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  • The Most Unexploited Tool in Personal Branding: Your Name

    The largest words on any resume should be your name. As the text that will be seen and repeated the most throughout life, what can you do to make your name leave a positive impression?

    First, some terminology.

    There are 2 kinds of names:

    Anthroponyms – literally meaning ‘human name’, an anthroponym is any real name that can be given to a human being such as given names, surnames, nicknames, etc.

    Pseudonyms – The opposite of “anthroponym”, it means ‘false name’ in Latin. There are many good reasons for people to use false names without being a James Bond-esque spy as you’ll see.

    Both anthroponyms and pseudonyms can be used as personal brand names.


    What is a personal brand name?

    If a brand name is a word or group of words that communicate ideas about a subject, then a personal brand name is a word or group of words that communicate ideas about a person.

    For most people, that group of words is simply their birth name. If your birth name is Barack Hussein Obama Jr. that might be good enough, but there are some cases where an improvement is desperately needed.

    Personal brand name nightmares

    Having the same name as someone famousAlbert Brooks was actually born Albert Lawrence Einstein. Now a famous Hollywood actor, he changed his last name to avoid confusion with the Albert Einstein that the whole world already knows about.

    Having the same name as someone who’s infamous – As Steven Moody wrote to Penelope Trunk, “I am trying to get to the top of Google searches for my name, but competing with a Death Row inmate in TX and a con artist in Utah is proving difficult.”

    Having the same name as someone not famous, but still being found ahead of you online – even with his own blog and solid web presence, Ryan Healy is still finding it a challenge to be found first in search results on his name.

    Having a name that’s also used regularly as a pseudonym – In the US, John Doe and Jane Doe are names that police officers use for unidentified bodies but if you search Facebook, there are many live Jane Does.

    If you’re living a personal brand name nightmare or just looking for ideas to improve your personal brand name, there are more options than you might think. To fully understand those options, let’s take a look at how names convey meaning.

    Ways that personal names share meaning

    Names that are words or sound like them – the most obvious case, when part of a name seems to have literal meaning or actually does. Examples: George Bush, Danielle Steele.

    Single names – this only works when someone is so famous that the context makes it clear who’s being referred to. Examples: Madonna, Elvis.

    Titles – used to indicate special status. Examples: Sir, Doctor, Prince of Wales.

    Historical names – the classic example would be biblical names; aside from having a meaning in Hebrew, these usually indicate a Christian/Jewish background. Examples: Sarah, David.

    Ethnic names – names like Fernandez, Goldberg or Wu can give an idea of a person’s origins.

    Patronyms & matronyms – many cultures used to express names through who the parents were. Examples: Wilson, Carlson.

    Hyphenated family names – these typically mean that a woman in the family decided not to take her husband’s name at marriage time. Example: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Maddox Jolie-Pitt.

    Senior/Junior – a way of distinguishing a son from a father with the same name, the ‘Jr.’ often gets dropped later in life or when there’s no longer a risk of confusing father and son. Example: Martin Luther King.

    Roman numerals – typically associated with royalty, aristocracy or wealth, roman numerals can make someone appear aloof or even silly if the person doesn’t fits the association.

    But how can you use these possibilities for your own personal brand name?

    4 ways to improve your personal brand with your name

    1.  Capitalize on existing meanings – use an etymology dictionary to fully understand what your name means and then harmonize that definition with the personal brand you’ve chosen for yourself. This works best when your name’s meaning is easy to grasp i.e. no etymology dictionary is needed, but don’t let that limit you if your name has a story to tell.

    2.  Use a nickname – everyone knows who Joe the Plumber is now. If my last name was different, I could go by ‘Jacob the Job Search Expert’ on my blog, in discussion forums, even on my resume. Give yourself a nickname that meshes with your personal brand.

    3.  Take on a pseudonym – probably the most typical usage of pseudonyms are as entertainment (stage/screen/pen) names. Many Jews have used less ethnic-sounding stage names – Jon Stewart is actually Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz, Natalie Portman is really Natalie Hershlag – because they thought it would improve their chances of success. On the other hand, Caryn Elaine Johnson chose the more ethnic-sounding screen name of Whoopi Goldberg for the same reason. The advantage of a pseudonym is that using the list above for inspiration, you can literally design a name that conveys the meaning you want.

