We always encourage our clients to select the best possible trademarks for their products. In our intellectual property lawyer view, “best” means a mark that is available for use with the client’s goods or services and that is likewise registerable on the Principal Register at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Our clients don’t always agree with us as to what is the “best” mark and might rather decide to adopt a mark that is harder (legally) to establish and protect, such as a descriptive mark.
Marketing experts provide countless suggestions to our clients intended to improve product sales, and one of those is to “humanize” the product’s brand. One way to do that is to engage the target audience on social media to build relationships and brand loyalty. Another is to share the brand’s commercial success with the community, like the charitable aspects of the TOMS shoe and LOVE YOUR MELON hat brand stories.
Yet another way to “humanize” a product’s brand is by using first names in the product branding strategy. For example, each Warby Parker eyewear frame bears a human name – Brady, Daisy, Robbie, Shea, Caleb, Dinah – you get the idea. We’ve maybe all shopped at Michaels (for arts and crafts) or Dick’s (for sporting goods), dined at Wendy’s or sought a referral from Angi (formerly Angie’s List). This use of a first name as a brand happens all the time, and even more so on the local level. Who hasn’t had lunch at Dave’s Downtown Deli or a burger at Sandy’s Tavern?
A mononymous person is a person known by just one name (rather than by a first name and a surname). We know many of them because they are famous. There are mononymous biblical figures like Adam, Eve, Moses and Jesus (step back a moment, think about those four persons and the brand narratives that accompany each of those names). There are mononymous historical figures like Socrates, Confucius, Cleopatra and Rembrandt. There are mononymous sports figures like Lebron, Kobe and Tiger. And, of course, there are mononymous comical figures like Mickey, Minnie, Daffy and Dagwood.
In the entertainment industry, sometimes the given first name of a performer is used or has evolved to define that person. Examples of this are Madonna, Elvis, Adele, Zendaya, Shakira, Beyoncé and Prince. For each of these performers, his or her entire brand – and all the commercial value that goes with it – can be summed up in one word (their first name). Each of these examples is a powerful brand, and its use creates instant and memorable connotations for the target audience. That’s what we want a brand to do. The brand itself then serves a strong advertising and promotional function for that performer’s services, and any related merchandise.
A first name can serve as a trademark and can be federally registered. A first name trademark is reviewed for registration purposes to determine whether the public would recognize and understand the mark as identifying a particular living individual associated with the goods or services, either because the person is publicly connected with the business for which the mark is used, or is so well known that the public would reasonably assume a connection. If so, then consent from that individual is required for registration.
Some attempts to “humanize” a brand through use of a first name mark can cause unanticipated repercussions, not for the brand but for those unfortunate persons sharing that first name. We all feel for the Siris and Alexas of the world who can’t escape the fact that their names are now the operative “wake words” for the virtual assistant technology in Apple and Amazon devices, respectively.
There may be great reasons for your client to use a first name as a brand. If it does, however, it runs the risk of losing some control of that brand, since it is shared with others.