October 28, 2005

Trademarking -ix

The Associated Press reports that a European Union court is about to rule on a trademark infringement suit filed by Les Editions Albert René, publisher of the Astérix comic books, against the mobile telephone firm Orange. What does Astérix have to do with mobile phones? Orange wants to register the trademark Mobilix for telephone services. Les Editions Albert René objects on the grounds that because Mobilix ends in ix people are likely to think that it is somehow associated with Astérix.

I don't know EU trademark law, but in the United States and Canada trademarks are only valid within a particular market sector, so in North America at least the publisher would have no case at all unless, contrary to fact, so far as I know, they had registered the trademark Astérix for telecommunications or can show that their mark is a so-called "famous name". Orange is not proposing to use the name Mobilix for a series of comic books that might compete with the Astérix books.

The linguistically interesting point here has to do with what association it is that the ending /iks/ conjures up. The publisher of Astérix claims that the association is with its series of books, in which, in addition to Astérix, a number of other characters have names ending in /iks/, such as his friend Obélix, the druid Getafix, and Astérix's dog Dogmatix. I suspect that there is actually something else going on.

The source of the suffix -ix in the Astérix books is the string rix in which the names of many actual Gaulish chieftains ended, such as Dumnorix, Vercingetorix, Orgetorix, Sinorix, Amborix, and Adiatorix. This rix consists of two morphemes: /rik/ "king" and /s/ "nominative singular case". It is the Gaulish cognate of Latin rex, whose stem is /reg/, as we see in forms such as the accusative singular regem and the nominative plural reges. The Astérix books have reanalyzed the ending rix as ix.

What I wonder is whether the association of words ending in ix is really specifically with the Astérix books or whether it is as much or more an association with things Gaulish. Names such as Vercingetorix are familiar to anyone with a classical education, in which one reads Caesar's memoir of the Gallic Wars, and should be familiar to most Western Europeans from their studies of European history. However, few people learn anything about Gaulish or for that matter the other Celtic languages, so people acquainted with such names may very well be unclear as to whether the suffix includes the /r/.

Posted by Bill Poser at October 28, 2005 09:51 AM