iPod Karlsson – yes, Durex Karlsson – no

Swedish parents can now name their children after well-known brands.

The Swedish National Tax Board (Skatteverket) has recently changed its guidelines on what names are suitable for both adult Swedes and children born in Sweden. The Board maintains the official name registry and previously forbade name changes which did not comply with its guidelines. 

For example, an applicant could not simply change surnames. The new surname had to be unique (there was even a name creator tool on the official web site) and could definitely not be the surname of one of Sweden’s aristocratic families.

Now even brand names are no longer off-limits, provided they are not potentially embarrassing or offensive for the child in future.

“It is OK to call your child Melitta, but not after Durex, the condom producers”, said Lars Tegenfeldt from the Board. “There is nothing negative about a name like Coca-Cola or McDonald’s today. In the 1970s, maybe it was”.

Even before the recent changes, a Swedish court held that Metallica was a perfectly acceptable name for baby girls.

For brand owners, it may be flattering (although a little creepy) to know of a baby with the same name. 

Which brings me to today’s lesson: A brand owner can only stop someone from using its brand if that person is engaging in trade mark use (ie use in commerce to indicate the origin of products), not in other contexts (whether as a personal name or name-checking in a rap video).

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