Changing font names to comply with the OFL (Open Font License)

Screw the preamble. If you’re wondering why you would do such a thing, see below. The short answer is that some font foundries are generous but picky.

Anyway, changing the font names means futzing with the font metadata. So you have to open the font file, mess around inside, and then save it out as a new font.

Sorry, I don’t have Windows or Unix instructions for this. I haven’t booted my Windows machine since Vista sucked, and I don’t run desktop UNIX because I’m not a flagellant. But except for installation instructions, I imagine it’s pretty similar.

How the heck to do it

First, install FontForge if you haven’t already. I also had to install XQuartz, change some preferences, and change some security settings. Those steps are detailed on the Mac FontForge page.

Congratulations! You can now make your own fonts. Actually, that’s not true. You now have the tools to make your own fonts. The program doesn’t magically impart typographic design knowledge.

Now open FontForge. This will actually open XQuartz, which will call itself X11, and then run FontForge inside of it. FontForge looks nothing like a Mac app, and that’s because it isn’t. It’s a UNIX-based app using the Unix windowing system. Your menu bar for the app is inside the window.


Go to File -> Open from the main FontForge window, and pick the font file you want to edit. The file browser will probably start you in the root of your hard drive. If the font is on the desktop or in your user folders, you can start by double-clicking “Users” and then your username from this file list.

This will open a new FontForge window with its own freaking menubar, the same as the one you just used.

Editing the metadata

From that font’s menu bar select Element -> Font Info. The font information window will pop open, and you can edit the font names here.


Important: To comply with the SIL OFL fonts, you really have to change the name. You can’t just tack on a modifier. (See sections 2 and 5 of the OFL FAQ). In my example, I’m making a web font version of Cabin for use by my employer, NewCity. I cannot call it “NewCity Cabin.” I must call it something else. So I will call it “NewCityShack.”

There are a lot of vertical tabs along the left, for all of the different categories. Our goal is to remove the font name everywhere it is listed except, possibly, FONTLOG.

On the PS Names Tab, change…

  • Fontname
  • Family Name
  • Name for Humans

On the TTF Names Tab, change…

  • Family
  • Styles
  • UniqueID
  • Fullname

Leave copyright statements and trademarks intact, as weird as that seems. “Scrub all official instances of name because we don’t want to be associated with the font, but leave our copyrights intact” is something only a lawyer could dream up.

Finally, update the FONTLOG

It’s a big text box; I put a note in explaining that the font is essentially a web version of Cabin, and I only changed the name to comply with the OFL. This is encouraged in the OFL FAQ.


Rebuilding the font

Go to File -> Generate Fonts and select the font type you want. I used otf. I recommend unchecking validate before saving as well, since you might as well ignore any errors you get.


Rinse and repeat for each font you are using. I needed regular, bold, italic, and bold-italic for Cabin, so I did this four times.

Then, take your fonts to your favorite web font generator and turn them into web fonts, secure in the knowledge that you probably missed something and are violating the license terms anyway.

Background follows.

Why the heck would you do this?

The SIL Open Font License (commonly called the OFL) allows for the re-use, redistribution, modification of fonts. It is a kind of open-source approach to type. The wrinkle is in the “modification” part: if you change the font, you must change its name in order to comply with the terms of the license. This includes repackaging, compressing, or converting the font for web delivery. Unfortunately, that means more than just changing the file name. You also have to change the name in the font’s metadata.

I initially thought this was an oversight in the license, but one morning I had too much coffee and decided to check it out. It’s not an oversight, it’s there intentionally. The idea is that changes to the font represent adulteration of the artist’s vision of the typeface, and therefore any derivative works should not have the same name. Compressing or converting fonts to other formats counts, unfortunately.

Whether or not this is critical or it’s just pointless bureaucratic nonsense is up to you. Personally, I understand the motivation. But open licenses rely a lot on people’s good will, and making it difficult to comply with the terms of the license encourages violating it — so I’m not sure what’s protected.

Nevertheless, making an attempt to comply with the license seems like the least I can do for someone who made the font free for me to use in the first place. Even if I do it with a bit of poor grace.

Photo: “Type” by Tony Unruh, used under a Creative Commons license.

Image Credits: Type by Tony Unruh

Leave a Reply