Unless you are Charlemagne or Julius Caesar, you would probably have trouble registering your name as a trademark. This is because personal names are not generally considered to be inherently distinctive enough to qualify for trademark protection without proof of secondary meaning. However, there is an exception for historical names that are likely to be recognized by the public as referring not to an ordinary surname, but to a specific dead person. Leonardo Da Vinci is the quintessential example.
Does patriotic American composer John Phillip Sousa qualify? How about just “Sousa” by itself? In 1997, Pyro-Spectaculars, Inc., a California company, attempted to register “Sousa” as a trademark in connection with the sale of fireworks. Pyro-Spectaculars argued that Sousa was inherently distinctive enough to be recognized as the name of an historical figure. But the PTO Examining Attorney disagreed, finding instead that the word’s primary significance was that of an ordinary surname (derived from Portuguese, meaning “salty place”). According to the examiner, “Sousa” was only “semi-historical.”
In 2002, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) reversed and allowed the registration. According to the TTAB, the name of “John Philip Sousa and the patriotic music which was his legacy remain strong in the minds of the American public.” Especially in connection with the sale of something as intrinsically American as Fourth of July explosives, the public was far more likely to think that the name was being used in connection with the patriotic composer, and was not simply the surname of the owners of the company.