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As an example, could I make a company called "Einstein Electronics" or "Houdini Locks" (probably not a great name for a lock company) or something without getting permission from the named persons, since they're so well-known?

One real-world example I can think of is Tesla Motors. Did they have to get permission from the Tesla family or anything?

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    As long as the name is not under trademark protection for the product or service in question (or, if the trademark is very famous, for any product or service), you can use the name. – phoog Aug 25 '16 at 5:33
  • @phoog I gave you an up-tick. However, there is always the threat. What this article does not say is that McDonalds ceased all actions when Lord MacDonald, who has a family restaurant for some 700 years, threatened to sue McDonalds for the use of his name. articles.chicagotribune.com/1997-02-02/news/… I though you might like the humor in the story. Being a Scot myself, I see my name used by non-Scots all over the place. Cheers!! – closetnoc Aug 26 '16 at 1:31
  • Are we talking strictly about Federal law? Because California (and many other states) have laws about this. – David Schwartz Apr 7 '17 at 18:11

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