Your Business Name is Too Descriptive

How To Name Your Business

Richard Rimer

September 20, 2023

Is Your Brand is Too Descriptive?

Most people know that you cannot start using a brand that is too similar to an existing company’s brand. What most people don’t know is that some brands are “stronger” than others. The whole purpose of a brand is to be distinct, not descriptive. That is, it should stand out such that consumers understand that it clearly indicates who made that product (or is offering that service). This means that more distinct brands are stronger than less distinct brands. Keep reading to find out why descriptive brands are not your best bet.

Descriptive Brand

On the other side, brands that don’t stand out are “weak.” Weak brands include words that describe the good/ service or are incredibly common. The law gives great protection to strong brands, and much less protection to weak brands. Therefore, choosing a strong brand should be a top priority. Many companies ignore this advice. They instead think “it will be easier for me to sell things if my name explains what I sell.” That is, they exchange a protectable identity for a lifetime for easy sales early on. Descriptive brands and common words (e.g., “Federal”) do not serve this purpose and are given a lower scope of legal protection. Descriptive brands come in three main flavors: words which are descriptive based on their ordinary meaning, last names and place names.

Descriptive Brand

The most common type of descriptive brand is those which simply describe a characteristic of the good or service being sold. A great example of this is The Honeybaked Ham Co. Just look at the name and there is no doubt what it sells. Brands which use a last name are also descriptive. An example might be Jones Plumbing or Morgan & Morgan. Finally, brands which use geographic place names are descriptive. Arizona Iced Tea or Corning Ware might be examples of this. Please note that if your brand includes different types of descriptive terms, it is still descriptive. Thus, Arizona Iced Tea is likely descriptive as it contains both a geographic place name and ordinary descriptive words.

It’s Official.

That brand name you’ve been using is descriptive (and/or super common). Descriptive brands aren’t given much legal protection, so what can you do to enhance your legal rights in your brand? The first common solution is to add a distinctive element to the brand. Maybe you can include a design or a word that is not descriptive. One downside is that you will still have limited rights over the descriptive words. For example, while Morgan & Morgan can make me stop using “For the People,” they cannot stop me from using the last name “Morgan” (Visit my other post for more on using a last name for your business).

Another solution is to show that your long standing use of the brand has conditioned consumers to no longer see your brand as a description. This is not easy, but it creates a brand that is as fully protectable as others. (The Honeybaked Ham Co. took this route.) Some of these brands spend time on the Supplemental Register to get here.

A final route is to show that the terms will not be viewed as descriptive. Arizona Iced Tea did this by proving that people do not associate “Arizona” with iced tea, thus there is no place/ name association.

So, You Have a Decriptive Brand

You’ve discovered that your brand is descriptive. Your idea to call your business “Milton’s Social Media” sounded good several years ago, but you have a brand with limited legal rights. I discussed several ideas for “lifting” your brand from the depths of descriptiveness, but when do you do this? My recommendation is that you do this NOW. That is, unless you are so small and you don’t expect to ever be relevant, why should you stay stuck in the mire of a brand with limited legal rights?

Descriptive Brand

If you can’t do it now, you should make it part of your next marketing spend. Having spent decades working for large companies, I know this is the time big companies typically go after small companies. The big companies aren’t being mean; they just typically don’t see smaller companies until they’ve done something to make them noticeable. Undergoing a marketing effort, opening new locations and launching new product lines are great examples of this.