Once a mere jest, cryptocurrency has evolved into a staggering worldwide market capitalisation, estimated at 1.24 trillion USD as of October 2023.
Let’s rewind the clock to December 2021, a pivotal moment when a congressman, in a humorous quip, pronounced cryptocurrencies as the paramount threat to their own kind. He amusingly conjectured the rise of a new coin, bearing a name as obscure as a Mongoose, which might one day usurp Bitcoin.
Astonishingly, the whimsical notion gave birth to Mongoose Coins, a meme coin that burgeoned into a bona fide cryptocurrency.
Fast forward to today, and it’s a frenzied race to claim a piece of the cryptocurrency pie. This digital cacophony boasts over 22,900 distinct cryptocurrencies, including meme coins, altcoins, utility tokens, governance tokens, and stablecoins.
With so much out there, how can your company or product distinguish itself?
Assuming you have a sturdy economic foundation and advanced technology, a powerful brand name can further strengthen the trust factor of your company or product. For most consumers, it serves as their initial meeting with a new product or service.
The trust factor
As a stakeholder in the crypto realm, it’s imperative to align your brand with “trust” because anything relating to money should instill feelings of security and dependability.
This is especially vital as cryptocurrencies are already grappling with a crisis of confidence – a crisis exacerbated by the collapse of FTX, the cryptocurrency exchange founded and headed by the now infamous Sam Bankman-Fried.
As we learn more about what happened through the ongoing court proceedings, it’s easy to understand why so many would find it hard to trust crypto.
So how does a name convey trust?
A needle in a haystack
One of the traditional ways to convey trust for a company or product in the United States and often, the global market, is to use a single, English dictionary word for your name.
Not surprisingly, these types of names are in high demand by both crypto and traditional financial clients (and for that matter, many other clients as well). As a result, such words with plausible meanings are very difficult to clear in today’s extremely crowded trademark databases.
The problem is compounded by the vast number of single word English names (or two words operating as one such as Starfield) that are not registered but still receive some level of protection via common law rights.
To mention just a few of the thousands of single word names in the crypto space (some registered as trademarks, others not): Exosphere, Stratosphere, Handshake, Lucid, Polymath, Polygon, Polynomial, Tether, Ubiquity, Galactic, Valence, Quarry, Starfield, Cosmos, Blazon, Scaffold, Avalanche, Alchemy, Defiance, Trillion, Singularity, Boolean, Tether, Braid, Atlas, Republic, Salt, Thor, Hermes, Medici, Oxygen, Spatial, Mantle, Optimism, Stellar, Arcana, Starship, and Pinion.
And the list goes on. And on.
The challenge of crowded trademark databases
Before the trademark databases became so congested, Intellectual Property lawyers often suggested using a dictionary word that bears no direct connection to the product or service being branded. This is known as an arbitrary name and classic examples of this name typology are “Apple”, “Amazon”, and “Nike”.
Many years ago, this approach could lead to success. Today, it is a far less effective strategy. Just look at the handful of names cited above. It is chock-a-block with arbitrary names.
Pinion, for example, is the outer part of a bird’s wing, including the flight feathers. Trillion, besides being a very high number, is a modern diamond cut with three equal sides, flat or pointed edges, and a flat table on top.
The industry’s explosive growth has turbo-charged the challenge of finding names with tolerable trademark risks. The sheer volume of companies or products in operation or entering the market means most plausible single English dictionary words will be taken.
Sure, you could name your cryptocurrency company “Diapers”, but who would want to?
That said, if you really love a name that appears to be in use, be sure to have a qualified IP attorney do a thorough check. A lot of cryptocurrency and crypto- associated companies and products come and go with lightning speed (and for the record, Lightning is a decentralized network using smart contract functionality in the blockchain space).
Additionally, it’s important to note that for potential legal issues to arise, the goods and services don’t need to be identical, and they both don’t need to be digital assets. Traditional financial or software offerings can also trigger a likelihood of confusion objection from a PTO examiner, or step on the toes of a common law mark.
