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Branding Dilemma: When to Use Your Own Name

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Making the choice between promoting your business using your own name or that of a company is a very personal decision that sometimes takes a lot of consideration.

The most common option is to brand yourself under a company, which works well when your company name is unique, brandable and broad enough to encompass a variety of products and services. This option works well for technology companies, for example, like Google (s goog) and Apple (s aapl).

Another option is to brand yourself under your own name. This is the way I ultimately decided to brand myself, but coming to that conclusion wasn’t quick or easy.

How It Works For Me

In years past, I tried to identify and promote each of my business ventures individually, but more recently, I asked myself what my main mission was for my work and business. I was able to succinctly say that my goal was to be a resource for small business owners and entrepreneurs. Once I realized that I had that one central objective, I saw that it really served as an umbrella for all that I do.

All of my work in some way supports small business owners and entrepreneurs. I have one site that provides articles and podcasts on issues related to small business owners, as well as products and services to help them along their way. I have a radio show that covers topics relevant to this same group, as well as a web design company that serves, for the most part, solo entrepreneurs. And, of course, I write for sites like this one on topics relevant to the group.

That unifying thread of serving small business owners and the entrepreneurial crowd shows itself in everything that I do, and usually, clients who work with me through one of my sites end up working with or following me through one or more of the others, so I decided to simply introduce myself under my own name. I changed my email signature, Twitter handle, Posterous handle, etc. to my personal name (or a shorter version of it), and now, when I introduce myself, my business card points people to my main web site (the domain is my name), which then links them to any of my business ventures that fall under the umbrella of what I do.

Instead of trying to wrap my mind around all the different products, companies, or spin-off sites that I develop, which will likely be an ever-growing and changing list, I now focus on thinking about what I personally want to represent and be known for: helping small business owners and entrepreneurs through a variety of resources, products, and services. People start with knowing me and what I do and then figure out which of the sites under that umbrella might help them.

Other Successful Examples

Seth Godin, Chris Brogan, and Gary Vaynerchuk are examples of successful entrepreneurs who identify themselves by their own names rather than those of their companies. They each have two or more sites, books, or companies underneath them and are considered experts in a particular area or niche. Seth Godin is known for marketing, Chris Brogan for social networking, and Gary Vaynerchuk for parlaying passion into business. Their followers know the niche that they serve, and they know them by their individual names first then that of their companies or products.

Michael Port is another example. He has his main, personally-branded site,, which directs visitors to any of his books and programs. People know him as a marketing expert, or maybe as the “book yourself solid” guy. They don’t necessarily remember every one of his books or products, but they know him and his name, and they know what he represents.

When to Go With Your Name

I think that if there’s even a remote chance you’ll start another business, sell your current one, or change directions, it’s probably better to go with your name over that of your company. This option works well for entrepreneurs and writers especially. If you think that you’ll start spin-off companies, products, or services and want to be known as an expert on a particular topic, then going with your name might be the easier choice when it comes to branding and promotion.

For me, it’s been much easier to promote myself, definitely, but I’ll also say that it seems to be a lot easier for new contacts to wrap their mind around what I do as well. They immediately see that I do a variety of things, all geared to help them as small business owners. It has made things easier to manage, and I’m much more confident in my marketing efforts as a result.

How do you promote yourself, as your name or that of your company? What made you decide to go that way?

Photo by Flickr user Frogman!, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

52 Responses to “Branding Dilemma: When to Use Your Own Name”

  1. Hi Amber and thank you for writing this very informative post. Something else I must add is that I simply love that you’ve responded to everyone’s comments. I’ve read a considerable amount on this topic in my search for the answer and this is the first time I’ve decided to comment, precisely for the reason mentioned above.

    What advice would you give someone in my position? [below]

    I have run several blogs and websites for many years with very different levels of success, many of these sites are no longer up however. I find it very difficult to find the time to post fresh content to each blog/site on a relatively consistent basis especially on a specific topic and recently have decided that maybe I should go with a blog using my last name as the URL/TLD and keep it for the long-run.

    Now the issue I find is that this blog will be ‘non-niche’ and will cover several different topics. The reason I want to open this blog is because I have some life goals which might benefit in the long run by having a site with my last name in it (such as becoming a patent attorney (intellectual property)).

    At the same time though, I am wondering if having a highly differentiated blog on several different topics which may or may not even be tied together, will this actually benefit me or hurt me in the long-run, especially in terms of my prospects of someday soon becoming an attorney.

