What’s in a name?

Fiction writers often worry about using real brand names and company names, for fear that they’ll get sued. If you put the product or company in a good light, you’ll be fine. However…and this is important…make sure you use the name correctly. There are a few of ways you can get this wrong.

The first is to use the brand as a generic thing. For example, Kleenex is often used generically for facial tissue. But it is a brand name and should not be used generically.

The second is to spell it correctly. I recently read a book where the author had used the word styrofoam. (Note that my WordPress editor just flagged that as a misspelling.) Nope. Nope. It’s Styrofoam. It is a brand name and must always be capitalized. I suspect the publisher of the book got a nasty letter from Dow Chemical’s legal department about this. In case you’re interested, the generic word is polystyrene.

The last thing you can do wrong is to pluralize the name when it shouldn’t be. Again, the same book used the word Legos. Again Wrong. Wrong. According to the Danish company that makes Lego, The Lego Group, the proper plural is Lego bricks.

By now, you may be saying, “They’ll never find out if I use the word incorrectly.” Back in the 1980s, before the Internet, a friend was a contributor to a small weekly paper in the small town where I grew up. She used the word styrofoam, and she and the paper both received Cease and Desist letters from Dow Chemical. Trust me, they will find out. You see, companies do this to protect their trademarked names and brands. But it can even go further than names. 3M has trademarked the shade of red that’s used in their logo.

So, next time you’re using a company name or brand, think carefully how it’s used. It will protect you from possible legal action and make you look even smarter to your readers.

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