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What's in a (celebrity) name?

Screen actress Meryl Streep has applied to trademark her name to stop others exploiting it.

The application, filed with the US Trademark Office, would give her exclusive rights to the use of her name throughout the entertainment industry.

This is the latest in a trend which has seen celebrities turning to trade mark law to protect their names from unauthorised commercial use.

Others include rapper 50 Cent, super-couple David & Victoria Beckham and socialite Paris Hilton.

Unusually, Meryl Streep's application does not seek to block production of merchandise such as perfume, clothes or toys but it refers only to "live, televised, and movie appearances" as well as "speaking engagements" and "autograph signings".

However the application does block others from using her name for websites about films and the film industry.

Meryl Streep isn't Meryl Streep's real name. She was originally known as Mary Louise Streep.

But it is under the name Meryl that she has achieved worldwide fame with roles in films such as Kramer vs Kramer, Out of Africa, The Iron Lady and her latest movie The Post.

Who else has trademarked their name?

  • Actor Sean Connery applied to trade mark his name last year.

  • David and Victoria Beckham have not only trade marked their own names, in 2016 they did the same for their children, Brooklyn, Romeo, Cruz and Harper.

  • Jay Z and Beyoncé applied for trade marks for the names of their children, Blue Ivy Carter, and more recently Rumi Carter and Sir Carter, shortly after they were born.

  • Paris Hilton trade marked not only her name but also her catchphrase "that's hot".

  • 50 Cent trade marked his stage name and later sued a fast food chain for using it in a marketing campaign.

  • Taylor Swift has filed around 60 trade mark applications including certain lyrics from her songs.

  • Football manager Alex Ferguson tried and failed to trade mark his name in 2005 after a judge ruled the requested mark was "devoid of any distinctive character".

  • Kylie Minogue and Kylie Jenner have tussled over the use of the name “Kylie” as a brand.


So why do so many celebrities look to trademark protection for their names or even the names of their offspring? Well, there are two main reasons: The first reason is so that they can derive income from the name or “brand” either through licensing the name or selling their own products using the trade mark.

The second reason is to ensure that a third party does not register the name themselves and benefit from the association with celebrities or celebrity endorsed brands. For example rapper Jay Z says that he and Beyoncé attempted to register the Blue Ivy Carter name because “People wanted to make products based on our child’s name and you don’t want anybody trying to benefit off your baby’s name. It wasn’t for us to do anything; as you see, we haven’t done anything.”

Similarly in December 2016, David and Victoria Beckham applied to register Brooklyn Beckham, Romeo Beckham, Harper Beckham and Cruz Beckham as trademarks in the EU.

It is always prudent to speak to an IP lawyer to talk through the detail of why and how you might like to protect your name, especially if your name is strongly associated with your business brand.


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