Naming a corporation can be an exercise in frustration. Just when you decide on a name, you find that it’s unavailable because someone else has already taken it. See Naming a Business Is Never Easy in California.
Justice William W. Bedsworth of the Fourth District Court of Appeal writes a very humorous syndicated column, A Criminal Waste of Space. In this month’s column, A Trademark for Rev. Spooner, Justice Bedsworth tells the tale of a company that tried to obtain trademark protection in Australia for a snack product by the name of “Nuckin Futs”. After initially rejecting the mark as crass and indecent, the Australian government ultimately decided to register the mark so long as the product is not sold to children.
This story got me thinking about whether it is possible to incorporate under a crass, indecent or otherwise offensive name. As far as I know, nothing in the Corporations Code specifically prohibits bad taste. (Compare Vehicle Code § 5105 which authorizes the DMV to refuse to issue environmental plates that include “any combination of letters or numbers, or both, that may carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency”.) The Secretary of State initially proposed regulations banning such names, but the final regulations do not.
Of course, there are obvious free speech concerns. However, there may be some latitude for the Secretary of State to reject names. In Lee v. Superior Court, 9 Cal.App.4th 510 (1992), the petitioner tried to change his name to include a racial epithet. The Court of Appeal, however, found that “no person has a statutory right to officially change his or her name to a name universally recognized as being offensive.”
Update: See my Op Ed piece in today’s Los Angeles Daily Journal regarding whether California should be spending limited resources on reports by Little Hoover Commission when the state is planning to close many of its parks.