In a social media post this week, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg announced to followers that she’d applied to trademark her name and the words on the sign that she carries during strikes: Skolstrejk for klimatet, or school strike for climate in Swedish.
The 17-year-old catapulted to worldwide recognition last year, just two years after she began her now-famous climate strikes outside of the Swedish parliament. After inspiring classmates, teachers and parents to join her, the strikes became a weekly commitment.
“Fridays For Future” grew to 17,000 participants in 24 countries by November of 2018. Thunberg began receiving invitations to speak at climate conferences around Europe and was nominated for the Nobel Peace prize last spring. In August 2019, Thunberg sailed from the U.K. to New York to speak at the United Nations Climate Summit. In December, she was named Time Magazine’s person of the year.
One result of Thunberg’s international notoriety has been, according to the Instagram post announcing her trademark filing, a steady stream of “imposters” using her name and the name of her movement to communicate with other celebrities or politicians. Thunberg apologized in the post to anyone who’s been misled, and explained that for that reason, she had filed for the trademarks. It will also allow her to set up a foundation to support the causes she is aligned with, she said.
Petronella Panérus, CEO of Åkestam Holst and Sweden country manager of The North Alliance, called Thunberg’s move “a wise decision.”
While it’s not uncommon for celebrities to trademark their names, most usually do it to promote collaboration with brands and create new sources of income. The Kardashians and Jenners are obvious examples. For Thunberg, it’s almost the opposite of that.
A trademark will give Thunberg more control over what’s being said and done in her name—and ensure that it’s not being used to promote ideas she doesn’t stand for, said Panérus.
“Greta has a very clear mission and values, and she is protective of them,” she said. “It’s a sound decision for someone who wants to make a lasting impact.”
Thunberg and her movement have faced near-constant criticism since the beginning, and her decision to trademark her name is no exception. Scrolling through the comments on her Instagram post reveals several accusations that she’s simply looking for money or fame.
Another critique is that limiting the use of Thunberg’s name and slogan will curtail enthusiasm for the movement itself, said Panérus. But ideally, members of her movement will not be punished for using her image “in homage” even after the trademark is granted.
“Greta’s fame is very much a side effect of the power of her campaigning and this act is to make sure that her inspirational message isn’t tarnished by corporate interests, while it stays accessible to the swathes of like-minded young people across the world,” Panerus said.