I gave a presentation to students at James Madison University a few weeks ago, and one young lady asked me what name she should put on her résumé – Nikki, the name she’s built for herself online, or Nicole, her legal name. Another young lady chimed in that her given name is difficult to spell and pronounce, so she’s always gone by Melody. Melody, only a sophomore, hadn’t begun building her online presence. Should she create her brand around Melody or her real name?
Although for different reasons, I recommended both women use their nicknames. Nikki’s brand was already built, and she wants to be found online when employers search for her. After all, she can always use Nicole in parentheses on her résumé.
Melody, on the other hand, faces a different challenge. Although incredibly unfair, hiring managers tend to unconsciously discriminate against people whose names they feel might be difficult to pronounce. The decision was an easy one for several other reasons, though. She always goes by Melody, a perfectly professional name, and she is starting from scratch with her brand. To the world, she’s not known as anything yet.
Should women change their brand names when they marry?
I married young – fresh out of college. And I changed my e-mail address and brand name to “Huhman” once I began searching for a job my senior year. But what if you have begun your career when you marry? After all, the average age at first marriage for women in the U.S. is 25.6 years, and I have a feeling this number is going to continue to increase.
Although there might be some who disagree with me, I recommend keeping your maiden name professionally and using your married name in your personal life (should you choose to take your husband’s name at all). You’ve worked hard to build your brand! Why change it just because you got married?
Whether your brand name is tarnished for some reason or you’re simply looking to head in a new direction, it is possible to reinvent yourself – starting with your brand name. Of course, you won’t be able to completely erase the old one (Internet = forever), but that doesn’t mean you can’t start anew.
Take a look at the nationally-known KFC, or what used to be Kentucky Fried Chicken. It’s been barely more than a decade since the switch – an effort to distance the chain from fried food – so few of us have forgotten KFC’s roots. But think about how far they’ve come in 10 years. Will we even remember what the “F” stands for in another 10?
Think about what you did to build your brand name originally, and start from the very beginning. You don’t have to actually change your name like KFC did, although it might make the process easier. Perhaps you add in your middle name, or just the initial. Or maybe now is the time to bring your married name into your professional life.
Take the time to do it right
No matter your approach, take the time to build (or rebuild) your brand the right way. A hat tip to my colleague at the Personal Branding Blog, Roger Parker, for this great piece about doing just that.
Heather R. Huhman is a career expert and founder & president of Come Recommended, an exclusive online community connecting the best internship and entry-level job candidates with the best employers. She is also the national entry-level careers columnist for Examiner.com and blogs about career advice at HeatherHuhman.com.