    I want to make it a more of a personal blog but I also know that a non-niche blog is a bad idea in terms of SEO. I plan on writing on topics consisting of, technology, web, SEO, philosophy, day-to-day rants, experiences, cars, and much more. Based on this I know this will be a very broad or wide topic site.

    What would you suggest since I want to keep this blog going for many years.

    Thank you,


  2. The main reason why I chose to use my own name for my internet marketing niche is that I know that my name is pretty unique. Fist name 100% French and last name 100% Italian. And, I looked long enough in Europe and on this side of the pound. I have never met or heard or seen another person with my first and last name together. This make my marketing name pretty “unique”. This is why for my particular case it is worth it to use my name for my internet marketing niche as an expert article writer and other related internet marketing strategies.

  3. I am actually running into to the problem of what name I should even use! I am getting married in the fall, but will be moving to where my fiance is at the end of this month and I don’t feel comfortable using his name now.

    Even though, as you say, one can just keep going my their maiden name, it can be a tricky situation. I have gone my my middle name instead of first name most of my life, and I have had friends or colleagues get rather upset and betrayed feeling when they find out, not because I was keeping it from them, but because they are shocked they didn’t know such a basic thing about me.

    Worse, I have had innumerable instance of people writing me checks under the wrong name. I am sure I get away with this much easier now, since the last name on the check is at least correct, than I would if someone wrote me a check under my maiden name instead of my married name.

  4. Hi Amber,

    This was a very timely topic for me. After 13 years of owning an ad agency with a corporate name, I recently downsized and I am in the process of rebranding to a more authentic space. For over 25+ years, I have managed people. Now I want to experience going solo (again). My rebranding is away from a corporate image to something more personal with my name. I faced the same issue as Justin (earlier comment) with someone else owning my name’s .com domain. I ended up using a .net domain ( since I had a long middle name. I’ve used a .net domain before without any issues. Most clients hire due to relationships and will find you through referrals or visibility. You can get visible with a .net. As far as branding additional skills that I’ve picked up over the years, I started a second website showcasing my photography but kept my name plus the skill set ( With both sites, I’ve linked them together so you can get to either one through the other. This blog post validated the branding and marketing rationale that I have already started implementing. Thanks for the reinforcement. I really liked reading all the input from the variety of posts. Great job inspiring and sharing.

  5. You know what the biggest problem about branding is? (If its something other than your own name)
    I have a hard time presenting my self or my brand. If I have a made-up brand name, I feel like saying “We offer this and that” but then I realize that there is no WE…it’s just me. But since a brand name is usually thought of as a company, I can’t really say “I offer..”
    ‘I’ has to be ‘WE’ and ‘WE’ is basically ‘I’..hehe.

  6. Hi Amber – I guess I’m in the same boat, but a little different situation. At this point, I am preparing to start a couple internet businesses within very different niches. For example, anywhere from Investing to internet software to a clothing sales website that I may invest with a friend in.

    I have been a student of internet business/entrprenuers for a while now and understand the importance of a personal connection with your audience/clients. My question is, what do you think of using different alias names for each of the different businesses? I’m afraid to use my own name because even though I feel I am an expert in all of them, I don’t think “followers” would feel that way. Also, there’s the good possibility that many of my start-ups will not suceed.

    Then, maybe after a couple years of seeing what does and doesn’t work, I can then think of re-branding???

    Thanks in advance – Mark

  7. Question for everyone. is taken by some realtor and I have been trying to think of alternative domain names that I could use as my actual proper name is not available anymore. I really want a dot com and don’t want to have to go with a dot net. Also, my middle name is christopher which is pretty long so is just a mess.

    Any suggestions?

    • Hmmm, the branding dilemmas just keep getting thicker. It’s probably a common problem these days, so some creativity’s going to have to come into play. Have a nickname, a way to connect what you do with your name, or maybe there’s a short and sweet tagline/domain you could go with (think or

  8. Good piece. It’s obviously important which you can see from all the comments. Naming and branding are key decisions we all make whether it’s for business or not.

    I started out with my nickname, Paisano which I used for years for radio call in shows. Then I started using my full name but most folk only know me as Pai or Paisano because of twitter and my old tech blog.

    I combined a couple of my blogs into just one now…which is my full It feels great… one man, one domain…one brand.

