Don't Touch That Name

You'd better be careful if you're planning on using the name of the first Chinese astronaut, Yang Liwei. The China National Space Administration (motto: "Better late than never") has gone and copyrighted it. This means that if you want to use his name on a product you'll need to get their permission first. The fact that Yang used the name for 38 years doesn't seem to matter to the government, they'll be the ones collecting the fee, not Yang's parents, who dreamed up the name in the first place. This is a shock. All these years I thought General Tso's family was getting a royalty check each time I ordered his eponymous chicken dish when in fact I was probably helping support the Chinese government. I sure hope John Ashcroft doesn't read that last sentence.

The government did this because in China it's common for companies to use the names or likenesses of famous personalities as trademarks for products, whether they have permission to do it or not. It's a good thing we don't do that here because I don't want to buy a package of chicken breasts with Mike Tyson's snarling face on it or a loaf of Arnold Health Nut bread which shows California's new governor flexing his muscles, either political or physical. It's true they put athlete's photos on Wheaties boxes, but that's about it. What we get instead are food packages featuring faux personalities like Betty Crocker, Uncle Ben, and Chester Cheetah, who should consider keeping a low profile if he's going to Las Vegas anytime soon since he might be mistaken for a white tiger, and they're not very popular at the moment.

One of the first people to apply to use Yang Liwei's name was the mayor of Suizhong county, where the first taikonaut was born. He wants to rename a special white pear they grow in that region after his country's newest hero. That's another difference between China and the United States. Here if they were to name a pear after a celebrity it would either be Rosie for its shape or J-Lo for the homonym.

Unlike China, where they name products after people, we do the opposite. According to the Social Security Administration (motto: "There's a reason we're not called the Financial Security Administration"), in the year 2000 there were 55 boys born who were named Chevy, seven named DelMonte and seven named Courvoisier. Meanwhile there were 298 girls named Armani, 164 Nauticas, 25 Infinitis and 21 L'Oreals. Honestly. This naming trend was uncovered by a psychology professor at Bellevue University in Nebraska, Cleveland Evans, whose brothers are named Oshkosh, Topeka, and Little Rock. Just kidding. Actually Little Rock is trademarked and being reserved for The Rock's first son.

Aside from sounding like you're reading an upscale shopping list each time you call the children in for dinner, this trend could set a very bad precedent. We're already walking billboards for companies, whether we're wearing the Nike swoosh, the Lacoste alligator, or the Krispy Kreme strawberry filling on our clothing. Movies are loaded with paid product endorsements, each set of statistics shown during the World Series is sponsored by a different company, and celebrities are forever appearing in ads telling us which dental adhesive to use, which phone service is cheaper if you have unruly red hair, and which erectile dysfunction pill works for them. Yes, there is such a thing as too much information.

But at least they're being paid to do this. We, on the other hand, pay for it. Or in the case of children named Timberland -- and yes, there are some of those toddling around -- they'll be paying therapists for many years to come in order to cope with the psychological and emotional scarring that comes from being named after a pair of boots. It could be worse. Think about poor little Birkenstock Goldstein.

It's a mystery why people aren't naming their children after higher quality products. Not one of the most common children's names which are trademarks are in the Harris Interactive Brand Survey top 10 ranking for high quality products. Unless you count Mercedes, but that was a girl's name long before it was a German car. For some reason people aren't naming their children Rolls-Royce, Harley-Davidson, or Ferrari. Instead they're opting for Celica, Chevy, and F-150. Just kidding about the last one. Everyone knows that if you're going to name your child after a truck you should choose Silverado, especially if it's a girl.

Of the "Top 10 World-Class Brands Overall," not a single one is a popular child's name. The number one, Smithsonian Institution, is way too stuffy sounding, though it could be popular in England, especially with the variant spelling of Smythsonian. Number three, Crayola, has a nice ring, and even the logical nickname, Cray, is pretty. Only one, M&M, is being used, but I don't think it's going to spread. It doesn't take listening to many of Eminem's songs to realize that you don't want to usurp his name. Not unless you want to be immortalized in a song that talks about killing you.

It's doubtful that the name Yang Liwei will become popular here, though I'm sure it will in China. And lest you think Yang isn't profiting from his celebrity at all, the military commission just promoted him to full colonel. I don't know if he'll get a raise to compensate for the lack of copyright royalties, but he is getting a 4-day, all-expense paid trip to Hong Kong. Hey, I'd consider giving up the rights to my name for a trip and promotion too.

More Mad Dog can be found online at: His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation.


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