13. How Many Possible Trade Names are There?
Geoffrey Sampson [+]
Sussex University, Professor Emeritus
With the proliferation of enterprise in recent years, it has been noted (by The Economist among others) that firms are beginning to find it difficult to devise distinctive names for themselves and their products and services. The Economist linked this issue amusingly to a famous science-fiction story by Arthur C. Clarke, “The nine billion names of God”. The issue is not a frivolous one, though: it is relevant to contentious legal issues about similarity between trade names infringing firms’ intellectual property rights. No linguist seems previously to have asked the question how many distinct and usable names are potentially available, but it is a question with a fairly definite answer. It turns out that the threat of “running out of names” is much less fanciful than one might have guessed.