What’s In a Name?

A lot of trouble if you don’t do your research.

Julia Carcamo is president and chief brand strategist at J Carcamo & Associates, specializing in brand and marketing strategy. She is also the co-founder of espNOLA, a Hispanic marketing and engagement agency. Learn more at jcarcamoassociates.com and espnola.com.

Whether you are starting a new business or creating a new product or service for your existing business to market, the naming part can be quite a challenge. It has to sound good when it’s said aloud and should be easy to say and spell. It should be specific enough for the consumer to get a sense of what you’re trying to sell. And above all, it needs to sound appealing. As an example, the unfortunately-named Patagonian toothfish is more commonly found on menus as the more appealing Chilean sea bass.

As marketers and creative business leaders, those necessary qualities that I just mentioned are not too hard to work with. My legal friends will hate me when I tell you this, but the thing that tends to bring creating a name to a screeching halt is often the legal aspect of the name itself — the trademark.

I used to work with a creative genius who would Google a name. If he didn’t find a website bearing the name, he thought we were good to go. Nope! A web search is a good start, but it’s only a start. You have to consider businesses that may not have a website (shocking, I know). Sometimes, he would find a website and determine the name wasn’t being used the same way. For example, let’s say you want to name a nightclub and there is a coffee house across the country with the same name. Can you use that name? Probably not — it depends on how the coffeehouse registered its trademark. This is where your lawyers come in very handy.

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The other thing my creative friend used to do is attempt to overcome a trademark concern by changing spelling or using a translation of an existing trademark. That is also a problem.

As you go through your brainstorming process, instead of Google, use the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s trademark search tool. It’s very easy to use and will allow you to see if the name you want, including similar sounding names and variants of it, are in use. Then look for the domain availability. Ideally, the domain is somewhat keyword focused. You should also do a social media search to ensure you can build a consistent identity across all of your communications.

Once you select a name, you should ensure it is properly registered and protected. This can be somewhat confusing to new business owners, but it can be done on your own with a small investment of time and money. However, a lawyer specializing in intellectual property can be a lifesaver, too. They can assist you in registering your most valuable assets: the words, names, symbols and logos that distinguish you from everyone else. They look for the opportunity to protect you in ways that are not obvious to the inexperienced. This can be a huge help if you’re selling products bearing the trademark.

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If you’re really committed to using a name that is already in use, consider a licensing agreement with the holder of the trademark. This agreement basically gives you permission to use the trademark. Licenses can vary in terms but should include a specific identification of the trademark, as well as any restrictions and expectations.

Once you’ve gone through the long process of determining and trademarking your brand name, keep an eye on it. It’s important that you monitor any usage. Not everyone will go through the same careful steps you did. If you find someone using your trademark, often showing proof that you’ve trademarked the element should be enough to persuade them to cease. If they do not stop, you may want to go a bit further by possibly assessing any damages and then taking some level of legal action.

The right name can often make the difference in propelling you to success. It’s important to spend the appropriate amount of time to assure you can use it and that no one else is using it without your consent.

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