Can I Trademark My Personal Name?

Trademarking Personal Name
Trademarking Personal Name. porcorex/Getty Images

Want to trademark your name? It can be done, but first ask yourself why you want to spend the money - and time - to trademark your name. You must also meet specific requirements to trademark your name with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). 

A trademark is a piece of intellectual property that allows you to "brand" something so that no one else can copy or use it. It distinguishes your company and its products from everyone else.

Don't confuse a trademark with a copyright; copyrights are for works like books, movies, and videos. 

Trademarking your name gives you an additional brand, and keeps others from using your name. 

Registering Your Name vs. Trademarking Your Name

Registering a business name is different from trademarking that name. You can register a business name in a state, or a business name is automatically registered when a business entity is registered (as a corporation or LLC, for example). Registering a business name in a state only registers the name in that state, to keep others in the state from using it; a trademark can be registered in the U.S. or you can also register a trademark internationally. 

To make sure someone else doesn't use your name - or the name of your business - anywhere in the U.S., you must trademark that name.

Qualifications for a name to be trademarked  

People trademark their names all the time.

Actors, authors, sports figures, and other celebrities often trademark their names.  

For example, IPWatchdog used the example of Sarah Palin, who has trademarked her name (actually it's a service mark, not a trademark), The category is "Educational and entertainment services, namely, providing motivational speaking services in the field of politics, culture, business and values." (From the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS)). 

Small Business at Chron.com say, "A person's name can only be registered as a trademark if it is widely recognized in commerce."

To be clear, if you want to trademark your personal name, you must find a business use for it, and that business use must fit into one of the many specific categories of products and services. Listing your trademarked name in one category doesn't prevent someone from claiming it as a trademark and using it in another category. But in the cases I saw for living individuals, written consent must be given for the trademark of the person's name. 

Trademarking Fanciful and Arbitrary Names

The best names to be trademarked are either "fanciful" or "arbitrary." The USPTO says that a fanciful trademark is best. Fanciful names are best for trademarking. These are made up names and names that are not logically connected with a product or service. In a search of the trademark data base, I found the name "John Smith" (connected to a business) that was listed as "fanciful.". Names like EXXON are fanciful. 

Arbitrary names are not made up but are not logically connected to the products or services sold. "Apple" is an example of an arbitrary name. 

Why Register Your Personal Name 

Registering your name can provide you added protection against cyber squatters (people who pick up domain names to confuse people and get money).

 

Of course, the best reason to trademark your name is to prevent others from using it. For example, Morgan Freeman trademarked his name to prevent it from being used by a company to market its products. Freeman's trademark is listed in the category "Entertainment services, namely, live, televised and movie appearances by a professional entertainer." 

 Protecting Your Trademarked Name

After you have trademarked your name, you must protect it or risk losing your trademark. The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office doesn't protect your name, so you must be diligent. You might want to use a Google Alert for your name to keep checking. 

If you want to sue someone for using your name, you must show "confusion in the public." That is, you can't just say "someone is using my name" but you must show that there is confusion and then that the confusion is hurting you financially.

 

Here's a theoretical example: A company called "MdDonald and Sons Burgers" sets up in a little town and McDonald's (the international one) is concerned. They would have to show that people are confusing the two restaurants and that the confusion hurt the big McDonald's business. 

Using an Intellectual Property Attorney

Before you decide to trademark your name, consult with an intellectual property attorney. Trademarking is a complicated process, and you may find it's worth the money to make sure it's done right.