In the Lord of the Rings trilogy, "mithril" is a rare, indestructible metal whose beauty never tarnishes; in the real world, however, it's the name of three different blockchain projects, all of which are trying to score pop culture points with investors.
It's of little surprise that the name has proven so hot in the crypto world – "Lord of the Rings" is, after all, the geek culture equivalent to Shakespeare, and there's no lack of geeks in the cryptocurrency community.
Indeed, cryptocurrency projects of all kinds are branding themselves or their coins with notable sci-fi or fantasy references.
For instance, there's Tron, a top 20 cryptocurrency by market capitalization, which seems clearly riffing off the classic 1980s film by the same name (which got a successful reboot in 2010).
And a newer project that's caught some buzz recently is harkening back to popular HBO series Game of Thrones (adapted from George R. R. Martin's books) calling itself Ravencoin. (Ravens have long been used as a symbol of prophecy and the Ravencoin project's website specifically calls out the Game of Thrones reference to the bird as messengers of truth, which parallel the concept of blockchains as a technology for ultimate truth.)
And lastly, a crypto entrepreneur and veteran of the trade in URLs or domain names, Joshua Metnick, pointed to Neo as a power name. Sometimes called the "etheruem of China," the Neo team rebranded from Antshares in June, taking on the name of the protagonist in the super popular Matrix trilogy.
Looking at their CoinMarketCap chart, it would be hard to argue the switch didn't have an impact on the coin's price. The protocol's token shot up in value right afterward, from $1, and has remained around $65.
Indeed, the interest is using monikers that are well-known throughout nerd culture raises an important question: just how important are these names to the evolution of a crypto token?
In conversation with CoinDesk, Metnick said:
"There is a certain 'coolness' or 'dope-ness' level to coins that is important and should be thought through before launching a coin."
The many mithrils
In the case of mithril, several crypto entrepreneurs are all hoping that name pays off.
The first, Jeffrey Huang, also known as the father of Taiwanese hip-hop, is a blockchain-based competitor to services like Instagram and Snapchat, aiming to reward content creators for their posts and in turn, make the app popular through what it calls "social mining."
After the project raised 26,000 ether in a private sale of 5,000 "mithril" tokens, the company launched an app, called Lit – available for Android and iOS – which together already have 10,000 daily active users.
Speaking to his choice of the token name, Huang told CoinDesk he is a big fantasy and sci-fi fan, and although he originally considered "uru," the stone used to make Thor's hammer, uru didn't sound as cool as mithril.
Meanwhile, another project Mithril Ore is built around the idea of ethereum's forthcoming proof-of-stake system, Casper. The company will sell mithril ore tokens to buy ethereum that can be used to create a large stake, which the company believes will allow smaller investors to get involved in mining without needing to have mined for some time.
Explaining why it choose the name, Laura Hopkins, the company's CEO told CoinDesk, "Mithril is a rare, solid and near indestructible resource. It is precious and scarce. We have 500,000 tokens that will ever be minted and we only go to 2 decimals. Hence, we are strong, valuable, and rare - like mithril. Hence, 'Mithril Ore.'"
As it happens, many rappers have also rhymed the praises of this second mithril, as well.
And the final project (which changed up the spelling a bit to hearken back to a material used to create armor and weapons in the fictional universe of the Final Fantasy video games) Mythril, isn't a token project, but instead, a security analysis tool maintained by etheruem startup Consensys.
When asked about the name, Bernhard Mueller, the software's creator, said, "I have been waiting for someone ask this."
"One can imagine the ethereum blockchain as a physical chain that has been reinforced with ether and is therefore indestructible by normal means. However, those who wield a weapon forged of Mythril have the power to undo the magical barrier and lay waste to the blockchain."
As such, Mueller, who created it in an effort to eliminate the major vulnerabilities in ethereum smart contract code that have led to the loss of millions of dollars in ether, built Mythril to find the faults in smart contracts so that malicious actors won't be able to later.
What's in a name?
That said, one company already gave up on the name – pointing to the need to differentiate itself and eliminate confusion – rebranding from Mithril Coin to Plactal.
And the overlapping names could later explode into a mess of trademark wars and litigation, some of which we've already seen in the crypto space.
Looking back at the early days of the web, for instance, shows how important securing names can be.
For example, two entrepreneurs acquired the domain "MP3.com" in 1997 and started posting new music there. At the time, people were searching ferociously for places to get mp3s, and while the entrepreneurs weren't the ones who invented the mp3, they were smart enough to see possibilities in that piece of digital real estate.
The next year, they sold a 10 percent stake in the company for $45 million, according to Wikipedia, and in 1999, it went public raising $370 million – a record IPO at the time.
Then, in the pre-mobile days, a name could also be a strict claim to the territory. For instance, any name attached to a ".com" dominated any other URL.
Still, Metnick explained, there are ways to enforce trademarks. Using the U.S. as an example, he said that knowingly violating someone's trademark incurs exceptionally harsh damages.
On the other hand, a company has to enforce its trademark. If a trademark holder waits too long to enforce the use of a name for a product that conflicts with the own, the courts can decide to let them coexist, Metnick explained.
For a cryptocurrency or crypto token, a name would be considered a "trademark" under the law of most western countries provided it's actually in circulation, because trademarks are established by use (not registration).
"I would be surprised if a lot of these coins were active and aware and enforcing these brands," Metnick said, adding:
"There are only a finite supply of cool words like 'mithril.' It's a decent supply, but it's not infinite."
Jeffrey Huang rap group