    4.  Change your legal name – this is the brute force scenario, the kind of thing to do when you feel you have no choice such as when Talula Does the Hula, age 9, was granted a court-ordered name change that will save her from a life of embarrassment and increase her chances of eventually getting a job when she’s older.

    How far would you be willing to go?

    The sweetest words to your ears, you will make your name appear in many places over your lifetime. Take advantage of that reality and use your name to convey the branding message of your choosing.

    How far would you be willing to go in using your name to improve your chances of success?

    Related articles from around the blogosphere


    Jacob Share, a job search expert, is the creator of JobMob, one of the biggest blogs in the world about finding jobs. Follow him on Twitter for job search tips and humor.


    Jacob Share is the founder and SVP of Share Select Media, a company focused on empowering quality bloggers and blogs such as Group Writing Projects, The Original Home of Group Writing Projects. His JobMob blog has attracted over a million page views last year alone. He grew up between Canada, France and Israel where he had his first Internet experience in 1994 and was hooked. Since then he’s enjoyed playing a part in growing the Web as a manager-developer and project manager at Amazon.com and other e-commerce companies before starting up his own venture.

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    11 comments on “The Most Unexploited Tool in Personal Branding: Your Name
    1. avatar
      yinka olaito says:

      This is the first time someone outside the clergy/church is talking about effects of a name on a personal brand. For Africans, many understand that the impact of name has a strong effect of what the individuals become. So often names are carefully chosen.As life progresses people are now being mindful of what name to pick.Thanks Jacob for speaking out about this.Though, of all your suggestions, using a pseudonmy may not seem ideal, nickname may be the best way to go. That is my opinion anyway.

      • avatar
        Jacob Share says:

        Thanks for the insight, Yinka. In Judaism as well, names are very powerful and parents should also consider the value of a name beyond how it sounds to their ear.

    2. avatar

      Great article, Mr. Jacob!

      Registering your name is the first thing I suggest in implementing your PERSONAL branding strategy.

      Thanks for sharing.

      Keep the faith and keep being you!

      TrueBeliever & HopeDealer

    3. avatar

      Thoroughly enjoyed your post! Excellent information and thoughts. I like the complete explanation of names and appreciate your research.

      I agree with Ronald in registering your name – at the very least, this is a great start in the personal branding process and “owning” your online identity.

      Thanks, Jacob!

      • avatar
        Jacob Share says:

        Ronald, are you referring to registering your name’s domain name (as in ‘jacobshare.com’) or something else? I agree with Maria that it’s a great first step for a personal brand online.

    4. avatar

      I can totally relate to Ryan Healy’s situation. Having a common name makes it tough to compete in search. I have started to incorporate my middle initial to help. Enjoyed the article.


    5. avatar

      At last, someone was able to spell out clearly what a difference personal branding can make in the presentation world.
      Your parents may have given you a great name with love and feeling, but there is nothing wrong with changing it to suit what you are doing in business and your life.
      Good Article Jacob

      – Steve

    6. avatar
      Torley says:

      Inextricably linked catchphrases help too: you simply can’t separate “Rodney Dangerfield” from a certain saying, for instance.

      I’ve always found it intriguing there isn’t a common female equivalent of Jr. I know there are cultural and historical reasons for this, but c’mon, we’re in the 21st century now.

      Another funny thing: many Thai have long official names, but single-syllable nicknames. And since the Thai language doesn’t transliterate perfectly to English, places like “Phuket” often get mispronounced, but this only accentuates the stereotypes of Thai culture + sexuality. So think: how can even a botched name work in your favor?

      • avatar
        Jacob Share says:

        Funny, Torley. When I was writing this, I also wondered why there was no female ‘junior’ equivalent.

        Regarding botched names, I’d go even further. The vast majority of people are completely unaware when their name has a meaning in a language they don’t speak. That can lead to all kinds of situations, good and bad.

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