    As you said, there isn’t a right or wrong answer for everyone. Good points from everyone on this hot topic.

    Was Shakespeare right? “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” from Romeo & Juliet

    • You’re right, there’s been a lot of discussion, for sure. I thought I was in a boat by myself (maybe with a few other boats floating around somewhere) and that my solution might help a person or two, but it looks like a lot of people have had similar issues with their branding.

      Love the quote. Thanks for commenting!

  9. It’s true. Great post. I think signature brands are the way forward because people buy from people. It’s all just about caring about your customers isn’t it? I think that what you stand for is way more important than what you sell and that is only ever communicated properly by people – and not corporations. Your post reminded me of a really old school Zig Ziglar quote that “You can have everything in life you want, if you just help enough other people get what they want”. So true. x

  10. I decided to use my own name as my brand. It’s a very old tradition. In the days before electricity most businesses were named after the founder. And those were the days of the original, organic social networks. People knew people by name and very few used clever names for their businesses.

  11. I’ve used my name, cryptically. All my branded sites are anagrams of my name. They are quirky but easily remembered. I try to find a way to tie the name back into the service via linguistic and literary hooks in the product information.

    It allows me to sell my name without selling my Name.

    Many thanks to Bill Day at for pointing me to this article!


  12. I came to the same conclusion only recently myself Amber. Thanks for this article, it has really helped cement my decision in my mind as the right one. And thanks for your answer to Chris’ question as I too was struggling with how to then showcase all the varied marketing projects I work on (from women’s sport to local arts festivals to supporting small business owners… to name but a few!).

    My next agonising decision: do I lose the punk look? I have become quite attached to it!

  13. Talk about timely; I have been mulling this over as well. There are definite reasons for different “handles”. I really struggled with this initially due to being divorced and realized that I had built my entire professional reputation on my married name. I started branding a hyphenated name but that took too many characters.

    I had come to terms with continuing to brand my married name earlier this week. As a Consultant my name is key and from there it could lead to my multiple businesses. I’ve tried to keep the theme of “touch” being the central point based on each touch with a client/employee is an opportunity to build a relationship. With training/speaking/gift & incentives all part of the mix.

    However, in planning down the road, if I were to expand my consulting; other teammates may not want to be branded with my name. So is it short-sited to brand my name?

    I’ve read through the comments and see the many sides to this conversation. I really appreciate this post and will definitely refer it.

    @kathyhogeveen @theclosingtouch @touchmrktg

    • Glad it helps, Kathy. Really, as mentioned several times throughout the discussion here, it’s all about doing what works best for you.

      For the future team members part, if you decide to go with your name when representing yourself, you can always have a “primary company brand” that you direct people to and that your employees are under.

      You’ll have to really think through the logistics and figure out the best route for your situation, but I can tell you, once you get your mind around it, everything starts falling into place.

      Best of luck to you!

  14. Kathy Snavely (ProfS on Twitter)

    Traditional marketing tells us not to use our names for our brand/business name unless we’ve already established recognition in the field. While I still lean strongly in that direction, the proliferation of places to market and branding options in the marketplace is changing. Some companies allow individual branding of their employees, while others discourage it. It becomes a simpler task in a sense if your branding is just for you/your business. Consider carefully as you proceed, as this is one of those decisions that can produce flowers or thorns along your journey.

    • Right, Kathy, and I think that’s one of the reasons I struggled with it for so long. I was trying to follow traditional marketing. After a while, I just let all the feeling of obligation go and went with what made most sense for me. It’s definitely a personal choice that should be made carefully.

  15. I did go through the same thought process. Decided to brand myself under a company which is “marketing by DM”. With a last name of Meyer I was concerned that there were far too many ways to spell Meyer that clients would run into problems. Choosing marketing was not a quick decision either because I assist clients as a marketing consultant, and also as a branding expert through promotional products and print media….so the name doesn’t fully indicate what I do but does encompass how I brand myself and what I offer. The initials DM does help people to remember my name so in the end it does work fine. I’m pretty well known by both.

  16. Hey Amber –

    Thanks to Trey above for bringing me over here… I’m in a little different situation because I have my blog at Altitude Branding, which I consciously did NOT park on (which is my other, personal blog). At the time, I was a solo entrepreneur and wanted a brand that was identifiable and scalable beyond me. I’ll be reworking my blog here soon, and I’ll be doing the same thing.

