Letter of the Law








Foreword

"What's in a Name?" Only a love lorn, "star-crossed" Romeo would ever ask such a question!

In the real world, the significance of a name is undoubted. It has the power to unify or divide us; to evoke love or hate; to make us proud or ashamed; to open or close opportunities. It is the synthesis of our accomplishments and failures; the substance of our heritage; and the basis by which we are sorted, classified, judged and stereotyped by those who do not know us but who know of us.

Everyone has three names: the name he* is given or has taken; the name he inherits; and the name he makes for himself. As a consequence, every name represents in part what we have been, what we are now, and what we aspire to be. A name is a complex symbol of past, present and future identities which at any point in time and in any particular context must be lived down, lived up to or maintained.

A good name is universally recognized as a valuable asset. It attracts reliance, trust and credit. It commands position and prestige. It is a source of respect and esteem which in turn produces custom, opportunity and power.

But if a good name is an incomparably valuable asset, it is likewise an incomparably vulnerable asset. In fact, its value is frequently the measure of its vulnerability. Good name is invariably the focus of attack by rivals and competitors for the values it generates for its owner.

And being an inherently intangible asset, good name cannot be cached, secreted, or preserved in some impregnable vault or some immutable form. Rather, it must be defended at all times against all comers in all forums in all circumstances. Moreover, it must be defended not merely from those who would destroy or downgrade it, but also from those who would usurp it for themselves.

This Membership Marks Manual is concerned with the defense of the name REALTOR®. This is the name which was coined to denote a Member of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. It was the name which was taken on March 29, l9l6, to separately identify and distinguish Members of the National Association from all other persons, licensed or unlicensed, engaged in the real estate business.

But this Manual is concerned not merely with the name REALTOR® coined in 1916, it is also concerned with the name REALTOR® which has been inherited from the generations of men and women who have held the name in the intervening years. This is the inheritance of concern for professionalism, for ethical conduct, for private property and home ownership and for the highest and best use of the land which gives the name REALTOR® its public acceptance and approbation.

This Manual is concerned with the name REALTOR® as represented by the 750,000 plus Members of the National Association who are not only the beneficiaries of what the name REALTOR® means today but also the determinants of what the name REALTOR® will signify tomorrow.

This Membership Marks Manual does not attempt to describe the totality of the National Association's defense of the name REALTOR. To do so would require a comprehensive description of the totality of the Association's programs to serve and protect the public and to promote and preserve the highest and best use of the land and the broadest opportunity for home ownership.

Rather, this Manual is focused on the defense of the name REALTOR® from usurpation. As such, it is concerned with the two ways in which the name can be usurped. The first way is for the name REALTOR® to be used by those persons who are not Members of the National Association and, therefore, not entitled to use the name. The second way is for the name REALTOR® to be used in such a way that it ceases to describe a Member of the National Association and is, instead, made to describe merely anyone who happens to be in the real estate business.

The importance of preventing the usurpation of the name REALTOR® is central to the realization and preservation of its asset value to the REALTOR®, to the Board of REALTORS®, and the National Association. From the standpoint of the REALTOR®, a name which everybody can use is of no particular use to anybody. From the standpoint of the Member Board, the availability of the public image of REALTOR®, without commitment to Member Board affiliation, constitutes a fundamental disincentive to membership. From the standpoint of the National Association, the usurpation of the name REALTOR® would make the image of the REALTOR® indistinguishable from that of the least ethical, least responsible, least competent, and least concerned real estate practitioner.

The name REALTOR® cannot be usurped except by default in our defense of it. Since l9l7 the National Association has worked to establish its rights in the name in the United States Patent and Trademark Office, under the United States trademark laws, and in the courts. It has been uniformly successful.

But trademark rights such as those that protect the name REALTOR® are unusual among the rights the law recognizes; unusual in the sense that they exist only so long as they are asserted. Like muscles and sinews, the more our rights in the name REALTOR® are exercised, the stronger and more useful they become. And like muscles and sinews, our rights, if unused and unexercised, atrophy and waste away.

This Membership Marks Manual does not answer the question "What's in a name?" It does not need to nor could it do so because each real estate practitioner must define for himself the name by which he will be known to the world of his calling. But the name REALTOR® has come to mean a great deal about the performance, standards and most of all the commitment of those entitled to use it.

For this reason, perhaps the best response to the question "What's in a name?" is the comment of an ancient Roman statesman:
"I have said everything when I have named the man."
Pliny the Younger, Epistles, bk lv, epis.22

This Manual is dedicated to the proposition that it is well worth the effort and the aspiration to be able to say "everything" about professionalism, integrity and competence in real estate by naming the man REALTOR®.


William D. North
Executive Vice President (1985-1991)
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®

*Please note that wherever "he," "him," "his," etc., are used in this Manual, we refer to both genders.

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