The Rules for Trademarking if Your Business is Named After You

May 14, 2024

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It’s not uncommon for business owners and creative entrepreneurs to name their business after themselves. After all, naming a business isn’t easy, so if you can’t think of a creative name that makes sense for your products or services, it’s normal to fall back on something that includes your personal name.

If that’s you, just know you’re in good company! However, when it comes to trademarking your business that’s named after you, you might not actually have the right to use your own name.

Sounds weird, I know, but I’m going to break it all down in this blog post so you can fully understand the rules for trademarking if your business is named after you.

There are a few rules and considerations to keep in mind, so keep reading to see how this process works!

The Rules for Trademarking Last Names

First, let’s talk about using your surname (aka your last name) as a trademark. Under U.S. trademark law, you CAN’T trademark your last name without proving that it has “acquired distinctiveness.”

Acquired what? 🧐

In simple terms, the key to successfully trademarking your last name is distinctiveness, meaning your name should be used in a way that sets it apart from generic terms and clearly identifies your brand.

Essentially for your last name to be trademarked, the public needs to be able to see or hear it and automatically KNOW that it’s a brand. If they don’t, you’ll then need to prove that it’s distinctive enough for trademarking.

For example, let’s take McDonald’s. When you hear the word, most people automatically think of burgers and fries even though it’s a relatively common last name. That means it has acquired enough distinctiveness to qualify for trademark protection.

There are 5 factors that are taken into consideration when determining if a last name shows acquired distinctiveness, including:

  • Whether or not the surname is rare
  • If it is connected with the person registering it
  • If it has a recognized meaning and association with a type of service
  • How the name sounds in the business world 
  • The historical significance of the surname 

Now that you know the rules for trademarking last names, let’s get into first names because the rules vary a bit.

The Rules for Trademarking First Names

Unlike surnames, personal names – meaning first names by themselves, or first names together with last names – CAN be trademarked without proving they have secondary meaning because they’re considered inherently distinctive.

So if you’re thinking of using your first name as a trademark, you might be in luck unless someone else beats you to the punch. Because let’s be real – there are lots of Katie Smiths out there.

That’s why the FIRST step of any trademarking process involves a full trademark search through the USPTO database.

Even with this being true, there are some instances where your first or full name could NOT be trademarked, with the most common reason being confusion with a similar name already in use for related products or services. 

For example, if your name is Anne Taylor, you wouldn’t be able to trademark your personal name to sell clothing because another company already owns the trademark for Ann Taylor.

Now, if you’re a celebrity, federal trademark law protects your name even if you’re only selling yourself and not merchandise. However, they don’t protect your name if your name/trademark would raise “a false suggestion of connection” with another institution, corporation, or person, whether that person is living or dead.

Overall, you have to consider a few elements when thinking about a false suggestion, including whether your name is very close to someone else’s name or identity, and whether that other person’s name or likeness is famous enough that the public would assume you two are connected.

5 General Considerations For Trademarking Names

With all of that in mind, there are a few general things to consider when it comes to trademarking names. 

1. Distinctiveness Matters

As mentioned above, the real key to successfully trademarking a business name, especially if it includes your own, is distinctiveness. Your name should be used in a way that sets it apart from generic terms and clearly identifies your brand.

2. Understand Likelihood of Confusion

In addition to creating distinctiveness when applying for a trademark, it’s also essential to consider the likelihood of confusion with existing trademarks like briefly mentioned above.

Even if your name is unique, if it’s too similar to another registered trademark in the same industry, your application may be rejected. Consulting with a trademark attorney can help you navigate potential conflicts and increase the chances of a successful trademark registration.

3. Avoid Generic Terms

Since creating distinctiveness is so important when it comes to trademarking your name, one of the best ways to make that happen is by avoiding generic terms! 

While it’s tempting to simply use your name as the business name, doing so might make it difficult to obtain trademark protection, especially if your name is common.

One way around this would simply be to add terms alongside your name, such as “consulting” or “services” in order to help distinguish your brand and enhance its trademarkability.

4. Conduct a Trademark Search

Before you invest a ton of time, energy, and resources into branding your business with your name, it’s crucial to conduct a comprehensive trademark search. This involves checking the availability of your desired business name to ensure it’s not already in use or registered by someone else in a similar field.

For a closer look at the trademarking process, CLICK HERE!

5. Consider Your Future Plans

While naming your business after yourself can add a personal touch and authenticity, it’s essential to consider the long-term implications. If you plan to expand your business or eventually sell it, your name may be closely tied to the brand’s identity and could actually do more harm than good.

So before making your final decision, think about whether using your name might limit future growth opportunities or complicate the transfer of ownership!

Need a hand with trademarking your business?

Overall, while naming your business after yourself can be a powerful branding strategy, it’s essential to navigate the trademarking process carefully. By ensuring distinctiveness, conducting a thorough trademark search, and understanding the rules and considerations involved, you can successfully trademark your business name even if it includes your own. 

Even with all of this information, I know that the trademarking process can feel insanely complex, so if you’re not the type to DIY this kind of thing in your business, GOOD NEWS – I’m here to help. 👋

At The Boutique Lawyer, I have various trademark packages for you to choose from based on where you’re at in your business and where you plan to go.

So, if you’re ready to start protecting your business and brand, CLICK HERE to learn more and schedule your consultation.

We’ll meet you where you’re at and help you start the trademarking process with total confidence!


If we haven’t had the chance to *virtually* meet yet, hey I’m Amber – not a regular lawyer, but a cool lawyer that helps online business owners sell without getting sued. 

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