Part of the life of an entrepreneur is an endless string of decision-making, and choosing a name for your business is one of the first big decisions you’ll ever make.
A choice like this always presents a challenge, no matter what the parameters are, because you want to make the “right” decision (as if there could be a definitively “wrong” one) and you want to do whatever you can to set yourself up for future success. So needless to say, there can be a lot of weight to the decision, and if your choice involves potentially bringing your personal name into the picture, it can feel exponentially heavier.
Whether you use your personal name as your entire business name, like Maureen Smith, Inc., or as a descriptor of sorts to a service you offer, such as Jordan Douglas Photography, or as an umbrella for a larger company, like The Law Office of Cara Thompson, the question remains the same. Should you do it at all?
Unfortunately, I can’t give you a definitive, one-size-fits-all answer to that question. The truth is, the direction you choose to go in depends on a lot of different things.
The Answer Might be Yes
When it might make sense to use your personal name as your business name:
- If you are the face of your company. If your business consists mostly of you working directly with clients, or speaking, or producing content—if you’re connecting with your customers in a direct, personal way—it makes sense to capitalize on that relationship and use your name as an umbrella for all of the work you do.
- If you are a local business. Does your business exist in a local environment? If you’re a boutique business serving a particular place and looking to create a sense of connection in your community, using your name as part of your business name may be the right way to go.
- If your business has a sense of history. Another instance where it may make sense to go personal with your name is if you are working on building a business that is defined by its history. For example, maybe you are reviving embroidery patterns your grandmother originally created, or you are reopening a furniture shop your father once run. That type of business certainly has a story to tell, and the person whose legacy the business represents probably has a lot to do with it. So in that case, it really doesn’t make sense to go in any other direction.
- When it feels right, but it scares you. A lot of times the hesitation over using your name comes from a place of fear of putting yourself out there to that degree. It takes a lot of courage to tie the business you’re putting so much of yourself into with an identifier as personal as your name. But if it feels right, and it scares you, that should at the very least be an indication that it’s something to explore.
The Answer Might be No
When it probably makes more sense to come up with a name that is specific to your business:
- If your business doesn’t involve one-on-one attention. If your business is a standalone entity that doesn’t provide individualized services, like a gym or a boutique or a manufacturing company, you will most likely be better off coming up with a creative name that speaks to what you offer.
- If your business is decidedly unique or innovative. Maybe your business is intent on disrupting the marketplace with a new idea, or maybe it involves a product that many people aren’t yet familiar with. If you’re working with a subject matter that is not extremely well-known, it makes much more sense to create a name that speaks to your product as opposed to who you are.
- When your name doesn’t add anything to the story. You should only choose to incorporate your name into your business name if it adds something to your brand’s story that you can’t live without—whether it’s a sense of history or place or some personal unique approach that only you can provide. If none of those things apply, it’s probably not the best direction for you to take.
- When you have plans for your personal brand that conflict. For example, maybe you’re personally involved in some charitable organizations in a highly visible way and they tell a different story than the business you’re building. If there’s any conflict between who you are as a person and the public persona you want your business to have, it’s best to keep things separate.
- If you plan to build a company you can hand off one day. Some entrepreneurs start a business intending to grow the company to a point where they can sell it one day, and others plan to be involved in some capacity for the life of the business. No one can predict the future, but if you have any intention of potentially cutting ties down the line, it makes sense to avoid tying your name to the company directly.
It’s a Personal Choice
So which camp do you fall into?
Some scenarios are more clear-cut than others. Is your business based off of a hobby your Dad once had as a child? Incorporating your family name probably makes sense. Are you a wedding photographer? That presents many more possibilities.
Where it gets especially tricky is in situations where you definitely could use your personal name, but it feels overwhelming to make that kind of a commitment. Attaching such a significant part of your identity to something as uncertain as a brand new business can be terrifying. A business is a living, breathing entity that will grow and change, and there are no guarantees when it comes to its longevity. So yes, attaching your own name to your business’s name certainly can have some weight to it, and you have to decide if shouldering that weight is worth it, for both the good of the business and for your own wellbeing.
People do buy from people. Nowadays, we all face an overwhelming amount of choice in every category, so personalization can be exactly what pushes someone to choose you. Putting yourself front and center, as the face of your company, could be just what your business needs to stand out.
If you’re on the fence, I recommend trying the name you’re considering on for size to see how it feels. It might seem silly, but practicing saying the name out loud will give you a sense of how well it suits you. Try sharing it with a couple of people in your life. Try writing it down. Once you commit, you’ll have to speak your business’s name (and write it and email it and a million other things) countless times a day, so it surely needs to be one that feels right and true. And the only way to know for sure is to test the waters.
One Last Thing
No matter where you end up, you should absolutely be willing to get in front of your customers and engage. Over time, sharing who you are through images and stories will help you make connections and, as a result, build a sense of trust and loyalty amongst your audience.
If you want some ideas for how to get more personal with your customers, you can check out this guide I put together that provides a few simple suggestions for how to do just that.