Making your nonprofit name a trademark

What’s in a name? When it comes to your organization’s name or a new service, the answer is quite a bit, and then some.

In her book “Good Counsel,” Lesley Rosenthal wrote that one of the first things a nonprofit should consider is trademarking the name. The name in question should be able to give the nonprofit the strongest trademark protection possible.

This means potentially ditching a great name if it’s not able to be trademarked.

What names offer the best trademark protection then? Rosenthal lists four hierarchies of names, from the weakest to the strongest:

  • Generic Names: A generic name of something can never become a trademark because it defines a product, not its source, and must be free for all to use.
  • Merely Descriptive Names: A descriptive word or phrase that directly and immediately describes a product. This can become a trademark, though it’s a fairly weak one and may be difficult to defend.
  • Suggestive Names: A word or phrase that suggests an attribute or benefit of goods but requires the use of imagination, thought, or perception to reach a conclusion as to the nature of the goods.
  • Inherently Distinctive Marks: Fanciful, coined, or made-up words, or arbitrary associations of a word with an entirely different meaning. These make for the strongest kind of trademark.