How Do Weed Strains Get Their Names?

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Northern lights, Durban Poison, Grand Daddy Purple, Sour Diesel, OG Kush — names for weed strains are incredibly creative. When you walk into your local dispensary, you will see some strains named after familiar entities, like Girl Scout Cookies or Blueberry; you’ll find strains named with seemingly random letters and numbers, like 88 G-13 and 501st OG, or nonsense words like Zkittlez and Squiblica; and you will discover plenty of strains seemingly named after people, like Jack Herer, Steve McGarrett and Charlie Sheen. Marijuana strain names are undeniably fun — but they aren’t exactly functional.

It is common for weed newbies to get frustrated and confused by their dispensary’s offerings because weed strains are rarely named for their effects. That’s largely because the differences in effects are miniscule and highly subjective. Plus, effects only manifest after one partakes, so they aren’t particularly useful in differentiating a nug of one strain from another. 

As a result, marijuana breeders through the decades have developed other naming conventions, which have produced the names for some of the best weed strains. While there are no established rules for naming new strains, there are a few methods that are popular:

Describing the Strain

A precious few marijuana strains are named after the effects they produce, like Blue Dream, which allegedly creates a “dreamy” mental state. However, as mentioned above, because those effects cannot be guaranteed to every user, this isn’t a popular or particularly useful way to name strains. 

Instead, breeders often describe the strain using other sensations. For example, Northern Lights is among the most beloved indica strains, and it gets its name from its colorful flowers, which mix green, blue, purple and orange in a brilliant display that mimics the famous aurora borealis. Typically, strains that include colors like blue and purple are describing the look of the marijuana buds. 

Additionally, many strains are named after their smell or taste. Enthusiasts have identified nine distinct flavor families in marijuana: floral, herbal, vegetal, fruity, spicy, earthy, roasted, mineral and animal. Often, strains have elements of several flavor families; for example, Sour Diesel has strong notes of sour citrus as well as a heady note of industrial chemicals similar to the smell of diesel gasoline. Just because a strain has a strange description in its name, like Cheese or Lemon Skunk, doesn’t mean it isn’t a delightful smoking experience. You should branch out and try new flavor profiles to get a better sense of what you like in your weed.

Honoring Weed Icons

It’s common for famous, important people to get their names on theaters, sports arenas, streets and more — and often, famous, important people also get their names on weed. Most commonly, breeders name marijuana strains after people who are important to weed culture or the marijuana industry. For example, one of the best sativa hybrids goes by the name of Jack Herer, who was the most active  marijuana advocate in the 20th century, and there are plenty of strains named for Snoop Dogg, Tommy Chong, Michael Phelps and Charlie Sheen, all of whom are public about their marijuana use. Few breeders name strains after themselves, even if they are prominent in the industry.

Combining Parent Names

These days, marijuana offers an incredibly intense high — much more powerful than the skunkweed made famous by hippies in the 1960s and ‘70s. The excellent quality of cannabis these days is thanks to the hard work of breeders, who meticulously search for only the best plants to combine for the next generation. 

Cannabis reproduces sexually, meaning it requires a male plant to fertilize a female plant before it generates seeds. Because cannabis requires two parents, breeding can be extremely difficult; breeders aren’t ever sure what genes will translate in each offspring plant. Thus, when a breeder finds a plant that improves upon the characteristics of its parents, it is a major success.

To mark the occasion and keep track of the strain’s lineage, many breeders choose to name their new creation after one or both parents. Sometimes, that means smashing together two names; Blueberry and White Widow were combined to make Berry White. Other times, the resulting name is an homage to its parents, like Dr. Who, which descends from Mad Scientist and Timewreck. Finally, some weed strains are half-named for a parent plant and half–something else, like a weed icon or a description. 

Naming for the Future

Legal recreational use promises to change long-held marijuana naming conventions, as different dispensaries and growers strive to differentiate themselves in the market. Already, some shops are noting when the same strain comes from different brands. What’s more, genetic mapping of different strains could help sellers and buyers identify which strains are the same — because dealers of the past have been known to change a strain’s name to increase marketability and consumer interest. While legal growing and selling could increase the variation in strains, genetic testing could reduce the number of old strains to just a handful.

Strain names are wild and wonderful, and let’s hope they stay that way. Even as the marijuana industry grows and changes, we should always have sometimes-helpful, always-crazy names for weed.

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