Above: Marilyn Monroe’s birth certificate (image courtesy Wikipedia)
Helping companies shape (and reshape) their brands is something that I do. But what about your personal brand? Do you manage yours?
You have a personal brand whether you know it or not. If someone has met you before, a certain image comes to mind when they hear your name. The same way that a certain image pops in your mind when you hear a brand name like Clorox, Kleenex, or Disney. What image do you think comes to mind when people hear your name? Does it match the image you want them to see?
I recently went through a personal name re-branding. My birth name is Ethan Allen. My personal brand name is now Ethan King.
Why? For several reasons which I’ve outlined below. I examined this project the same way I would for a client trying to decide on a brand name or considering a company name change. At minimum, a good brand name must meet the following criteria:
1. it is not easily confused with another brand
2. it’s short
3. easy to spell
4. easy to pronounce
5. easy to remember
6. you can buy the domain name (website URL)
So let’s look at how my personal brand name compares to the above criteria.
#1: Unique brand identity.
As a brand name, “Ethan Allen” is already taken… many times over. There’s already a furniture store chain, a Revolutionary War hero, battle ships, and many other people and things bearing that name. No matter how good you are at what you do, your brand will never achieve it’s full potential if the likelihood of confusion with something else is high. Not to mention the possible legal hassles you may encounter. And can you really become a “household name” if your name is already taken by an existing household name? Don’t get me wrong, I like my birth name, but as a brand… it’s taken. I’m sure that the ambitious Michael Jacksons of the world share my pain.
The last thing you want is for your brand name to immediately conjure up the image of something or someone else. You need to own your name. There is a reason that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office exists. Brands cannot just go out and copy each others’ names. Even if my legal last name were CocaCola, I can’t go start the CocaCola Dance Company without facing possible litigation. Nor would I want to do that because whenever I say my business name, someone would be thinking of a cold, bubbly beverage instead of learning how to salsa.
I know there are several other people in this world named Ethan King, but none with an established personal brand name yet. Heck, I just launched this website a few days ago and it is already on the 1st page of Google when you search for Ethan King. (I’m gunning for the #1 spot; that’s where my SEO skills come into play.)
#2: Name length.
Think about major brands like Nike, Apple, Google, Yahoo, Yelp, Bing – each less than 2 syllables, less than 6 letters. Public figures with first/last names shorter than 4 syllables like Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Tom Cruise, Ozzy Osbourne, Spike Lee, Kanye West. I know there are exceptions to this rule, but usually the shorter the sweeter. Ethan King = 3 syllables, 9 letters total.
#3: Easy to spell and #4: Easy to pronounce.
It gets tricky here. Especially with the nuances of the English language. But generally, your name should be spelled how it sounds.
#5: Easy to remember.
My birth name was easy to remember because people associated it with something else, but that’s a violation of rule #1. Ethan King is also easy to remember due to word association.
#6: Available domain name.
The domain name ethanallen.com is already taken by the furniture store. Just like when naming your company, you must have a unique domain for your personal brand if you ever plan to have a website and brand yourself online. A dot com domain with less than 12 characters is ideal.
Sidebar: You may also want to think about this when naming your kids. I named my daughter Imana because I did my research and found it is a unique, strong, and brand-worthy name that meets the 6 criteria. At the time she was born, there were only 12 other people in the U.S. with the name Imana. Perhaps one day she will be a one-name celebrity like Cher, Prince, Madonna, or Beyoncé. If she doesn’t go that route, that’s fine, but at least she has the option. The important thing to note is that I did not finalize my decision for her name until I registered the domain www.ImanaAllen.com.
Back in 2001, I also registered the domain www.AlexCromwell.com for my nephew. He is only 11 years old right now, but when he decides what he wants to do in his life and career, he will own this valuable domain name to do with as he pleases. I’m sure that there are now many other Alex Cromwells in the world who would love to have this vanity domain, but they can’t because we beat all of them to it.
Here’s a great tool for researching available domain names quickly.
#7 (bonus): No mental barriers.
When I used to introduce myself as Ethan Allen, or shop in a store using a credit card, the store clerk or the other person would immediately say something like “Ethan Allen? Isn’t that a store?”, or “Are you THE Ethan Allen?” with a chuckle. I used to think that it didn’t bother me much, but as I got older, I realized that hearing this everyday made me a little shy and nervous about saying my name and being proud of it. This feeling is magnified a hundredfold when standing in front of an audience. Because of that, I started going by E. K. Allen. In fact, a lot of my friends call me “E.K.”, but new people I met would quickly ask “what does E. K. stand for?”. Only a matter of time before it was back to the furniture store/historical figure conversation.
Not only that, but E. K. is audibly difficult for some people to remember. The next time I saw someone whom I had previously met, I would often hear “what was your name again? I know it’s two letters. Was it E.J.? T.J.? B.J.?” (This violates rule #5 – easy to remember.) Sometimes I wonder how W.E.B. DuBois did it.
So now E.K. stands for Ethan King.
The brand name fits because I am a “Kingmaker” of sorts. I experience true joy when I use my talents to help others become king of their endeavors, and I’ve been doing this for 14+ years.
I’ll admit, it feels a little awkward to go by a pseudonym at first, but that goes away quickly. It helps to think of all the successful people, old and young, who changed their name for whatever reason. Jamie Foxx, Marilyn Monroe, Tom Cruise, Dr. Seuss, Mark Twain, Alicia Keys, Charlie Sheen, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and many others (see links below).
Here’s some interesting related reading:
78 Celebrities You May Have Not Known Changed Their Names
50 Historical Figures Who Changed Their Names
Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation
Unique Ability: Creating the Life You Want
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you’re doomed if your name doesn’t meet these criteria. After all, there are exceptions to every rule. One exception that immediately comes to mind is Barack Hussein Obama. Wow! His name violates 4 of the 6 branding rules, not to mention that his middle name is the same as the last name of a former enemy of this country. But the POTUS’s name is unique, and he probably had no problem with the availability of his URL. I truly admire our president for overcoming the odds in this way and many other ways. He’s a better man than me. I probably would have changed my name.
In the end, it’s all about what makes you happy and comfortable for your life goals. But what are your thoughts? What else is required for a good personal brand name?