Kylie vs. Kylie: Who Owns a Famous Name?

Mar 2nd 2016

The headlines are juicy: "It's Kylie Minogue versus Kylie Jenner in a battle for who owns their name," says the BBC. "Who Will Win the Battle of the Kylies?" asks People Magazine.

Read deeper and you'll learn that reality tv personality/model Kylie Jenner, age 18, has filed to trademark the name Kylie. Singer/actress Kylie Minogue, age 47, is opposing the trademark. In her filing, Minogue apparently lays out her own celebrity career credentials and disparages Jenner's, in a rare legal fame-off.

The intersection of baby names and trademarks is serious business in Hollywood. The saga of famous parents Beyoncé and Jay-Z seeking trademark protection for their newborn's name made Blue Ivy our 2012 Name of the Year. At the time, I suggested that "none of this trademark brouhaha would have happened if the baby had been named something like Bella Carter instead of Blue." The Kylie case suggests otherwise.

Images via Splash News

Kylie was a hugely popular name in Australia in the 1970s, then took off in the U.S. in the late 1980s when Aussie Kylie Minogue hit our top-40 radio. (More on that later.) Over the past 30 years, about 100,000 American girls have been named Kylie. How can either celebrity claim to "own" such a common name?

They can't, really. The headlines claiming a "name ownership" dispute reflect the fact that trademarks confuse the heck out of most of us, journalists included. (A Guardian article on the Kylies even referred to "name patents.") With all due warnings that I'm a baby namer, not a lawyer, I see this as a pretty humdrum trademark dispute…and a much more interesting underlying baby name story.

A trademark is an exclusive right to use a word or phrase in a particular realm of business. I like to think of registering a trademark as securing your rights to your own earned reputation. For example, Tiffany & Co. built a reputation for selling top-quality jewelry. Another jeweler shouldn't be able to trade on Tiffany's name, and customers shouldn't be misled into thinking they're buying a Tiffany & Co. ring when they're not. The company's trademarks in their area of trade keep that from happening. Jewelry trademarks, though, didn't keep a veterinarian from registering the name Dr. Tiffany for pet dietary supplements, or a baker from trademarking Tiffany's Custom Bakery.

So what realm of Kylie commerce is Kylie Jenner trying to claim? I looked up her trademark applications, and it seems she has filed for rights to use the name Kylie in entertainment services, advertising and endorsements, fashion information and cosmetics. Kylie Minogue, meanwhile, has been branding products with her first name for decades. She has live trademarks listed for the name Kylie in the realms of "education & entertainment," music, jewelry and accessories, and for the full name Kylie Minogue in cosmetics, perfume, clothing, and much more. Minogue feels that Jenner's applications infringe on her existing trademarks and would dilute her brand. Fair enough.

Now for the baby name story. What leaps out at me is that Kylie Jenner almost surely owes her name to Kylie Minogue. That's not to say that Jenner was necessarily named after Minogue, but the name Kylie became a contender for the Jenners and thousands of other American families because Kylie Minogue brought it to our shores a decade before Jenner was born. The name's timeline shows a series of jumps, with Minogue front and center:

What we're seeing is a second-generation celebrity name. It's a fascinating illustration of what it means to choose a name made popular by a star. To some extent, you're playing on their playing field. They came first, and assuming their given name was distinctive, they likely staked a claim to use that single name in business.

That doesn't mean a celebrity namesake can't be famous in her own right, even in the same field as her predecessor. Think of the tennis champion Martina Hingis, who was named after tennis champion Martina Navratilova. The shared name didn't hold her back on the court. On the other hand, it might well have kept her from marketing tennis products under the name "Martina." That kind of drawback could loom larger in other fields. Imagine how carefully a young singer named after Beyoncé would have to market anything in the music industry, including music itself.

In our modern commercial world where fame inevitably comes with a flurry of trademark filings, I won't be surprised to see parents who want a brand-name-worthy baby name adding a new step to the name search: a search of the trademark database, to make sure your favorite name isn't already claimed in your own field of dreams.

8 TV Characters Who are Sparking New Baby Name Trends

Feb 25th 2016

At some point in your life, you've probably met a Samantha -- likely more than one. I'll make a prediction about all of them: they were born after September 17, 1964. That was the first broadcast date of the sitcom Bewitched, which turned the formerly obscure name into an all-American favorite.

Samantha is just one of a long line of baby name hits launched by tv characters. A look at today's top 500 names reveals names like Arya, which has soared via Game of Thrones, and Archer, the eponymous hero of the animated spy send-up Archer. The names below are vying to join them in the spotlight. All are fictional characters from current series, and all have seen a leap from baby name obscurity since they hit the air.

(Names marked with a * rank in the current top 1,000.)

Adalind (F).

