Should You Name Your Business After Yourself?
Back in February, I wrote an article about whether to use your own name for your business (or product) or create a new brand name. I presented five reasons to take the latter approach—creating a new name—including the appearance of scale and an opportunity to express relevant ideas through the name. But I was careful to state in the opening paragraph that “either path can work, and deciding which is right for you depends on a range of personal factors.” As a counterpoint to my previous article, I’ve listed five scenarios below in which using your personal name may be the wiser path. At the end of the article, you’ll find a table that summarizes some pros and cons of naming a business after yourself versus creating a new brand.
When you’re already famous
Granted, Kim Kardashian and Tiger Woods probably don’t need this advice, but you need not be a global celebrity to have a name that means something to your prospective customers. If you’re well known or you’ve built a following in your niche or neighborhood—or if you can trade on the reputation built by past generations of your family—using your own name may provide a shortcut to success.
Note, however, that mere fame is not the only consideration. People may know your name, but do they have a positive reaction when they hear it? And is your name associated with the goods and services you plan to sell, or are you known for something else? Getting some objective opinions on these questions will help you determine whether a brand carrying your personal name will blossom or backfire.
When your goal is to build a personal brand
What’s your business plan? Where will the revenue come from? How will you grow the brand? Maybe you’re launching a business purely to get noticed by potential employers, to become a micro-influencer, or to pursue paid speaking gigs. If your primary goal in building a business is to create a personal brand, using your own name makes more sense. (No comment on the wisdom of this plan, however.)
When your name is simple
Will people be able to spell and pronounce your name? Is it relatively short and easy to say? Take into account where you’ll be doing business and what languages your customers may speak. If you have a name that’s commonly spelled in a handful of ways, like Katherine (or Catherine, Katharine, or Kathryn), customers will have trouble remembering which spelling to use. If people often mispronounce your name (“May-erson” instead of “My-erson,” for example), you could lose out on a bit of brand awareness that you’d otherwise build through word of mouth. Sure, we’ve all learned to pronounce Ghirardelli, Hermès, and Porsche—or to consistently mispronounce them, at least—but why burden your customers with a tongue twister if you can avoid it?
That said, if you do know how to pronounce the names above, you may recognize that this advice comes with a couple of caveats. First off, difficult-looking names are sometimes more fun to say, and having a name people want to repeat out loud is surely a good thing for any brand. Secondly, being able to pronounce a perplexing name makes you feel like an insider—like you’re a member of an exclusive club (that knows to say “Air-mez” instead of “Her-meez”). So, consider these points carefully—if your name isn’t simple, think about whether it’s fun to say and whether you’re in a position to make your audience work hard to get it right. (Hint: Most companies aren’t.)
When your name is rare (but still simple enough)
Simple is good, but common is not. “Jack” is easy to say and hard to misspell. If you’re a Jack, you may be tempted to name your restaurant “Jack’s Burgers.” But if you do, you’ll be competing against about 150 other restaurants with trademarked “Jack” names already on file with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
Rarity must be measured in the context of an industry. Law firms traditionally go with their partners’ surnames, resulting in names that look like they were chosen by throwing darts at a phonebook. As a result, even your last name is Skedaddle, once you’ve paired it with an ampersand and an “LLP,” it’s likely to blend in against a backdrop of Swaines, Skaddens, Sonsinis, Steptoes, and Seyfarths.
One of the most important factors for determining whether a brand name will succeed—whether it’s a personal name or not—is memorability. To be memorable, your name must strike a perfect balance: simple enough to stick in the mind, but rare enough to stand out.
When your name has built-in meaning or imagery
Some founders’ names are almost too good to be true. J.S. Smart and H.D. Final, founders of Smart & Final grocery stores, had last names with relevant, built-in meaning. Fox Racing, a California-based extreme sports and clothing brand, is not only named after its founder, Geoff Fox, but also uses his name as inspiration for its fox-head logo.
First and last names that are also real words are especially interesting as potential brand names, but names that aren’t real words can still convey meaning. If your name contains or sounds like a real word, using it may link your brand to related concepts. For example, a name containing “stone” could suggest strength. A name with “hart” might imply passion or empathy.
Then again, the surname “Stonehart” could imply a lack of emotion or inability to care. Before getting too excited about the positive connotations of your name, be sure to consider its potential downsides as well. I might buy Stonehart brand electric guitar strings, but I’d hesitate before leaving my kids at the Stonehart Childcare Center.
Still not sure whether to name your brand after yourself or come up with an original brand name? See the table below for a handful of pros and cons for each approach. If you’re on the fence, I recommend going through a naming process as if you’ll create something new, then taking a step back and asking yourself which will best help you achieve the goals you’ve set out for your brand—the new names you’ve created or your personal name?
Naming the Brand After Yourself
- Keeps the focus on you/your personal brand
- Creates a more personal connection; a more “authentic” feel
- Quicker and easier than coming up with something new
- Sounds like a smaller company/brand
- Lacks distinctiveness
- Can make it harder to sell your company (or you may lose control of your name)
- Fails to express any meaning (other than linking the brand to you)
- May pigeonhole you or harm your reputation if the business fails
Creating an Original Brand Name
- Suggests scale (competitive advantage)
- Provides more flexibility/stretchability
- Allows you to express ideas through the name
- Easier to spell/pronounce
- More distinctive
- Creates some “daylight” between you and the business
- Requires a thorough naming process (can be time-consuming and expensive)
- May sound impersonal, cold
- People will have stronger opinions about your brand name (some of them negative)