What's In A Name?

For most of us, we have a tendency to take our names for granted. Sure, some complain that they don't like their name. Some even go so far as to change it. When a woman gets married, she will usually take the last name of her new husband.

But how many of us think about who owns our name? That was a question this week for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Of the twenty or so NASCAR drivers who have their names trademarked, Jr. is the only one who didn't own the trademark on his own name. Can you imagine how it would feel to find out that you were not allowed to use your own name, because someone else owned it?

How did that happen? Well, when Jr. first got into racing, his father took care of all his business affairs. This included his contract with DEI (which was not even a written contract, but merely a hand shake and a gentleman's agreement), his sponsorship deals, and even his housing arrangements. He lived in a trailer on his father's property for many years, and until recently lived in a house near the DEI headquarters and even that house is owned by DEI.

Also included in the list of things his father took care of was the trademarking of his name. Of course, since his father took care of it, his father's name was on the trademark ownership papers. When Dale Earnhardt Sr. passed away, that ownership transferred to his estate, and then to his last wife, Theresa.

None of this seemed to bother Jr, because it was simply a way of life for him. His father had taken care of most of his business dealings, and now DEI is taking care of them.

But after finally moving into his own home, Jr. began to feel a sense of independence. And owning his own name should be part of that.

Fortunately for Dale Earnhardt Jr., his stepmother Theresa didn't hold ownership of the trademark over his head, like she could have. It was rightfully hers, and she could literally do whatever she wanted with it.

But instead, she did the right thing in this case. It was reported that she gave the rights to Jr.'s name back to him with no strings attached. The terms of this "returning of the name" were not disclosed, so it's not known at this time if Jr. had to pay any amount for the rights to his own name, but at least it's his in the future.

Of course Theresa and DEI did hold on to the trademark rights of Dale Earnhardt Sr's name, but that's to be expected. His name is as much a part of DEI as anything, and the trademark rights are where they belong.

But Junior being given the rights to his own name may be the final step in Junior's stepping from the shadow of his father and into a light of his own. He's already one of the most recognized names in sports (thanks in part to his family history, no doubt) and now that name is truly his own.

And it's pretty appropriate that the ownership of his name was transferred from his father's organization to him on the week leading up to Father's Day, when Jr. ran a "throwback" paint scheme honoring his father and grandfather. Giving him back his name, in a way, may have been Theresa and DEI's way of honoring Junior and his achievements.

Published on June 19, 2006 in