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Is trademarking a baby name going too far?


Beyonce with daughter Blue Ivy Carter

Baby names. When did it all get so cutthroat and complicated?  In the good old days, you just sat down with a piece of paper, and possibly a baby book, and made a list of choices. Nobody worried about a friend stealing their baby name or how to lay claim to it on the Internet.

Welcome to 2012, where naming baby in the digital age isn’t quite so cut and dry. These days, a savvy parent gets online as soon as they’ve narrowed down their options. The first step: Do a simple Google search to make sure you aren’t setting your unborn child up for a lifetime of confusion -- with a porn star or a criminal.

After all, we all know our kid is going to have plenty of people doing the exact same thing -- searching for him or her online, for the rest of their lives -- and no one wants to make their kid’s teenage years any more awkward than they need to be. Or worse, potentially hurt their chances of getting a job one day because their name brings up a list of felonies.

Kate Flewelling, an attorney in Chicago, turned to Google to help her and her husband pick the right spelling for their son’s name. They wanted to know exactly what they were signing on for before they filled out that birth certificate.

“We were trying to decide between Myles and Miles, with a y or an i,” she explains. “So we Googled stuff like ‘is Myles a hipster or jock name?’ And I admit, I almost Facebooked the one guy I found who does share the name Myles Flewelling to see what he was actually like.”

Fast forward to after a baby is born, and it’s becoming more and more popular to reserve a child’s email, domain name and maybe even Twitter handle, so they don’t have to be something like, “Sophie Miller 582” or “Oscar Sheppard 4”” when they grow up and want their own Internet identity. 

“When our son was a month old, we got him a Gmail account,” says Joanna Goldstein, a first time mother in New York City.  “For now, I send emails out to our family every week, attaching pictures and sharing his latest triumphs. I hope somebody it will be nice for him to have this journal of his early adventures in his email.”

And then, there’s Jay Z and Beyonce, who took the whole laying claim to a baby name to the next level. They made headlines last winter when they filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to protect their daughter’s name -- Blue Ivy Carter . 

Some parents found the whole thing downright crazy. Trademarking a baby name -- only in tinsel town, right? But other people were left wondering whether, in fact, you can register your child’s name so nobody else can steal it in real life or online.

Brett Frischmann is an expert in intellectual property and internet law at Cardozo School of Law. He says that “99.9 percent of the time, it doesn’t make sense for parents to trademark their baby’s name.”

As he explains, a trademark serves a very particular function in commerce, creating a connection between the name of a company and the goods or services it sells. For instance, you can’t open up another fast food-type restaurant named McDonald's. That could create confusion for customers.

But you also just can’t just lock up a word (or group of words) from the English language -- much less a name for your kids. Professor Frischmann points outs, “You could always name your child Delta and the airline couldn’t sue you.”

So what exactly do Beyonce and Jay Z have up their sleeve? Most likely, they’re trying to reserve it for a future line of baby clothing or kiddie items with the label Blue Ivy Carter on it. The trademark puts a lock on anyone trying to sell products using their daughter’s name.

The bad news: You can’t capitalize on their kid’s fame and open up your own Blue Ivy boutique. The good news: You can absolutely name your next kid Blue Ivy if you’d like -- even if your last name is Carter.

Jacoba Urist is a lawyer, writer, and mom in Manhattan. She has a JD and LLM in Taxation from NYU School of Law. Her writing has appeared on MSN Money and The Atlantic. Follow her on twitter: @Thehappiestpare

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