The name Sonar was a wonderful find for me. It came to me while studying my new typeface’s first proof sheet. Standing there by the laser printer I was elated. The typeface had talked to me, had told me its name and I went on to never question it again. I even think this might have been when I first bonded with it. I realized that suddenly I understood the nature of Sonar-Sans.
I can imagine the shock when Felix Braden of Floodfonts in Cologne received my note informing him that the name Sonar was already taken. I had tried to be collegial but curt, a difficult combination. This is not a trivial situation, not the least of all troubles being that in a conflict like this, there are intellectual property laws at play. But besides looming legal costs there is also a human, emotional side. Type designers often think of their work as their babies and every baby is unique, and golden, and special. Until the neighbor’s kid comes over with the very same name.
— Felix Braden
The new name of Felix Braden's typeface is Rollmops, now available for free from the Floodfonts website. It is definitely worth checking out and has received very favorable reviews on Slanted as well as on Typophile.
A footnote on due diligenceTo check the availability of a font’s name the first go-to place these days is obviously Google. But the second place a type designer can consult is still identifont.com, and lastly it always pays to have a type literate circle of friends to consult with.
I’ve encountered a handful of cases where a designer was using a name that infringed one of our trademarks. Like you, I’ve always tried to approach this on the human level, and each time the designer apologized and changed the name without requiring legal intervention. When we operate from the sense that we’re all in this together, it’s usually possible to be reasonable.
Naming new designs can be seriously hard; we want something memorable, and which communicates some essence of the design. I’ve been surprised how many times my searches have uncovered more than one design using the name I was hoping to use!