Company Names: The Ups and Downs of Using Your Personal Name

  • Trademark Clearance

Is it a good idea to name your company after yourself?

A recent New York Times article, “There’s More to Naming a Company After Yourself Than Ego,” took a look at the pros and cons of using your personal name for your company.

Two often-cited examples of successes mentioned in the article are Michael R. Bloomberg, owner of Bloomberg L.P., the financial software and media company and US President Donald Trump’s namesake brand, The Trump Organization, whose name appears on nearly all of his company’s real estate properties.

One of the positive aspects of naming a company after yourself is that it’s easy and fast. And, for some companies, using the owner’s name is simple logic. The NYT uses the example of Chris Kappler, an Olympic medal-winning equestrian, who runs Chris Kappler Inc., a company that supports competitive horse jumpers from selection, to training, to riding lessons. As Kappler told the NYT, “If you took myself out of it, there isn’t much to it.”

Despite the ease and logic behind naming a company after yourself there can be risks and challenges. For example, when you sell the company, you might risk losing the rights to using your name on a business in the future. Take a look at Kate Spade. Before her namesake company was sold to Coach (now Tapestry) last year, Spade and her company co-founder, her husband Andy, had sold their stake in the business to Neiman Marcus, who later sold it to Liz Claiborne. Now, she’s launching her new brand called Frances Valentine, and Kate Spade has legally changed her surname. She’s now Kate Valentine.

Also, you need to consider what will happen if you decide to leave your namesake company. as makeup guru Bobbi Brown did last year and Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington did in 2016. Does it go on without you and can you really detach yourself from it?

Mistakes or legal issues involving an owner can present major challenges, although they’re not necessarily insurmountable. Look at Martha Stewart. Her felony convictions in 2004 regarding an illegal stock sale forced her to step down as Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia’s CEO. But now, as Business Insider writes “… in the last few years, Stewart has reemerged as a beloved and still shockingly relevant personality.” Two recent examples related to sexual harassment issues involve the The Weinstein Company and the Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group. Both companies are rumored to be considering name changes as a result (here and here).

And finally, one challenge you might not have thought of, pointed out by the NYT, is that “customers expect to see the person whose name is on the door.” Think about whether you want to be not only the name of your brand, but the face, or even the voice, of it. Not everyone has the skills necessary to become the next Tom Carvel!