How to create intriguing, trustworthy, and trademarkable names
To surmount these hurdles, we advise our clients against overly fixating on a solitary, cool English dictionary word. While real-word monikers with strong rationales more easily check the “trust” box, well-designed invented marks with no dictionary meaning – known as “fanciful trademarks” in trademark parlance – can also accomplish this goal.
A well-known examples of a fanciful make would be Pepsi®, and in the crypto space, Monero and Solana could be considered fanciful marks.
Foreign words, too, can function as “fanciful” words, as long as they are from dead or obscure languages or languages largely unknown to an appreciable number of the brand’s market. This is the case with Hedera, the Latin word for “ivy”, derived from the Greek hédra.
Some human names, while not strictly considered fanciful marks, may operate as such if they have an inherent distinctiveness. Cardano, for example, while generally perceived as an invented word, is actually the name of the Italian mathematician, Gerolamo Cardano, while the cryptocurrency itself (Ada) is named after the English mathematician, Ada Lovelace.
Besides my cousin, who is a theoretical mathematician, my guess is that those unfamiliar with math history (which is most), will think this name is a unisex fragrance, premium watch, or five star Italian restaurant. Or if you speak Latin, you might imagine a hardware device, as “cardo” is the word for “hinge”. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Associations between names and products grow with usage. Pairing fanciful marks with an intelligent rationale or compelling story can add to the name’s credibility.
All that said, a “fanciful” mark doesn’t mean you are automatically out of the trademark woods. These kinds of names may also hit trademark issues if they are identical to or phonetically close to marks with the same or related goods and services.
The ocean water column consists of five distinct zones: the sunlight zone (epipelagic), the twilight zone (mesopelagic), the midnight zone (bathypelagic), the abyssal zone (abyssopelagic), and the hadal zone (trenches). If our client insists on using single English words, it’s a given we’ll need to go on a deep-sea diving expedition.
And we won’t be donning wetsuits; instead, we’ll require a submersible vessel, as it is likely we will have to travel all the way down to the trenches – the Marianas Trench to be exact – to find real English words with plausible meanings and acceptable trademark risk.
If we’re lucky, very lucky, we may find a few names with medium risk levels, but only after discarding a vast number.
The House of Medici
For example, we had a cryptocurrency client who wanted a name derived from some aspect of the Italian Renaissance. Medici arose as a name of interest. But predictably it was already in use (The Medici Project).
So we dove deeper – perusing every aspect of this illustrious family, from the names of their palazzos and pets to their pastimes and the artists they supported. We even studied the family’s coat of arms for naming inspiration. Can you see anything in this emblem that might inspire a name?
However, even less obvious names require a search to verify their availability because today, as this article has pointed out, even a seemingly obscure word with a plausible meaning can prove challenging to clear.
The long and short of it
We also encourage clients to be open to longer names.
We understand why short names are preferred. But given the trademark challenges, it is crucial to stay open to names that might be two or three words. Remember, long is fine if it satisfies the oft repeated naming requirement: be easy to say and spell.
For instance, Deep Ocean (a blockchain-agnostic dark pool protocol), is no more difficult to say or spell than Ethereum, despite being two words. In some ways, it is less complicated.
Whatever the length, however, we recommend avoiding names that lean excessively towards playfulness or cuteness, such as Shiba Inu or Polkadot. These names, especially in light of the recent crypto turbulence, can fail to communicate the gravitas needed to inspire trust.
Less trust, more truth
The focus on “trust” might seem paradoxical within the cryptocurrency context. After all, one of the cornerstones of Web3, the next phase of the crypto-fueled internet, is the absence of a need to trust any central authority for the system’s functionality. Users can verify transactions and activities independently. As Gavin Wood, who coined the term, Web3, said in an interview on Wired: “Less trust, more truth.”
However, while the system may operate seamlessly without a trusted authority, customers still demand a level of trust when deciding whether to engage with a company or product. And while your name is just one of the many factors that will determine how trustworthy your venture is perceived to be, it is an important one.
A solid, well-thought-out name can help customers feel this is something they can trust. And whenever money is involved – whether as a tangible or intangible asset – trust should never be in short supply.