• Joel Cheong

What's in a name?


It was recently reported that a restaurant chain in Taiwan offered free sushi to those who had the name ‘Gui Yu’, meaning ‘salmon’ in their identification card. As is usually the case, appetites and ichthyophilia prevailed over good sense and dignity and no small amount of people turned up at government offices to have their names changed so that they could take advantage of the offer. This, in turn, prompted an announcement from the government to remind the people that there are only so many times one could change her name before being stuck forever with ‘Ms Salmon Nella’ and that people shouldn’t change their names over such trivial reasons.


What’s in a name? Do names, or brands, really matter? You may think that your product/service can speak for itself and be tempted to go brand-less. Don’t. In the absence of a brand, your customers may come up with a less-than-ideal moniker for you. And that would probably be just as bad as being stuck with ‘Ms Salmon Nella’ for the rest of your life.

In this article, we will explore some of the names which you may pick as a brand and possibly register as a trade mark.


1. Business/Company name

Your business/company name is probably the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of what your brand should be as it is likely that you have spent quite some time to come up with a winning business/company name. Of course, if your business/company name is a mouthful, like ‘Goh Kim Tiam Hardware Supplies Sdn Bhd’, you might want to consider if something else which rolls off the tongue more easily would be more suitable. Also, if your business/company name lacks distinctiveness you will find difficulty registering it as a trade mark unless it has somehow acquired distinctiveness over time.


2. Personal name

Personal names can function as brands and you don’t need to be a celebrity to be able to register your personal name as a trade mark. Bear in mind, though, that you cannot register another person’s name or likeness, be it living or dead, as a trade mark unless permission has been obtained from that other person. For example, you may wish to use the name P. Ramlee as a brand for your tongkat ali-infused colognes, but unless you have obtained consent from the late actor’s representative, you would not be allowed to use his name as a trade mark.


3. Fictional Name

Don’t fancy being a household name spoken highly of by housewives and working mums everywhere? No worries. A fictional name can also be registered as a trade mark so long as it doesn’t coincidentally refer to a real person. For example, the name Ah Huat is a registered trade mark for powdered beverages and Julie’s for baked goods. Just like the P. Ramlee example, registering the name of a character in copyrighted works or someone’s pen or stage name is not permitted even though those names are made up.


4. Domain Name

If you have an online shop, you may be interested to know that domain names like amazon.com, booking.com, mynews.com can and have been registered as trade marks. So, if you do not have a brand in mind, you may consider using your domain name as your trade mark.


Of course, one may question whether trade mark registration is necessary since the domain name is yours and anyone who keys in your domain name into their web browser would be directed to your web site and nowhere else. That’s true, but trade mark registration grants greater power in stopping others from exploiting your domain name, for example, getting a third party to stop misusing your domain name on their web site or taking down a deceptively similar domain name that has been registered by a cybersquatter.


5. Username/Social media handle

Are you an insipid corporate drone by day and a vivacious social media butterfly by night? No? Well, neither is this writer. But if you are someone who is planning to promote or sell merchandise via your social media account, or just an ordinary content creator otherwise, you can use your username or social media handle as a brand and register it a trade mark. Not that it needs mentioning, but you would want to sign up with major social media platforms also so that your username is not taken up by someone else, unless you don’t mind using different usernames for each platform.


And that’s not all. Consider that there are other things that you can register as a trade mark, like invented words, arbitrary words, signs, numerals, colours, motions and sounds. So don’t be a nondescript nasi lemak seller obscured by a web of anonymity (unless your aim is to be a local hidden treasure). Put your best foot, nay, brand forward and be noticed!


Can’t think of a good brand for your product/service? Let us do the thinking for you! We can assist you with designing, searching and registering your trade mark for you. Just give us a holler. After all, we’re here to help.

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