To Name A Rose

Sometimes I think the most difficult part in the development of a new rose is to give it a name. Choosing the “varietal name," which is the one under which a new rose will be patented, is easy. We take the first three letters of the breeder’s name (MEI for Meilland, RAD for Radler, SPR for Jim Sproul, etc.), and add a syllable or two - for example: ‘Meidrifora’ for Coral Drift®.

Rosa Meidrifora - more commonly known as the Coral Drift® Rose

The legal name of the rose does very little to help promote it to the consumer or the trade. For that, we need to be oh-so-clever and find the catchiest name possible. Unfortunately, finding this rare bird has become much more difficult because, chances are, that catchy name we like is already being used by someone else. In the old days (well, the 1980s) at Conard-Pyle, Dick Hutton would pick the names.

Sometimes we would fight with Meilland about the wisdom of using French names on roses marketed to American consumers, and that was pretty much the end of it. Hutton would occasionally discuss proposed names with a few other people, but that was the extent of the process. I suspect this same naming process had been in place well before the 1980s.  Of course, this was before the internet and the current trend in horticulture to brand everything. Today, naming a rose has become a very arduous process, involving a lot of people and a lot of opinions. It is much more collaborative, with many people suggesting names and giving feedback. This is a good thing, since, again, most of the names we come up with are already taken when we check. The internet is great tool, and one such site - HelpMeFind.com - is a great resource to see if a proposed brand name is already in use.

Once the name is decided, most rose hybridizers are very happy just to register it for their new offsprings with the American Rose Society.  This basically makes the rose eligible to be entered in their rose shows. It does not give you any other rights. For those of us living in the professional horticulture market, that is usually not enough. Once we have found that rare name that has not been used already by someone else, the prudent thing to do is to apply for a federally-registered trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, commonly and affectionately known by us as the USPTO.  This is especially critical if you plan to spend a lot of money to promote your new plant, which more and more nurseries are doing these days. In fact, you will find that most roses (and a lot of other plants) that are heavily marketed these days are indeed protected by a federal trademark. You may think it is a bit crazy and may be not very pleased to see plants sold and marketed like soap or cereals, but it is fast becoming a reality in today’s hyper-competitive horticulture business.

VP of License and New Business Development at Star® Roses and Plants

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