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I have an Ancient Roman theme with the names of my characters, however someone pointed out to me Valerian is already a scifi character's name. Are the french comics (which spell it with an accent over the e) and the movie THAT popular that I would run into issues naming a character Valerian? My character is also in the military :/

I mean, Emperor Valerian WAS first... it's not like Valerian was a name created by the comic.

EDIT:

It's not set in ancient Rome, but "in a galaxy far, far away"... just the names are inspired by Roman Emperors and Consuls and such. (I do not say in a galaxy far far away in the book. THAT would get me sued for sure.)

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    Welcome to Writing.SE! If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! – Secespitus Mar 27 '18 at 7:34
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    Oh, there was a Roman. I always thought it odd that he was named after a pink flower. – Pete Kirkham Mar 27 '18 at 10:34
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    Pretty much every french speaking person interested even only a little bit in sci-fi know of Valerian, even more since the movie came out. But I don't think it should affect the naming of your character especially if your target audience is not french. – AboveFire Mar 27 '18 at 18:31
  • There wasn't a film called Valerian released recently? – T. Sar Mar 27 '18 at 20:00
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    there is also Prince Crown Valerian Mengsk in Starcraft 2 – gl_prout Mar 28 '18 at 6:59
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Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. This is my understanding of the law.

(a) You can't copyright a name. By definition, using the same name as someone else's character is not a copyright violation.

(b) You can TRADEMARK a name. But in this case I think the authors of this French comic you refer to -- sorry, I never heard of it before just now -- would have a hard time claiming that they own trademark rights to the name "Valerian" as it's a name that existed hundreds of years before they wrote their stories. J K Rowling owns the copyright to the Harry Potter novels, but she doesn't own the name "Harry", and she can't sue you for writing a book with a character named "Harry".

As someone else on here noted, trademark law is supposed to protect customers from being fooled and companies from losing business because of trickery.

Like, "apple" is an ordinary English word. Apple Computers cannot sue the grocery store for calling the fruit that they sell "apples". Not only was the fruit around first, but no sane person is going to buy a fruit thinking that it's a computer or vice versa. But if you started your own computer company and called it Apple, the courts would likely conclude that you were trying to trick people and would rule against you in a minute.

I created a (very) small business a few years ago, and when I did I got a pamphlet from the state with advice on trademarks that they encouraged me to read before making up a business name. Among the things they said was that there are different level of trademark protection depending on the nature of the name. If you give a business a very generic name, like "Quality Auto Repair", you have the minimum of trademark protection. If someone in another town 100 miles away opens a business with the same name, you probably won't win a trademark suit against him. If someone else uses your name as a general phrase, like if some other auto shop prints an ad where they say "we perform quality auto repair ...", the burden would be on you to prove that they were trying to trick people, and not that they were simply using the words coincidentally. At the other extreme is if you make up a new word. Like if you call your business "Autreparex", you have very strong protections. If someone else uses that word in his advertising, he would have a hard time claiming he was just using it as an ordinary English word.

So you have the reverse here. If they're using the name "Valerian" as the title of their stories or as the name of a series, they'd have a case against you if you wrote stories in the same genre and also named them "Valerian". But if you simply have a character named "Valerian", I think they'd have a hard time suing you.

That said: As I said, I never heard of this comic book before. Maybe it's very popular in some places or among some groups of people. If it's popular among people to whom you hope to sell your books, it might be wise to avoid the name just so it doesn't look like you're trying to steal someone else's character. Like even if I absolutely knew that I could get away with it legally, I would not write an adventure story with an archaeologist name "Indiana", because whatever my reason for using that name, it would sound like I was trying to copy Indiana Jones.

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    But apple can sue a cafe named "Apfelkind" (Apple child) – PlasmaHH Mar 27 '18 at 18:43
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    I agree with the answer above, but I'll add: the Valerian comic was widely popular outside of France and even outside of the Francophone world (which is nonetheless quite large - see map in link: robertbaxter.org/us/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/…) having been translated into at least sixteen languages and distributed worldwide. It may have been an early influencer on George Lucas' Star Wars plotlines as well: pri.org/stories/2015-12-16/… – GerardFalla Mar 27 '18 at 18:46
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    @PlasmaHH Apple can sue someone for calling their cafe "Apple child", but they can't win. theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/07/… – Jay Mar 28 '18 at 0:30
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    Note that Apple Inc., Cupertino Calif., US has already registered a trademark in the relevant Nice Classification 43 (cafés, bars, restaurants, catering, etc) in 1996 (register.dpma.de/DPMAregister/marke/register/396118429/DE), so they can attempt to defend their trademark when they feed that someone is trying to steal/dilute it. You can make up your own mind whether Apfelkind (register.dpma.de/DPMAregister/marke/register/3020100617829/DE) was attacking/stealing/diluting Apple's trademark in the relevant class 43. – Klaws Mar 28 '18 at 9:22
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    @Klaws Of course to anyone involved in such a lawsuit, my opinion of what is fair and just and reasonable doesn't matter so much as the judge's opinion of what is fair and just and reasonable. :-) – Jay Mar 28 '18 at 16:23
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The name Valerian is a common name, especially in ancient Rome. Avoiding it in a story set in that time would be both artificial and unnecessary.

