(FORTUNE Magazine) – What's in a name? Plenty, if it happens to be the name of your product. When it comes to success or failure in the marketplace, a product's moniker can often be more important than the product itself, and anyone who doubts that should go have a chat with the folks at Dep Corp., whose appetite-suppressant candy, marketed under the unfortunate brand name Ayds, experienced a huge sales dropoff in the 1980s.

One of the more interesting developments in product naming is the growing use of the vernacular. The classic example dates back to 1945, when the Coca-Cola Co. trademarked "Coke," but the trend appears to have intensified. Federal Express, for instance, is now officially known as FedEx, and the Genesee Brewing Co. recently changed the names of its Genesee Light and Genesee Cream Ale beers to Genny Light and Genny Cream Ale, which is what thousands of drunken college students had always called them in the first place.

The marketing logic behind vernacular naming is simple enough--a firm reclaims public nomenclature as its own while simultaneously meeting consumers on their own communicative turf. Things get a bit more interesting, however, when a company uses a vernacular term from a wholly unrelated market realm. Consider the case of Sumptuous Selections, a Connecticut-based food vendor whose products include a line of salsas, the mild-flavored version of which is called Wimpy, Wimpy, Wimpy.

If that name sounds familiar, it's because you probably heard it a few jillion times from 1984 through 1991, when it was repeated ad nauseam in a series of television commercials for Hefty trash bags. Hefty's bags, you may recall, were extolled as being "Hefty, hefty, hefty!" while the competition's bags were derided as "Wimpy, wimpy, wimpy!" It's one of those annoyingly catchy advertising sound bites that eventually became part of our collective cultural vocabulary. Such ubiquity notwithstanding, it's still an incongruous name for a salsa--after all, "wimpy" usually has a pejorative connotation, and you'd think most food purveyors would go out of their way to avoid having their products associated, even tangentially, with trash bags.

Despite the salsa's apparent echo of the Hefty ad campaign, Sumptuous Selections marketing director Dee Blonski said any link between the two was inadvertent. "People have made that connection, but that wasn't our intent," she explained, somewhat unconvincingly. "We just wanted to have fun with the name. We figured that if it's mild-flavored, it's wimpy. I think the fact that 'wimpy' was set in triplicate was more of a coincidence." As for the odd marketing strategy of using a derogatory term as a product name, Blonski said it was meant to be lighthearted: "We're trying to have a good time--it's something the whole family can laugh at. If you can't laugh at yourself, you really have a problem."

You might also have a problem if certain other parties aren't laughing--like, say, the legal team at Hefty. Luckily, the folks at Hefty's parent corporation, Tenneco Packaging, have a sense of humor. "That's the most entertaining question I've been asked in months," said spokesman Warren Hazelton when queried about the salsa. "Our reaction is that we're pleased that a slogan for the Hefty brand has lived on as part of the vernacular to such an extent that someone would apply it to a completely unrelated product."

Even if the Tenneco brass had taken a less charitable view of the situation, Hazelton acknowledged that there probably wasn't much they could have done about it. "The full slogan, with the use of the Hefty name, is a copyright owned by Tenneco," he said, "but we have no real ownership rights regarding the words 'wimpy, wimpy, wimpy.' We certainly hope their salsa is just as high quality a product as a Hefty bag, and we wish them luck with it."

Hazelton's statement, gracious though it may be, employs "salsa" and "Hefty bag" in the same sentence, which illustrates precisely the sort of problem Sumptuous Selections has created for itself. When asked to assess the wisdom of using a product name that invites this sort of unflattering juxtaposition, Hazelton did his best to be diplomatic. "Not being in the salsa business, it's a little hard for me to say," he explained, displaying admirable tact. "I have to give them credit for creativity, though."

That last comment provides the kind of accidental epiphany so unique to the marketing arena. Indeed, it's hard to know which is the more unlikely pairing: salsa and trash bags, or appropriating another company's slogan and then having it described as "creativity."

PAUL LUKAS, author of Inconspicuous Consumption, obsesses over the details of consumer culture so you don't have to.