Naming a product line

I was reading a post over at Language Log (I wish they took comments) this morning about naming. Robert Shuy said

I was sitting here at my desk, gazing idly out of my window and thinking noble thoughts, when I saw a truck marked, “The Window Washers,” park in front of the building next door to Language Log Plaza. No question about what it was doing there. Its name was clear enough. The neighboring building wasn’t getting sprayed for termites or getting its leaking faucets fixed. The people who own this window washing company made it very clear that they, well, wash windows.

From the consumer’s perspective, there’s something rather comforting about generic and descriptive names. But I know what you’re thinking — trademark laws make generic and descriptive names impossible to protect and another company can use that name whenever they want to.

This rang a bell because I’ve always said my favorite name for a sewing contractor is “sewing contractor” which you’ll also appreciate when searching phone records because the phone company doesn’t sort by SIC code. Still, I am well aware that producers don’t have the option of naming themselves so descriptively; this really only works for service providers and suppliers. Toward that end, Language Log mentions the Igor Naming Guide. Have you heard of this? About Igor, LL says

Its goal is to help companies “customize” their name and “make sure that all aspects of a work plan are designated to complement your naming project, corporate culture, approval process and time frame.” For some reason Igor doesn’t always deal with the categories of trademarks used by trademark law. It refers to suggestive names, for example, as “evocative” (maybe an improvement) and wisely puts much of its focus on this category, probably because most trademark litigation relates to whether or not a name is suggestive.

From Igor, I found another blog that keeps tabs on the TTAB, the body that mitigates disputes between parties over name and trademark usage which may be useful if you’re concerned about possible challenges to your use of a name. Speaking of possible challenges, see the entry from last Friday regarding vulgarity (why do people think vulgarity is necessary?). Otherwise, if you haven’t named your line yet, it may be worth your time to visit Igor. They have loads of free advice regarding selection and naming practices.

[post amended]
Steve Manning from Igor International popped over and left a comment that I’m elevating to the front page. Thanks Steve!

We (Igor) also have a free naming service. It’s a community of 4700 plus people that will help you name your biz. You can also search the database for naming suggestions in categories similar to your own.

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  1. Kathleen says:

    Yeah, I signed up for that. I’m no good at naming but I can tell you some that won’t work. DEs often name their companies and labels very poorly. Miracle could talk about this all day long.

  2. julia says:

    I have been thinking about names recently, one thought that I had was that most designers use their own names as opposed to something that states what services they provide or what they design, for examples, Kate Spade or Gucci verses the Gap or Baby Phat.
    Which way do you think is better and why do you think some designers just use their own name?

  3. -racheL says:

    Yes, with regards to Julia, I was wondering the same thing!
    The difference may be, some designers regard their work as art, and use their own name the way an artist would. Others are focused on the business aspect and so they pick a generic name.
    Do you think that fashion is an industry built on the quality of goods, and any name you have, it only achieves recognition after the merchandise is scrutinized by customers, critics, and buyers? So in that sense, do names really matter at all?

  4. Kathleen says:

    Do you think that fashion is an industry built on the quality of goods, and any name you have, it only achieves recognition after the merchandise is scrutinized by customers, critics, and buyers?

    I was curious about this too (Rachel makes a good point). I got some advice from a well known apparel PR person. He said that he prefers that a designer names the line after themselves (if you don’t like your name, use a stage name like actors do). He said that if they’ve used something else when they started out (and before they hired his PR firm), that they do a shift over time to the designer’s name. For example, if your label was “lady killer”, he’d have you change your labels and business cards to read “lady killer” by Susan Something and over time, the designer’s name would get larger and more prominent until “lady killer” was dropped altogether. That’s just what he said. Me, I don’t know. Also, he promotes designer and bridge lines. I don’t think his advice would hold for other kinds of product lines and markets.

  5. Kathleen says:

    Thanks for posting that Alex, I don’t know why all my trackbacks don’t come through. Good thing I happened to be visiting your site and found the entry.

  6. kristin says:

    Hi i think that I might have a unique idea for a small clothing line.Is there anyway that i could have my idea pattened.How do i go about protecting my designs..thanks so much

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