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Salutations, EL&U folks. I came across a curiosity this morning and I'm wondering if anyone can shed some light on the issue. The introduction is long, but here is a summary:

Can or should quotation marks be applied around company and product names? Has this practice fallen out of favor or merely evolved?

(thanks, David M)

For a some time, I've had an odd fascination with commercial supply branding. It's always intrigued me that you can usually find some mark from the company who makes commercial-grade door hardware, for example. When I was in grade school, this fascination revolved around the idea of getting commercial-grade things at home so they would be more durable.

Judge me not, dear reader.

One specific subset of this interest is in plumbing fixtures. In the United States, I suspect you'd recognize brand names like Mansfield, Crane, or American Standard, but might have trouble naming what those companies do without prompting. I find that fascinating.

This morning, I was visiting a restroom at an educational institution (the remaining context is superfluous) and was, as is common for me when bored, passively noting the logos around me. What caught my eye is that the positively ancient commode wore the "Standard" logo, and the quotes were included. Here's an example.

Standard Company Logo Example

Curious! These quotes would seem to be improperly placed, but the fact that the plumbing hardware and other advertisements from that period in the company's history were so dated led me to hypothesize that perhaps there was another use of quotation marks, like this example, that I didn't know about.

First, I looked at the company itself. "Standard" is a shortened version of Standard Manufacturing Company, which, through a company juggling routine, is now part of American Standard. Standard Manufacturing Company was founded in 1875, confirming my suspicion that this company is old.

Next, I looked for other companies with similarly quoted names.

The Capitol Gears Standard

There are plenty of standard usages as well.

Coca-Cola Cream

With thanks to Allan Peters for his awesome Badge Hunting project.

I also found this idea behind what the author calls "Decorative Quotation Marks."

Then, I found another well-known company that appears to be giving the exact same treatment to quotation marks.

Jiffy

These observations led me to a couple of ideas.

  1. "Jiffy" and "Standard" are intended as very brief quotations, for example, of customer testimonials. "The toilet is standard" could be shortened to "It's standard" and then to just "Standard." In this way, the adjective becomes the brand name and the company is pivoted to embody that word. "Jiffy" is fast, "Standard" is universal.
  2. This is an appropriate but dated use of quotations for emphasis.
  3. The company name is intended to be both a brand name and a slogan, or tag line.

Does anyone know if one of these ideas is correct? If not, what do you think?

Thanks, all.

  • This is a long-winded, but interesting way of asking if quotation marks can/should be applied around company and product names and has this practice fallen out of favor or merely evolved. Assuming I'm reading it correctly … can you do a TL;DR summary at the beginning? – David M Apr 4 '14 at 16:00
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    Don't read too much into it. Greengrocers, for example, are prone to putting quote marks around things like "Spinach" (basically, any produce where they can't see how to include superfluous apostrophe's). To the illiterate, quote marks, capital letters, exclamation marks, etc., can be freely applied anywhere to make text more "eye-catching". – FumbleFingers Apr 4 '14 at 16:02
  • @FumbleFingers I think that all makes sense in the context of present-day. I think it's interesting to consider if it is a relic of some sort. Thanks for your thoughts. – Ben Apr 4 '14 at 16:06
  • With no proof: I've always read it as "our name is our slogan …" – David M Apr 4 '14 at 16:11
  • In my experience this practice was common up to the '30s, then it died out. Having said that, I'm reminded that the handbook for my 1960s Ferrograph tape recorder has the name in quotes throughout. But I don't know of any example more recent than that. – Terpsichore Apr 4 '14 at 16:33
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SHORT ANSWER: The quotation marks appear to be an attempt to claim trademark protection for a brand or tagline that may be entitled to little or no right to protection. In themselves, they do not provide that protection, but still may discourage copying by competitors.

LONG ANSWER: Trademarks include brand names, company names and taglines (slogans). The degree of distinctiveness (the ability to use a trademark to distuguish a company's goods or services) are divides into four levels:

  • Generic - the common name for a good or service; not protectable (automobile, fork, hairstyling)
  • Descriptive - a common attribute of a product; not protectable unless it has aquired distinctiveness, ususally through long exclusive use (TCBY - The Country's Best Yogurt)
  • Suggestive - terms that do not directly describe but imply some feature; often a play on words; protectable (Sheer Elegance for stocking)
  • Arbitrary or fanciful - a real word or made up term that has nothing to do with the product; highly protectable (Apple for computers and Kodak for film)

Tagline protection is similar. The more commonplace the phrase, the less protectable. Fast car would not be protectable, but Just do it! is.

There is no requirement that trademarks be in any particular typface, style or punctuation. Some trademarks usually appear in distinctive typfaces (such as Coca Cola) but many do not. There is no requirement that quotation marks be used, and they provide no automatic benefit.

Some of the examples the OP lists appear to be descriptive terms (Standard; Jiffy) that would be barred or have difficulty obtaining protection. The tag line the Cream of the Stars is a riff on numerous other slogans that claim use by celebrities. The All American Pause is a bit more unique. Both might be protectable if used over time.

The introduction of quotation marks seems to be an attempt to set off the brands and taglines and to assert a claim to their distinctive use to identify the labeled products. The quote marks by themselves don't do it. But if the marks serve to discourage competitors from using similar marks, it might result in exclusive use over time that would convey protection.

Finally, while trademarks are often registered, they are protectable even without registration (in the US). The quotes may also be an attempt to indicate that the term is claimed as a trademark even though it is not registered. Under current practice, this is more commonly done (but not required) by placing (TM) after the trademark.

FOOTNOTE: Standard as a trademark for plumbing fixtures was a registered as far back as 1923, but based its claim of protection on used dating back to 1894.

  • Very interesting! Thanks for the detailed answer, bib. – Ben Feb 8 '15 at 20:44
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Perhaps they put words like "jiffy, "standard" and also "matchbox" in quotes is because they are common everyday words with other meanings.

baseplate of Matchbox car

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