Bloomberg recently reported that first names are all the rage with startups, such as CASPER, MARCUS, and OSCAR. According to Steve Manning – founder of the Igor naming agency – “short first names change everything as it’s unexpected, less concerned with sounding corporate and serious, and is inherently more human.” Theoretically, this should allow the brand to make a more personal connection with its target customers.
The benefits of adopting a short, first name as your trademark are more than just theoretical. In a 2012 study published by the Journal of Financial Economics, brands with short, easy to pronounce names were viewed more positively by investors. Reducing name length by just one word can boost book-to-market ratios by 2.53 percent or $3.75 million for a medium-size firm. A 2006 study by marketing professor Adam Alter and psychology professor Daniel Oppenheimer found that stocks with easy to pronounce names and tickers outperform their counterparts.
Selecting first names does not guarantee success, and may even raise the stakes for the brand owner. Selecting a first name could mean that customers expect a personal experience throughout the entire experience with the goods or service. It also does not mean that you will have a trademark.
Whether a name is inherently distinctive (i.e., immediately protectable as a trademark upon being used in commerce) or requires proof of secondary meaning (i.e., evidence that the public recognizes name as a trademark) depends on the primary significance of the mark to the purchasing public. The more common it is for an industry to use personal names as identifiers, the more secondary meaning it will be necessary to show. In these circumstances, the name will not be protectable under trademark law unless secondary meaning has been established.
First names are also evaluated for confusion just like any other mark. This means that as trademark searchers we have to search personal names to make sure they are unlikely to cause confusion with a prior registered mark.