December 16, 2013

Lessons from Will Ferrell: Five Steps for Picking a Baby Name

by Stites & Harbison, PLLC


Will Ferrell Lf
Your business is your baby. Picking the right name for that baby is difficult and incredibly important. It must reflect what your company is and what it aspires to be. It must evoke emotion and harness loyalty from your customers. You will spend countless dollars promoting that name, trying to ensure that as many people as possible know it and associate it with your products or services. In the end, that name will become your business, and your business will become that name. Your business is your baby, and you cannot be too careful picking a name for your baby.

Incidentally, your baby is also your baby. Picking out your actual baby's name is also incredibly important. By way of example, my name is Will Ferrell. No, not the famous comedic actor and star of Anchorman 2, John William Ferrell. My name is William Charles Ferrell. He goes by "Will," I go by "Bill," and our last names are pronounced differently. Of course, that makes no difference to the disappointed faces I am greeted with at every hotel and restaurant.

I am a living, breathing example of why it is important to choose brand names carefully from the get-go. If my life choices had put me on a path of fame and fortune, one of us Will Ferrell's would have been forced to change his name. Luckily for both of us, however, I unselfishly chose a more humble path--the obscure and anonymous life of an intellectual property lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee. Businesses, however, are rarely that fortunate. If Will Ferrell and I were businesses, the whole thing would have ended very badly for one of us (and yes, I know that would have been me). Businesses, of course, have the luxury of federal trademark registrations to put everyone in the country on notice of the use of a brand name to help avoid such catastrophes.

At any rate, sharing a name with a famous person my entire adult life has made me overly cautious when choosing my own children's names. Here is the process (we're about to have our second child, so I can call it a process, right?) that my wife and I go through to evaluate baby names:

Come up with some potential names

. Ellen Sluder over at Core Brand just wrote an excellent article about the process of coming up with potential baby names using business branding techniques. I particularly like her suggestion of ridiculing any potential name because this comes very naturally to me.

Get to Googling

. This is critical. Spend a lot of time on this. It's a wonderful idea to name your daughter after your favorite great grandmother, Elizabeth, provided of course, your last name is not Borden (I'll wait while you search for "Elizabeth Borden"). There are countless examples of way less famous horrible people out there. Search for nicknames, the full name, multiple combinations of names with and without middle names, search images, maps, anything you can think of. Scour the internet like you are trying to track down a love interest from high school. Search online dictionaries, including the Urban Dictionary (sorry Randy). Search for meanings in other countries ("Fanny" is not a cute name in some countries). Leave no stone unturned.

Get the domain name

. If someone is already squatting on the exact domain for your child's name, it is certainly not a deal breaker (check who it is though). It can, however, make a good tie breaker between competing names. Since it's usually cheap, go ahead and reserve the domain for all your top names then drop the ones you don't want. If it isn't cheap, I bet you did a terrible job with the first step of this process. Make sure to get the closest available domain name for your final choice.

Secure email addresses

. Check for availability of email addresses on the various email hosts (iCloud, Gmail, Yahoo, or AOL if you're an older parent) and go ahead and obtain an email address once you have settled on a name. These come in handy for setting up social media and getting in touch with your child's Nigerian prince friends who need her to hold on to large sums of money.

Hit social media

. Searching Facebook and Twitter will help you identify any soon-to-be-famous Will Ferrell's and Lizzie Borden's that may be out there using your child's name. If you care to, you can set up a Twitter handle. Unfortunately/fortunately, you have to be thirteen to sign up for Facebook. (This seems like a weird age restriction to me. Do they stream Gremlins on there or something?)

The purpose of the process above is two-fold and applicable to naming both children and businesses. First, find out who else is using the name. Second, do everything you can to alert others that you are using the name. For businesses, the best way to do this is with a federally registered trademark. For children, you need to be more creative.

I wish my parents had used this process when I was born. Of course, all the internet searching in the world would not have helped me because Will Ferrell was a very un-famous five-year-old when I was born. However, if my parents had used the whole process above (and if the internet existed at the time), John William Ferrell would have realized that the domain name, email addresses, and social media handles were all taken for "William Ferrell." Maybe then he would have gone by his actual first name like a normal person, and we would have avoided this whole mess. But, alas, we are forced to coexist.

The lawyers at Trademarkology provide trademark registration services backed by the experience and service of one of the nation's oldest law firms. Click here to begin the process of protecting your brand name with a federally registered trademark.