    I also represent Radian6, my employer. But for example, on Twitter, I’m @ambercadabra and my Radian6 affiliation is disclosed in my bio. I was on Twitter before I worked for Radian6 and while I represent them often and the two are intertwined, my Twitter account is my own “turf” as are those of our other team members. It’s a balance, but it’s more flexible and scalable that way in the long run, both for the company and me personally.

    I don’t think there’s a “right” answer, but it’s interesting to see all the different takes on it above. Thanks for the discussion.

    • Hi, Amber. Agreed, I don’t think there’s one right answer, and a lot has to go into the decision, and even if two people both go with using their personal names, they’ll likely have variations here and there in their approach to it, so it’s definitely unique to each of us.

      I definitely want my work to be scalable and go beyond my own name, but each of my individual sites/companies can do what they will and be sold off or whatever. I’ll always be me and will likely always be a writer and entrepreneur, so that part is static. Again, though, someone else might have a completely different plan.

      I thought I’d share my perspective and how I made it work for me, in case it might help someone else struggling with the problem. Plus, it opened up some very interesting conversation, for sure!

  17. I decided to make separate websites, and keep the separate naming, and keep my name as the portal for things about me personal and business.

    It’s a progressional thing, and each business is more of a hobby right now, but this way when at a loss, I can always use a personal card to point people to for a link to any of them. At least that’s the idea.

    • I can see that, Bill. Sometimes the easiest way is to keep everything separate. I like simplicity.

      For me, the simplicity came with unifying everything under a common umbrella (my name + what I wanted to be known for). Those two things united everything I did and made it a lot easier to cross-promote and connect the dots, so I put it all together, specifically when it came time to introduce myself to people and simplify things like my networking and even my email signature. It just made it to where I could wrap my mind around what I did and how to introduce it.

  18. This post couldn’t have come at a better time, and I love hearing this topic discussed from a woman’s point of view. I’m in a position now where my freelance work is really taking off, but at the same time, I’m getting married in a few months and will be changing my last name. Because of this, I think I’ll be sticking with just my first name for the time being, which is fortunately unique enough for clients to remember, but this is still a difficult decision. I’d love to see more discussion on personal branding and name changes. Thanks!

    • I know, right? Guys don’t have to play the name game, unless you’re Chad Ocho Cinco (Right, guys? Come on, give me some credit. I know some sports trivia.).

      In my personal opinion, Mayde, and you can give it whatever weight you want, your name is perfect. It’s unique, easy to remember, and short. Although my name isn’t overly popular, I still don’t think I could get by with going by only my first name, and how I wish that was the case! Stick with it. That makes it so easy, and then no one will even care what your last name is. If you decide to use it, which I don’t think is even necessary very often, use all three names so that people always know who you are. I think you’re in a unique position, and I’d definitely take advantage of it.

  19. I think the answer is go with whatever you started building your reputation with, and you have to stick with that. I know bloggers and freelancers that I refer to by their twitter handle because that’s how I know them best.

    Deciding whether or not to use your name also depends on your personality. If you’re successful (which you hope you will be), having your name out there is a lot different than a company name and logo, and it’s your job to promote it, or yourself.

  20. This post is so relevant. I’ve been amazed at the decisions I have to make as an entrepreneur; some I clearly realized and some I really never considered. It’s amazing!

    As for branding, my feeling currently is to brand a company name – Solution Explorers in my case – but instead of a biz logo use my headshot, since folks are doing direct business with me. It’s been my experience that very few logos, even professionally designed ones, truly tell others much about your company. I wonder if this is just another form of your idea or completely different though. Thoughts?

    • I know, Keith, this never crossed my mind or even occurred to me to be a consideration I’d need to make when I first started out. When you sign up to be a business owner, you just have no idea what all that entails! It really is amazing.

      It’s interesting, too, how we approach all the little nuances of our branding and marketing. Do I use my name or the company’s? The company’s logo or my headshot? There are so many parts, and I think with all the different social networks, it makes it even more complicated.

      No, absolutely, I think even the logo (and when to use it) is a consideration. I’ve found that, for me, my use of the company logos depends on the situation. Sometimes, like on the company Facebook fan pages and Twitter profiles, I use the company logo, but on my personal profiles, I use my photo.

  21. kennethhill

    Interesting discussion. I’m working through this decision with a client and one of the considerations is whether using one’s personal name as opposed to one’s company name is more inviting in a social network setting.

