Can I “Trademark” My Name?

We hear that from time to time, and as in all things trademark, the answer is maybe.

The yes part of maybe is that many businesses have used the name of a key person in the business as the business’s trademark — a.k.a. their brand. Yves Saint Laurent, a brand recently in the news, is the registered trademark of companies founded or spun off from the clothing business of the famous fashion designer known by that name. And having now seen that brand, you’ve thought of a dozen more.

The rest of maybe lies in wait in several places. First, of course, is whether someone else of the same name, or one very similar, has already registered your name for the same or closely related goods and services. While it’s unlikely that there are more than a few Yves Saint Laurents in the world, there must be thousands, if not millions of Tom Joneses.

The next part of maybe would be whether your name is famous. If your name is also Martha Stewart or Peyton Manning, then you almost surely fall into the no part of maybe, unless you were able get the famous person to endorse your products.

After that are the grey areas of maybe: If you are considering registration of your surname, or any surname, by itself as your trademark, surnames are usually treated in the way descriptive terms are treated — relegated to the Supplemental Register at first — unless the ‘surname is either very rare, or is also a word that is not a just a name (STONE for example).

Then there is the matter of consent. When a particular name, first and last — especially those along with initials and other identifiers — identifies a living individual who may be well known, or well known to the relevant segment of consumers in your industry, or is connected to your company in some way, that person must give his or her consent. That’s easy if it’s your name, the name of someone who is a figure in your business, or the name of someone who endorses your products, but not always so easy if it’s the name of a founder or other namesake who is no longer connected with your business.

Even a fictional name also has a maybe attached. A name you made up, or that was made up by your marketing department, such as the name of a character to be associated with your products or a pseudonym you’ve taken on, can serve as trademark and registered, as long as it’s not also the name of a real public or associated person who may have reason to complain, or a name the public would associate with a well-known work of fiction, whether book, movie, or video game.

So, yes, you can use your name as your trademark and even the name of someone else with that person’s consent.