The Most Unexploited Tools in Your Personal Brand: Your Name

PeoplePersonal Branding
Personal Brand

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? Let’s talk about tools to help your personal brand.

First, some terminology.

There are two 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 famous – Albert 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?