August 17, 2006
Brand Naming: Alternative Spellings Aren't New
The marketplace, and particularly the Internet, are full of alternative spellings of ordinary words: Flickr, Google (the original mathematical term is “googol”), RAZR, Seeq, Syndic8.
Even before text messaging inspired the trend of disappearing vowels and numbers substituted for syllables, we had “Citibank” instead of “City Bank” and “Publix” instead of “Publics” - not to mention “Rite Aid” and “Toys ‘R’ Us.”
None of these names would win a prize in a spelling bee, but that doesn’t mean the companies that chose them can’t spell, or don’t think their customers can spell. Most would be much less effective if consumers didn’t recognize the alternate, “incorrect” spellings.
Indeed, without standardized spelling as laid out in dictionaries, there would have been no motivation to use the alternative spellings - and no chance to trademark them.
Back in Shakespeare’s day, English spelling had not been codified. Not only were “u” and “v,” “i” and “j” interchangeable, but Shakespeare’s own name has been spelled several different ways - even, it appears, by the man himself. While the most common spelling was the one we use today, there were many variants, including “Shake-speare,” “Shakespere,” “Shakspear,” “Shaxpere,” and even “Shagspere,” which is rather rude by modern British standards.
The Elizabethan era lacked trademark offices as well as dictionaries, but the USPTO is as aware as Shakespeare’s contemporaries that alternative spellings still refer to the same thing, and wouldn’t look kindly on anyone who attempted to file “Publics” for a grocery store or “Right Aid” for a drugstore.
Nevertheless, the alternative spelling helps distinguish the company or product and to get around restrictions on “merely descriptive” names and trademarking words in general usage. And unlike Shakespeare, Flickr, Publix, and Rite Aid can enforce their choice of how their names are spelled.
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Tracked on November 18, 2006 2:34 AM