Building Your Business Operations & Success How To Trademark Your Personal Name By Jean Murray Jean Murray Facebook Twitter Jean Murray, MBA, Ph.D., is an experienced business writer and teacher who has been writing for The Balance on U.S. business law and taxes since 2008. She has taught accounting, business law, and business finance at business and professional schools for over 35 years, has authored several books on saving money and simplifying your business, and was the owner of startup-focused company Emence Enterprises, LLC. learn about our editorial policies Updated on September 20, 2022 Fact checked by Lars Peterson Fact checked by Lars Peterson Website Lars Peterson is a veteran personal finance writer and editor with broad experience covering personal finance, particularly credit cards, banking products, and mortgages. He has been writing and editing for more than 20 years and has a knack for digging deep into a subject so he can make it easier for others to understand. As an editor for The Balance, he has assigned, edited, and fact-checked hundreds of articles. learn about our editorial policies Share Tweet Pin Email In This Article View All In This Article What Is a Trademark? Registering vs Trademarking Your Name Qualifications for Trademarking Your Name The Best Names for Trademarks Why Trademark Your Personal Name Protecting Your Trademarked Name Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Photo: Makiko Tanigawa / Getty Images Want to trademark your name? You can trademark your name if it has business or commercial value. Trademarking your name gives you an additional brand and keeps others from using your name. To trademark your name you must meet specific requirements with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Learn more about the qualifications for trademarking a personal name and the best types of names to trademark. Key Takeaways You can trademark your personal name if you want to use it for commercial purposes like selling goods or services. Your name must be unique, and the best names are fanciful (not real words) or arbitrary (not connected to the concept they seem to represent).Registering your name with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office gives you an advantage if you want to bring a lawsuit against someone for trademark infringement. Register your name in as many categories of goods and services as you want to use to market your trademarked name. The Trademark Office doesn’t monitor your trademarked name for infringement; you must do this yourself. What Is a Trademark? A trademark is a piece of intellectual property that allows you to set it apart from other goods or services. You can trademark a word, phrase, symbol, design, or any combination of these features. The trademark protects your brand from theft, counterfeiting, or fraud. Before you attempt to trademark your name, research your name using the Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Electronic Search System (also known as “TESS”) to make sure no one else is already using it. Registering vs Trademarking Your Name If your personal name is the same as your business name you can register it in your state. 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 limited liability company (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 is a federal government registration, protecting your brand in the U.S. through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. To make sure someone else doesn't use your name—or the name of your business—you must trademark that name. You can also register a trademark internationally with the World Intellectual Property Organization. Note 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. Many trademarks come with logos or images that help to brand the name, distinguish it from other similar names, and give it more visual appeal. Qualifications for Trademarking Your Name People trademark their names all the time, including actors, authors, sports figures, and other celebrities, alive or dead. To be trademarked, your name must meet two criteria: It must be unique and not used by anyone elseIt must have a business use Only unique names can be trademarked. For example, Bruce Springsteen’s name is registered, as is Taylor Swift’s name. But Michael Jordan’s trademark is “Michael Jordan 23.” Michael Jordan is a common name so Michael Jordan the basketball player couldn’t trademark his name. He chose instead to add his famous player number—“23”—to make it unique. If you want to trademark your personal name, you must find a business use for it, and that business use must fit into one or more of the many specific categories of products and services in the trademark system. For example, “Michael Jordan 23” is used in several different categories, including hats, shorts, t-shirts, and jackets. Listing your trademarked name in one category doesn’t prevent someone claiming it as a trademark in another category. You must register the name in all categories where it is or might be used. The Best Names for Trademarks The strongest names for a trademark are "fanciful" or "arbitrary." Fanciful names are invented words, like “Exxon.” Arbitrary names are not made up but are not logically connected to the products or services sold. For example, the name “John Smith” is listed as a trademark with a logo in stylized form. Without the logo the name could not be trademarked, because many people have the name “John Smith.” It’s used to sell different kinds of drinking cups. "Apple" is another example of an arbitrary name. Why Trademark Your Personal Name Trademarking your name can provide you with added protection against cybersquatters, people who pick up internet 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, the actor 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. 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. Note The Patent & Trademark Office doesn't protect your name, so you must be diligent. You might want to use a Google Alert or hire someone to monitor the use of your name. Here's a theoretical example: A company called "McDonald and Sons Burgers" sets up in a little town and McDonald's (the international food chain) is concerned. The international McDonald’s would have to show that people are confusing the two restaurants and that the confusion has damaged the big McDonald's business. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Why would you trademark your name? The main reason people trademark their name is that it has strong recognition in the public and that it has value in selling goods and services. The person wants to protect their name from being stolen and used by others. Trademarking your name also gives you an advantage if you have to take a trademark case to court. You an also use your trademark registration to file a case in an international court. What happens if someone trademarks your name? The first thing you should do if you think someone is using your trademarked name is to get an intellectual property attorney and file an injunction, a court order to stop the use of your name while the legal process goes on. To successfully sue someone for infringing on your trademark, you’ll need to be able to show that you own a valid trademark, that it has priority (was registered first, for example), and that the defendant’s mark will likely cause consumers to be confused about which is which. Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! Tell us why! Other Submit Sources The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. "What Is a Trademark?" Small Business Administration. "Register Your Business." U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. "Strong Trademarks." U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. "Likelihood of Confusion." U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. "Why Register Your Trademark?" U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. "I've Been Sued..."