Can I copyright my name?

Many people wonder if they can copyright their name to prevent others from using it without permission. While you cannot directly copyright your name, there are some legal options that can help protect your personal identity from being misused.

Quick Answers

– You cannot directly copyright your name.

– Trademark law allows protecting a name for commercial use.

– Personality rights laws offer name protection from misappropriation.

– Defamation and privacy laws can also help prevent name misuse.

Can You Copyright A Name?

Copyright protects original creative works like books, songs, and artwork. Your name itself does not qualify for copyright protection because it is not an original creative work.

However, if you write a book or produce a song using your name as the title, then the book or song could be copyrighted. But this would not prevent others from using your name in different creative works.

Using Trademark Law To Protect A Name

While you cannot outright copyright your name, trademark law allows you to protect your name from being used commercially without your permission. Trademarks apply to words, names, symbols, or designs used to identify businesses or products in commerce.

For example, McDonald’s has a trademark on its name and golden arches logo. This gives them exclusive rights to use that name and logo in association with selling fast food. If another restaurant tried using the McDonald’s name or logo, they could be sued for trademark infringement.

Likewise, you could potentially register your personal name as a trademark if you wanted to prevent others from using it commercially. However, trademarks only apply within a particular industry or field of business.

So if your name was trademarked for selling shoes, that would not necessarily stop someone else from using the same name to sell books. Trademarks must also be actively used in commerce to remain valid.

Requirements For Trademarking A Personal Name

To qualify for trademark registration, a personal name must:

  • Be used to identify a company, product, or service
  • Be used in interstate commerce
  • Function as a source identifier in the minds of consumers

You cannot trademark your name just to prevent others from using it – there must be an associated business or brand. Even then, trademarks do not offer complete protection or exclusivity over a name.

Using Personality Rights Laws

Another option for protecting your name is through personality rights laws that guard against unauthorized use of someone’s name, image, or likeness.

These laws vary by state, but generally prohibit the commercial use of a person’s identity without their consent. Athletes, actors, musicians, and other public figures often use personality rights laws to prevent others from exploiting their fame without permission.

For non-celebrities, personality rights can help block situations like someone else trying to profit off merchandise with your name on it. However, your name alone may not have enough commercial value for a personality rights claim unless you are already well-known.

Requirements For Personality Rights Claims

To make a strong personality rights case over your name, you must prove:

  • Your name has commercial value
  • Someone is using your name without consent for commercial gain
  • You are being financially harmed by the unauthorized usage

Personality rights laws are meant to prevent unjust enrichment, not block all public uses of a name. So if someone incidentally mentions your name without profiting from it, that would likely not qualify for a personality rights claim.

Using Defamation And Privacy Laws

Two other potential options for name protection are defamation and privacy laws. Defamation covers false statements that damage someone’s reputation. Privacy laws prohibit sharing private facts or information without consent.

If someone published false accusations about you under your name, you may have a defamation case. And if someone shared personal details about your life using your name without approval, privacy laws could help.

However, defamation and privacy laws focus more on how your name is used, not the name itself. They offer protection from harmful or unauthorized uses of your name, but not general control over your name’s usage.

Requirements For Defamation And Privacy Claims

To make a defamation or privacy case over name misuse, you must show:

  • False info was shared about you
  • Private details were publicized without consent
  • You suffered monetary loss or emotional distress

Your name alone being mentioned would likely not meet the standards for defamation or privacy claims. There must be additional harm like financial damages or reputational injury.

Fair Use Exceptions

It is also important to note that trademark, personality rights, defamation, and privacy laws all have exceptions for fair use of a name. Your name can generally be used without permission for things like:

  • News reporting and commentary
  • Criticism and parody
  • Artistic and creative works
  • Incidental or insignificant mentions

So you cannot always stop your name from being mentioned just because you want total control over it. Fair use gives the public reasonable freedom to use names in certain contexts.

Alternative Options For Name Protection

A few other options exist beyond trademarks and personality rights laws to help protect your name:

  • Register a domain name – Helps establish identity online
  • Use pseudonyms – Provides distance from real name
  • Change your name – Grants a totally new identity

Registering a domain with your name can establish your identity online and prevent spoofing or impersonation. Using pseudonyms gives you separation between your real name and public works. And changing your name legally can let you start fresh with a new identity.


While you cannot fully copyright or control usage of your name, there are options to protect it:

  • Trademarks cover commercial usage in a business context
  • Personality rights laws prevent unauthorized profits from your identity
  • Defamation and privacy laws offer recourse for reputational harm
  • Alternative steps like name changes and domain registration can also help establish name rights

Protections are limited since names inherently require public use. But cautious individuals can take proactive measures to guard against misconduct and misappropriation. With the help of an attorney, you can likely find ways to protect your name from at least some unauthorized exploitations.

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