y is replaced by i (e.g. aciclovir vs. acyclovir)
  • h and k are avoided where possible

Comparison of naming standards[edit]

International Nonproprietary Name (INN)
  • paracetamol (en)
  • paracetamolum (la)
  • paracétamol (fr)
  • paracetamol (es)
  • парацетамол (ru)
  • اراسيتامول (ar)
  • 对乙酰氨基酚 (zh)
British Approved Name (BAN) paracetamol
Other generic names
  • N-acetyl-p-aminophenol
  • APAP
  • p-acetamidophenol
  • acetamol
  • etc.
Proprietary names
  • Tylenol
  • Panadol
  • Panamax
  • Perdolan
  • Calpol
  • Doliprane
  • Tachipirina
  • Ben-u-ron
  • Atasol
  • Adol
  • etc.
IUPAC name N-(4-hydroxyphenyl)acetamide
ATC code N02BE01

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "International Nonproprietary Names". World Health Organization. Archived from the original on 25 October 2013. Retrieved 21 March 2014. 
  2. ^ "The INN crowd". Editorial. Nature Biotechnology 31 (12 (1055)): 155. December 2013. doi:10.1038/nbt.2760. PMID 24316620. 
  3. ^ a b "The use of stems in the selection of International Nonproprietary Names (INN) for pharmaceutical substances" (PDF). World Health Organization. 2011. WHO/EMP/QSM/2011.3. Archived from the original on 26 October 2013. Retrieved 21 March 2014. 
  4. ^ Geoffrey Sampson; Paul Martin Postal (2005). The 'language instinct' debate. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 124. ISBN 978-0-8264-7385-1. Retrieved 2009-07-21. 
  5. ^ Loos, Eugene E.; Susan Anderson; Dwight H. Day, Jr.; Paul C. Jordan; J. Douglas Wingate. "What is a root?". Glossary of linguistic terms. SIL International. Retrieved 2010-11-28. 
  6. ^ Loos, Eugene E.; Susan Anderson; Dwight H. Day, Jr.; Paul C. Jordan; J. Douglas Wingate. "What is a stem?". Glossary of linguistic terms. SIL International. Retrieved 2010-11-28. 
  7. ^ "General principles for guidance in devising international nonproprietary names for pharmaceutical substances*" (PDF). World Health Organization. United Nations. Retrieved 14 February 2014. 

External links[edit]