There are fictional characters named Valerian in other media, e.g. Valerian Mengsk in the game StarCraft or Valerian Street in Toni Morrison's Tar Baby. The StarCraft example alone shows us that the name Valerian can be used in two works of Science Fiction without legal issues. It can certainly be used in a work of historical fiction, too.


Edit

The name Valerian is registered as a wordmark in France. You can search for French trademarks here: https://bases-marques.inpi.fr/ What that implies for a publication outside of France or a translation of your book into French, I do not know. I suggest you ask a lawyer.

Please note that the game StarCraft was published in 1998, while the wordmark "Valerian" was registered in France in 2000.

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    As a note, it's also a plant, so it cannot be claimed under any sort of copyright law. – Anoplexian Mar 27 '18 at 16:12
  • @Anoplexian Names can never by copyrighted, they can only be registered as a trademark. And plant names can be registered as trademark (e.g. the Macintosh® computer). – user29032 Mar 27 '18 at 16:36
  • Makes sense, but then again, I wasn't really wrong was I? ;) – Anoplexian Mar 27 '18 at 16:37
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    @S.N.Walker That's not what my answer says. My answer recommends that you ask a lawyer or another person who understands international trademark law. Relying on the opinion of anonymous lay people on the internet in legal matters is not generally good business practice. – user29032 Mar 28 '18 at 6:17
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    @Klaws That is why I linked to the database. The wordmark for "Valerian" is registered for a wide variety of products, including movies, printed books, etc. That is why I recommend that S.N.Walker asks somewone who knows the intricacies of trademark law and doesn't base their decision on laypeople like us. – user29032 Mar 28 '18 at 10:36
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Don't worry about it, and see what your beta readers think

Names are easy to change* late in the editing process. Use whatever name you are most comfortable with, and see if the name throws your beta readers out of the story. If it bothers them, then you're just one "find and replace" away from a new name.

If you're worried about it, then try to introduce the name after a number of other character names have been mentioned. Surrounding the name with similar sounding names will strengthen the Roman associations and weaken the distracting effect of outside media.

Also, is Valerian the totality of their name? The more often they're referred to as "Captain Valerian" or "Gaius Valerian" or whatever the weaker the associations to the comic character will be.

*Usually. If you're trying to include their name in a rhyming prophecy or attach other symbolic meaning to the name it becomes harder.

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IANAL, but...

Tl;dr Unless your Valerian is likely to be confused with the other material or 'borrows' copyrighted material from somebody else's character, you're in the clear.

You flat-out can't copyright a name in the US, and most Western countries should be similar. You can name a character Mickey and Disney can't touch you. You can name a character Thor and Marvel can't touch you. You can even name a character Elrond and you're still fine for copyright. You can copyright a bunch of stuff associated with the name, like things they say and their image, but the name itself is not protected by copyright, even if it's invented. The name Valerian is fine for copyright.

You can trademark a name, but trademarks exist to prevent consumer confusion from overly-similarly named companies. Dill computers is a no-go. Boing aerospace engineering would be removed. Diznee media corporation would be slaughtered in court. Delta the faucet company is fine, even with Delta the airline trademarked - they simply aren't going to be confused, even with the same exact name. Your Valerian and your story seem very unlikely to be confused with this French comic and movie, so they won't have any ground to stand on for trademark infringement.

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    I'm reminded of an intern our company hired years ago who said that he said to his father, "Do you know what a Macintosh is?" His father replied, "Sure, it's a kind of apple." So he asked, "Will you buy me one?" And the father shrugged and said, "Ok. Go ahead and grab some money from my wallet. While you're at the store why don't you get a few so your sister and I can have some too." He said he was very tempted to take his father at his word ... – Jay Mar 27 '18 at 17:52
  • There is an actual Delta tool manufacturing company completely unassociated with the airline, no need to use a hypothetical example when you can use a real one. – AJMansfield Mar 28 '18 at 19:21
  • @AJMansfield I was thinking about a real one: deltafaucet.com – Jeutnarg Mar 28 '18 at 19:40
  • @Jeutnarg TIL... – AJMansfield Mar 28 '18 at 19:58
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You can get away with using any names for ay of your characters as long as they don't possess the same personality/traits/ideas etc. as any real person with the said name.

You could name your character Barrack Obama as long as he isn't the President of the US. You can name your character Larry Page as long as he isn't the CEO of a giant tech company. You can name your character Theresa May as long as she isn't leading the UK.

Names cannot be copyrighted; only their associated personas can.

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