What’s in A Star Name?

Working in my car all-day and listening to the radio, I have often heard commercials for a company called The International Star Registry. They say you can have a star named after you for only $54. I have often asked myself: “Can they really do this?”

Stars have been purchased in the names of Princess Diana, some of the firefighters lost in the World Trade Center attack and the astronauts who perished on the Challenger. Nicole Kidman bought one and named it “Forever Tom.” At least the star will be forever even if Tom wasn’t.

The people who have bought these stars have a 12-by-16-inch certificate from the Illinois company claiming that a star had been named for them or their loved one.

They have a booklet with charts of the constellations, along with a large detailed star chart with “their” star circled in red. They also have a gap in their bank account where $54 used to be. However, they don’t have any guarantee that their star’s new name is recognized and will be used by anyone outside International Star Registry.

Since 1979, ISR has sold well over a million of these certificates and they are not alone. A recent Google search on “name a star” turned up 18 different companies claiming to sell star names. Their rates range from around $25 to over $140.

The question is: Do these companies have the right to officially name stars? The answer is: No. Do these companies have the right to sell certificates claiming to have named stars? Maybe.

The International Astronomical Union is the only scientific body authorized to name astronomical bodies. They do not recognize names purchased from these companies.
Because there are so many stars in the universe, the IAU normally lists new stars using coordinate numbers instead of actual names. When asked about buying star names, they say on their website: “Sure, there are people who will be more than happy to take your money.”

So, is ISR’s business a scam? Not really. They promise a parchment certificate, a star chart, a booklet, and to copy write your star name in a book. On all of this they deliver. Earlier ads promised to store the information in a vault in Geneva. They probably did at that time. Later they promised to register their book with the Library of Congress. If you’ve ever written a book you know how easy that is. Now, since the Library of Congress has told them not to use their name anymore, they promise to register the book with the U.S. Patent Office.

When asked if they are misleading people, they respond by saying that their customers know what they are buying and that they have been cleared by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office. However, the State of New York Department of Consumer Affairs issued a violation against ISR for Deceptive Advertising.

A few years ago ISR sued another star naming company, Name A Star, for trademark infringement. They also sued a Florida observatory for disparaging comments published by one of their employees.

The bottom line is that ISR and companies like them should state in their advertising that they are selling novelty gifts, which are not officially recognized by the scientific community. Such a disclaimer does exist on ISR’s Canadian web site. Why not on their U.S. site?

I also found a story from the administrator of a planetarium about a guy who came in asking to see the star he had just bought. The coordinates he gave pointed to an area containing a half dozen stars. When they tried to find it, their large telescope was not strong enough. The stars they were looking for were too dim to see. Needless to say, the man was not happy when he left.

Incidentally, during my research I discovered another company called The Lunar Registry. They sell real estate. No kidding! For about $30 an acre, you can buy a piece of the Bay of Rainbows or the Lake of Dreams or even the Sea of Tranquility. Some day in the not so distant future, man will once again set foot on the moon. Expect someone to march into the Johnson Space Center and proclaim that they are trespassing on his property. Wouldn’t you love to be there? Mike.