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A stylish character helps inspire namesakes, but stylish doesn't have to mean good. Case in point is the wily "Hexenbiest" Adalind of the fantasy-cop show Grimm. The old Germanic name benefits from the nicknames Ada and Addie, and a pretty blond woman with supernatural powers is a proven baby-name hit formula.

Castiel* (M). Castiel of Supernatural is an angel in the naming tradition of Gabriel and Raphael. There is no angel Castiel in traditional religious texts, but thanks to the tv series the name is recognizably celestial.

Khaleesi* (F).

I first wrote about the Game of Thrones name Khaleesi back in 2013 as "The Non-Name from a Non-Language." The Dothraki word for queen has kept rising since, all the way to the top-1,000 list. (Remember what I said about pretty blond women with supernatural powers?)

Huck (M). On Scandal, Huck is a hacker with a dark and dangerous past. The character has made the unlikely name Huck part of a fast-rising Mark Twain style alongside Sawyer and Finn.

Lucious (M).

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Music producer Lucious Lyon is the antihero at the heart of Empire. He brings a new image --  and a new spelling -- to a classic name previously dominated by Harry Potter's sinister Lucius Malfoy.

Stiles (M). The character "Stiles" Stilinski of Teen Wolf alerted parents to the possibility of Stiles as a first name, an alternative to the newly popular name Miles. (This spelling outpaces Styles, a la One Direction singer Harry Styles, by more than two to one.)

Killian* (M).

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Killian is an Irish saint's name ending in -n, a recipe that has proven irresistible in names like Aidan and Declan. The "killer" sound of this one held parents back until Killian Jones of Once Upon a Time came along

Thea* (F). In 2014, the name Thea nearly doubled in popularity, placing it the top 1,000 for the first time in 50 years. Top credit goes to Thea "Speedy" Queen of Arrow.


Read More: Fandom Faceoff: Which Franchise Wins on Baby Names?

5 Lessons Fiction Writers Can Teach Baby Namers

Feb 18th 2016

When it comes to choosing names, fiction writers have it good. They can choose a name purely for effect. They don't have to please any extended family, or worry whether there's another little Charlotte or Miles in their neighborhood. Better yet, they get to name full-fledged adults with established personalities and histories, rather than not-yet-born infants.

It's no surprise, then, that fictional people the most perfectly named people around. Can parents learn anything from the way fiction writers approach names? I've been reading guides to naming fictional characters, and I've come away with these five key pieces of advice:

1. Names set expectations. Imagine the stories that these sets of protagonists would headline: Sebastian and Arabella, Buck and Dixie, Throndir and Aeryndel.

Character names help conjure up a setting, cultural positioning, and spirit. Real-world names can't help but do the same. No matter why you choose a name, you should understand the cultural message it sends to others.

2. Using different sounds and initials avoids confusion. Keeping characters' initials distinct was the most universal advice I found. Some guides considered it so obvious that they were apologetic about even mentioning it. Most took the advice beyond initials and recommended varying the number of syllables and stress patterns in a large cast of names to help readers keep them straight. Yet many parents deliberately choose matching sibling sets like Brenna, Brandon, Brody and Brooklyn.

Is this a baby naming mistake? Not necessarily. It's possible that real-life siblings could reap benefits from having similar names, like an enhanced sense of family cohesion. But the character-naming advice is a good reminder that names have an audience outside the family, and that similar names can cause confusion or even make your kids stand out less as individuals.

3. Middle names are an afterthought in daily life. Reality check: not one of the guides I read said a word about middle names. That's because we meet fictional characters out and about in the world, where middle names are seldom seen or heard.

When you're choosing a baby name you choose two names, first and middle. Both feel like momentous decisions. But unless you plan to call your child by a double-barreled name, one of those name choices matters a thousand times more than the other.

4. A name with strong associations can hem a character in. Fictional characters have predetermined strengths and storylines. That makes it tempting to tailor the name to the character arc. If you overdo it, though, you risk turning your character into a cartoon – or telegraphing a plot twist.

As any parent can tell you, real-life kids are far less predictable than their fictional counterparts. Apples frequently do fall far from their trees, and your child may grow up to be someone very different from what you imagine. The name you choose for a baby has to be flexible enough to fit any future.

5. Google before you commit. You've just completed your brilliant crime novel. The devious murderer fairly leaps off the page! Her name: "Laura M. Wattenberg." Umm…say what? I'm just a humble baby namer, not a killer! Scenarios like that one encourage fiction writers to Google the full names of key characters to check for conflicts.

The mere existence of a name doppelganger isn't necessarily a problem, either for a fictional person or a real-life one. People with common names routinely have hundreds or thousands of name twins. But the more distinctive a name is, the more a doppelganger will trip people up. Even in the case of more popular names it's worth checking to make sure that the full name, including middle initial, doesn't have a potentially troublesome association.