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Can I legally use Gary Gygax’s name for my son?

Jerry Stratton, April 1, 2017

Too Much of the Stupid

There may not be such a thing as a stupid question, but the world is awash in stupid answers. (R.K. Milholland)

My wife and I are going to have a son in May, and since we met while playing Dungeons and Dragons, we’d like to name him Gary. Is that legal? Can we do this?

First, congratulations on the successful character creation process. It can take a long time, but it’s also a lot of fun and very rewarding.

The short version is that names like Gary and Dave appear to be available for use, but tread carefully. This is a very gray area. Before you name your child anything, you should talk to a lawyer. And I don’t mean a rules lawyer!

The name “Gary” may be so common that it’s difficult to defend, but you could always use a similar name, such as Garry. The extra ‘r’ makes it look archaic, and a lot of people would get the wink-wink-nudge-nudge true source of the name. Even though the name is nearly identical, Hasbro might consider it small enough that it isn’t worth acting on the infringement. The usual advice I give, however, is that if you’re not certain, avoid the issue. Some other common name ought to be in the clear1, but copying D&D’s creator, while a very light shade of gray, means you’ll be dealing with Hasbro lawyers.

It’s always in your best interest to avoid encounters with the dreaded 12 HD Lawyer Dragon!

Short of talking to a lawyer (which is always a good idea when worrying about legal issues such as naming your child) it might be helpful to look at what other people have done. Paul Francis Gladd named himself Gary around the same time that Gary Gygax wrote Dungeons and Dragons with Dave Arneson. But he suffered legally from 1997 on. A city in Indiana capitalized on its nearness to D&D’s Gencon conference by naming itself “Gary”, but the city’s population has dropped precipitously since Dungeons & Dragons’ popularity rose. After several lawsuits, they’ve nearly gone broke.

Gary Gilmore ended up going to court and was shot by a firing squad just three years after D&D was published. The punishments courts can levy for copyright infringement are often severe, and I’m sure you’d agree you don’t want to inflict them on your son.

Your safest course of action would be to choose a completely different name, but if your heart is set on honoring the D&D founder, you might try a homonym such as Gharee, Garrie, or Gayri. Bearing a unique name will also give doughty young Gayri the respect of his classmates when he reaches school age.

Another option is to enroll your son in the Open Gary License, which allows use of Dungeons & Dragons branding if you also follow the rules of the license: (1) only use the name sparingly (call your son by his middle name2 most of the time), (2) any business cards your son creates must use a small enough font that the name takes up no more than 10% of the card’s area, and (3) your son must never play any game other than Dungeons & Dragons.

Those seem like reasonable requirements to me, especially when compared to the risk of a lawsuit.

I’m sure you’ll get other advice telling you that names are names, and that copyright doesn’t even apply to names, but look at the examples above and ask yourself: can you really afford the cost of a lawsuit so soon after having a baby? Sadly, I am unaware of any successful defense by someone with a role-playing background using the name “Gary” for their offspring.

Summary: If you’re truly earnest about naming your son “Gary”, enroll him in the Open Gary License. But I’d rename him just to be safe and avoid the lawyerese nightmare that is copyright law, and the full milieu of intellectual property law in general.

Have you considered Bill, or George?

  1. Avoid Dave!

  2. “Ernie” has a nice ring to it.

  1. <- NTRPGC Adventure