I went digging in my notes from when I was first trying to come up with “License Zero”. What a trip!
One of the notes I made for myself right at the start was a bit of advice I often give my law clients: If at all possible, pick a name without any existing meaning at all, or at least no existing meaning to do with your business. In trademark law, we call these “fanciful” and “arbitrary” marks. “Xerox” for copying machines and “Apple” for computers, for examples. They’re the strongest kinds of trademarks you can get, and usually the strongest brands, if you can build them up from zero.
One of the names that struck me back then was actually an old one, “Griffarins”. It has historical meaning, but commonly known historical meaning. The more I look back at it, the more I think that historical meaning is just the kind of meaning the project wants to invoke.
There’s a superb high-level summary of the Griffarins here. But in short, they were a kind of proto-union of journeymen printers in Lyons in the 16th century. Printing was a relatively new industry at that time, and while Lyons was famous for its printers, there weren’t any strong guilds or other institutions, as there were in other trades. There weren’t many of social, economic, or other protections journeymen in other fields had.
The journeymen were skilled tradesmen, and unusually literate for the time. They often learned by moving (journeying) from shop to shop to gain experience. But they were still looked down on by the businesspeople and master printers who owned the shops and monopoly privileges to start new ones. Who or course derided them as insubordinate and lazy. The name “Griffarin” was a play on the words for “glutton”, which the masters called them, and “claw”, which evokes a certain ability to fight back.
They united to support each other, improve working conditions, and generally flexed their collective leverage as uncommonly skilled workers in high demand for a new, lucrative, and socially important field. Similar movements in other parts of Europe fought against measures like passport-like systems that masters used to bind journeymen to their shops, built institutions like inns and hiring calls to support those on their journeys, and supported illicit masters who set up their own shops without inheriting or buying the privilege from the guild.
I would probably need to do a new logo. Probably a modern rendition of a printer’s mark or bookplate with a griffin. Not bad to have a built-in mascot!
What do you think? Could you call yourself a “Griffarin”, or list your work for sale and support in a “Griffarins Catalog”? Could we make that name our own?
If you’re looking for more good reading on medieval guilds and artisan work more generally, I can highly recommend this wonderful history. That’s where I first saw the name.
Just randomly, while I was writing is, I opened a tab with Twitter and saw this: https://twitter.com/judsonlester/status/1325855818856628224