    In other words, are people more likely to follow back or friend a person than they are to follow or fan “ACME PR company”?

    This particular client is a small firm that wants to engage B2B, but also with consumers (moms, green folk, et al) as a way of listening to what people think about issues. Also, they want to engage followers interested in some of the kinds of campaigns they work on.

    Would love to know your thoughts, Amber, and those of your readers.

    • Interesting thought about the social network side of things, Kenneth. I guess from my perspective, I’d say that it depends. I certainly don’t mind following a company I trust, but if it’s a new company to me, I might be a little more hesitant to follow him/her, simply because I don’t want to be spammed with all kinds of marketing messages. Then again, there’s always that pull between looking professional in B2B situations and being approachable and more personal.

      It’s, I think, a deeply personal decision and one that should reflect your own personality and style. I always err on the side of being real.

  22. Thanks Amber, this was such a wonderful article!

    I have, and Sometimes I struggle with how to brand my sites effectively on a budget- even though I believe I am developing some sound brands.

    …researching new hosting packages, themes and will revamp my sites from there ; )
    I welcome tips—-

    Thanks Again!


    • Thanks, Coretta! I’m glad you liked the article. You hit on another concern that has to be a consideration for business owners, too, and that’s money. It’s not always affordable to think about adding pieces to the marketing puzzle. Great point. Good luck with your revamp!

  23. It is a dilemma. I’m still stuck. Most folks who know me, know or @treypennington. Almost no one knows my “company” name ( As I’m now beginning to make most of my money from speaking, @treypennington seems to work okay.

    I think all of us know Chris Brogan as, the blogger. When I want to tell people his company name, I have to stop and look it up. I just don’t remember it.

    Another smart blogger is Amber Naslund. Most of us probably know her as @ambercadabra, a quite memorable moniker. Her blog is called Altitude. She works for Radian6. When we talk about her at conventions, we nearly always say, “ambercadabra.”

    Maybe we’ll all get well enough known to go by something as simple as Prince, or Cher, or Michael, or Madonna, or Elivs, or even Sir Richard. All we have to do is be incredibly remarkable, willing to offend those who don’t “get” us, in order to so fascinate those who do. That’s all.

    • It really is a dilemma, Trey, and I think it’s not always as straightforward as we’d hope. I haggled with it for a long time, but finally feel that I’ve found a solution that works for me.

      I absolutely love the way you put that, too, “All we have to do is be incredibly remarkable, willing to offend those who don’t ‘get’ us, in order to so fascinate those who do.” Well said, and I couldn’t agree more.

  24. Oh, I agonized over this for months. I ended up calling my business “Copylicious” because I was just starting out and no one would remember my real name anyway. If I did ever decide to start another company (nooo!), hopefully I could just invest some of the proceeds from selling “Copylicious” into better marketing to make up for my unknown, ordinary, very forgettable name.

    • I know just what you mean, William. I seriously struggled and debated about this for years, and I was so glad when it finally clicked for me. As I mentioned in my comment to Christine, it won’t work for everyone, but if it gives you a starting point, great! I’m glad it helps.

  25. The difficulty is when there is a famous person with your name.(Christine Taylor is an actress and is married to Ben Stiller.) Google my name and you may see me nude. :) I have used @chrisgtaylor on twitter and people think I am male. Christinegrogantaylor on LinkedIn but that is a mouth full. Any ideas?
    Identity crisis

    • I actually struggled with that, too, Christine. Women are at an unfair disadvantage here, too, but I decided to stick with my maiden name for the most part, and I’m transitioning to it 100% where I can. That’s who I know I’ll be for the rest of my life. It can be a sticky and hard choice to make, but it’s what I personally decided to do. I have found, too, that there are other people who have my name out there, but we aren’t focused on the same things in life, so we haven’t crossed paths or had any confusion there so far. It’s a tough thing to figure out, for sure, which is why I decided to write about it. My solution won’t work for everyone, but if it helps someone in some way, it’ll hopefully save them a little of the frustration I’ve had around the topic for the last several years, or maybe it’ll at least provide some perspective on the situation.

    • Great, great point, Chris, and I should have clarified on that. When I introduce people to me, I give them my “virtual business card” site (my name), but my personal site doesn’t house content, products, or services. Those are all under the company brands. If you had all your content and services under your personal name and eventually wanted to sell it, that would be a big problem, so great point.