Baby-Naming Rights

At the Madisonian blog (with slick new redesign!), the ever inventive Mike Madison reports on a conversation at a dinner party that surely was populated by law professors and info/law geeks: what should either law or ethics have to say if expectant parents sold naming rights to their baby, like every sports stadium does. Among the guests, “the informal betting was that we will see this happening by the end of the decade.”

It doesn’t sound like much of a leap to me because so many parents already put brand names on their birth certificates. And I don’t mean names like Mercedes, that had history as a name for people (and places and institutions) before it became associated with the car.

My wife often recounts a presentation she attended from a Disney executive who bragged about the strength of Disney’s brand names, giving as an example the double-digit number of children in the United States named ESPN or Espn after the Disney-owned cable sports network (see here and here for more on various little baby ESPNs). And a quick Google search turns up this boast on Google’s blog:

Walid Elias Kai, a Ph.D. in search engine marketing, is, it must be said, an avid fan of our company. Dr. Kai, who is Lebanese, and his Swedish wife Carol live in Kalmar, Sweden, where their son was born on September 12 [2005]. His name? Oliver Google Kai.


Of course, there’s a website devoted to young Mr. Kai. We wish him long life and good health, and hope his schoolmates aren’t too hard on him.

Maybe payment for baby-naming rights will not come to pass — because consumers are so willing to brand their children for free! Of course, I wonder how Disney will feel if some day baby ESPN grows up to commit a heinous crime or star in a porn film. Talk about dilution by tarnishment! (Laches defense, perhaps?) And this only works for brands that are already beloved by consumers. I don’t really anticipate anyone naming their kid TD Banknorth voluntarily — that’s why they had to go out and buy the rights to the no-longer-new Boston Garden.

Whatever the economics of it, it’s quite a thought experiment for what it says about our trademark-saturated society. As Mike concludes:

From an IP perspective, most of this seems pretty unexciting, if not uncomplicated, and it’s the progression of IP into nearly all aspects of daily life that prompted our idle speculation last weekend. If identity can be owned, as in some kinds of privacy and publicity contexts, then why can’t identity be sold or licensed? There is the usual commodification/propertization question, but it seems to me that society allows (even encourages) so much objectification and commodification of identity that taking this step is likely to be unremarkable.

Update:  Former-Berkmanite-turned-law-student Luis Villa points me to this article, about a project converting the whole person-naming question into a bit of controversial performance art (combined with some development aid).

14 Responses to “Baby-Naming Rights”

  1. Can you tell me the socially appropriate ethics to naming your child the same name of one of your friends or another child that is close in your life? If you do not know, can you please tell me how to find out? thank you so much. Kimberly

  2. […] The passing of the Reverend Jerry Falwell will no doubt be a cause for sincere mourning among a set of individuals that, as it happens, does not include me. But on the principle that the three of us can find an Info/Law angle on practically anything (from the Super Bowl to baby naming to perfume to a rap about tax preparation software), it’s worth noting that Reverend Falwell’s legacy includes a fair amount of info/law jurisprudence — some of it surprisingly friendly towards consumers and users of digital content. […]

  3. Can you please tell me if there are any legalities to naming my son with my maiden last name versus the traditional last name of his father? His father and I were not married at the time he was born, but have since married. I chose to keep my maiden name. Does my son need to change his last name to reflect his father’s last name? Is this a matter of preference or tradition? I do not denounce his father on any legal documentation and need to add I have chosen his father’s last name as my son’s middle name. Any insight on this topic is appreciated. If you do not have an answer for me, could you please direct me to where I can go to look for the answer.

  4. Interesting post! What happens if a major brand takes parents to court for using their trademark (i.e. baby Coca Cola) to name their baby.

    Muslim Names

  5. does law prohibits naming a child an alphanumeric names like F150, C3PO, B707, etc.?

  6. I love these questions in the comments!

    I am no expert on family law, but in general there is very little U.S. law restricting first (or “given”) names. Surnames have some more restraints — I believe generally it has to be either the father or mother that’s on the birth certificate or the adoption papers, or else you have to get court approval. Some other countries, including a number in Europe, have more restrictions on both first and last names.

    And to play Randy Cohen or Dear Abby for a moment and reply to the “same name as close friend’s baby” question: personally I think it depends. If that baby has a very common name, I see no problem. If you name your kid Jack or Madison these days, you clearly are not placing a major premium on being unique. As the name becomes more unusual, though, I think it starts to get increasingly odd and eventually creepy to copy it. But now we are far from my expertise, and I will return to the legal stuff forthwith!

  7. I remember hearing about a father that wanted to use a beer name.

  8. Can you please tell me if i would have to name my baby after his father if we are not together?

  9. Oliver Google Kai. Unbelievable.
    @Ashley – You can name your baby what ever you want.

  10. Is it legal to put a comma in a baby’s first name. My sister in law just had twins and named them

  11. Interesting William, that you said:
    “Maybe payment for baby-naming rights will not come to pass” – I think it’s unfortunate that it did in fact come to pass for the low low price of $4,050.00.

    I posted on the baby name auction

    It would be interesting to hear what you have to say


  12. “I wonder how Disney will feel if some day baby ESPN grows up to commit a heinous crime or star in a porn film. Talk about dilution by tarnishment!” – LOL

    But seriously parents should think hard about what they name their child, remeber it’s them who has to put up with the harrassment.

  13. oh wow

  14. That’s interesting you bring up the name ESPN. When I first heard that name, I thought it was nuts. And I too thought, what if the kid turns out to be the next serial killer or worse? What would/could ESPN do about it?