Using a personal name as your main business brand can make sense when you literally are your business. Such is the case with many influencers, fashion and interior designers, and even professional services providers like lawyers and accountants.
This naming strategy can have a lot of advantages from a marketing perspective. There’s an efficiency in building your online presence, but most importantly, its easier to connect with consumers person-to-person instead of company-to-person, making it easier to sell products and services by leveraging your personal name.
But where using your name as your main business brand becomes tricky is when trying to protect it from being copied and misused.
While most companies can rely on trademark registrations to protect their brand names, when your brand name is your personal name, a trademark registration is not guaranteed. In fact, in some cases, its downright challenging.
A trademark registration is a government grant of the exclusive right to use a name in connection with the sale of products and services. It’s a powerful brand protection tool, and so there are minimum requirements for a name before it will be granted registered trademark status.
Chief among these requirements is the need for the name to be distinctive. This basically means that the name is capable of pointing to just one source for products and services. But names can be shared by literally hundreds or thousands of individuals, which would be the case with names like Jane Smith or David Jones, and so its practically impossible for them to point to just one origin.
This is one of the reasons why, under Canadian trademark law, personal names of living or recently deceased individuals are generally not considered to be registrable as trademarks, which can make protecting your personal brand a challenge.
There are, however, exceptions to this general rule, and if your name qualifies for one of these exceptions, you may be in luck from a trademark perspective.
You can trademark your first name only (like Cher, Madonna or Beyoncé), and by extension, you may be able to trademark your full name if it looks more like two first names together than it does a first and last name.
Names like Tiffany Leigh, Laura Lee or Paul Ryan are full names that are comprised of two common first names. It’s, therefore, possible to argue that they’re not the name of one individual and so they should avoid the general rule that you can’t trademark a person’s name.
A name that may have gotten you teased in middle school could very well be your saviour in trademarking. But to trademark an unusual name, it can’t be just a little bit strange. It has to be so unusual that it looks like something completely made-up, not a name.
Names like Snowdrop Jones or Baba Smith are unusual, memorable and just may qualify for trademark registration in Canada.
A quick way to test if your name is unusual enough to be trademarkable is to Google search it. If you find more than just you, so will a trademark examiner and they’ll raise these individuals as support for refusing your trademark registration.
Alternate Meaning Names
If your name happens to have an alternate common dictionary meaning, you may be able to trademark it in Canada. This is because the rules say that a mark that is “primarily merely” (which basically means “nothing more than”) a person’s name, is not registrable as a trademark. But if you can show that your name is more than just a name, you can avoid the rule.
In fact, there are some very common names that could qualify under this exception. For example, Hunter, Colt, Lily and Willow are names that all have common alternate meanings and could, as a result, qualify for trademark registration in Canada.
If you have become so well known in Canada that your name has morphed into a famous brand name, you may be able to trademark it. This is how celebrities and professional athletes are able to trademark their names in Canada.
But key to a person’s name reaching brand status is its use in connection with the sale of products or services. Trademarks are commercial symbols, and so mere publicity won’t be enough. No matter how many Instagram followers or YouTube subscribers you have, if you aren’t leveraging your name as a brand to sell products or services, you likely won’t qualify for this exception. The public needs to connect your name as the brand name for the products or services that you claim in your trademark application.
Does your Name Qualify?
If your name fits within any of the above exceptions you may be able to trademark it in Canada. But you should be aware that even with a trademark registration for your name, you cannot use that registration to stop someone who shares the same name from legitimately using it as a trade name, so long as they aren’t likely to depreciate the value of the goodwill in your trademark.
If you would like advice about protecting your name in Canada, book a free consult with one of our Canadian trademark lawyers.