I have this GPL project, it got stuck for like a year, I really like the idea, then somebody fork it and changed the whole thing but used the same name, I don't mind for the code (it was GPL after all) but I like the name. What's the etiquette for this kind of situation?

The project will benefit myself, and I like it, however the name wasn't for sale..

EDIT: I know if I contact the author he'll understand and change the name, but I have no time to work on that project right now, so I don't want to be a "name troll" for my folks (small community), so I'll let it be this time, my question is more about the etiquette of forking. If the project is apparently abandoned can they fork and use the same name or they MUST get a new name?

  • 5
    Have you contacted the person that created the fork and explained that you really like what they are doing but would appreciate it if they renamed their project?
    – Mike
    Jun 13, 2013 at 15:08
  • I clarified above in the EDIT.
    – MGP
    Jun 13, 2013 at 15:24
  • 6
    from my POV they are working on your project, with the same name, they are basically programming for you (and all of us if open source). Basically I'd let them keep the name, and I'd keep using the same name, make a pull if they do something good and unify both repositories when possible. If at some point they do something you don't like then that's a reason for them to use a different name, but, uhm... think that maybe you should like whatever they do. That's my (completely uneducated) opinion.
    – Trylks
    Jun 13, 2013 at 15:45
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    @xr09 - If a trademark on the name does not exist then somebody is free to use the name. If you don't have time for the project just contact the author when you do.
    – Ramhound
    Jun 13, 2013 at 15:47

2 Answers 2


The most effective way of protecting the name of your project is to register it as a trademark (and make clear in all documentation that the project name is a registered trademark), because then people are required to get your permission before re-using the name.

If you license your project under GPLv3, then you could also add the name-change as additional condition to your copyright license, but I am not sure how effective that really is (ask a lawyer if you want to be sure).

But both of these options only work if you apply them before the name re-use takes place. If you have not taken preventive measures, the only option is to ask the maintainer of the other software nicely.

As for the ethics, if it can be seen as a continuation of an (apparently) abandoned project, then I see no reason to use a different name, but it would be a good gesture to try to contact the previous maintainer to ask if they really abandoned the project.


This is exactly the reason why many large open source projects register their project name as a trademark.

This still allows anyone to use their code for an own project, but not under the same name. The Mozilla foundation, for example, has a trademark on "Firefox". That's why Debian ships with a browser called "Iceweasel" which is essentially Firefox.

  • 1
    I'm not sure I understand -- why don't they just ship Firefox? Do Debian modify Firefox? Jun 19, 2013 at 18:36
  • 7
    @VincentSavard That's a long story. Read for yourself: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – Philipp
    Jun 19, 2013 at 19:19
  • In more recent events, "The decade-long branding issues between the Debian Project and Mozilla Corporation ended in 2017 when all software was de-branded back to their original names.[8]" Feb 15, 2019 at 18:31

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