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The Blog of Emily McDowell Studio

Naming A Business After Yourself: When Is It A Good Idea?

When I started my business, I tried (but not that hard) to think of a good name. When I didn’t come up with anything I loved (after not that long thinking about it), I decided to just go with my own. “Hey,” I thought, “it worked for Jonathan Adler and Diane von Furstenburg!” I am here to tell you this: I gave myself kind of bad advice. Now that I’m a couple of years into this venture, with the benefit of our old pal hindsight, I now know a lot more about when naming a business after yourself makes sense, and when it might make more sense not to. If your business is one person (you), providing a service that only you perform -- whether that service is illustration or personal training -- naming your business after yourself generally tends to work fine. The same is true if you’re an author, fine artist, or musician; in these cases, it might actually work better to use your own name, because you’re not looking to project a commercial image. You may end up with several products (i.e., books you’ve written), but the one and only thing they all have in common is you. However, if the primary focus of your business is manufacturing products to sell, and you plan to create a company, I think it’s a good idea to try harder than I did and come up with a name that’s not your own. Here are some reasons why, in no particular order of importance: 1. Unless your name is Bob Loblaw, it’s not that memorable. If you look at our web analytics, way too many people find me by googling “emily who makes cards.” That is not ideal. 2. As you grow, “me” becomes “we.” (I realized as soon as I hired my first employee that it sounded weird to have her answer the phone “Hello, Emily McDowell!” because that’s not her name. Yet, that was the name of our company, so it would have been even weirder to have her NOT answer the phone that way.) I now have several employees, and we all work together to make our company function. Yes, I write and design the products, but we wouldn’t get very far without our sales team. If our name were, say, Sunshine Industries, I think it would feel more like an umbrella that we all live under. 3. It’s limiting. When you’re starting out, you don’t know where your company will go, or what you’ll love doing most, or what the best business model will turn out to be, so it’s a good idea to pick a name that keeps your options open. Right now, I run the company and do all the creative, which is likely not sustainable forever, especially if we keep growing. If at some point, I decided I wanted to bring on other artists or writers and function as a creative director, it would be a lot less awkward if my company was called Sunshine Industries. For example, my friend Mati Rose is a painter. “Mati Rose for Sunshine Industries” sounds viable as a collection within the brand; “Mati Rose for Emily McDowell” just sounds confusing. 4. When you have a brand that’s your name, people expect you to BE that brand 24/7. Which makes total sense! But this can be an uncomfortable problem as you grow and sell products to/interact with an increasing number of people who don’t know you. In my case, sometimes I’m funny and say interesting things and otherwise embody the spirit of my products, but sometimes I’m introverted and kind of boring and forget people’s names not because I’m an asshole, but because I have a crappy memory. (And if THAT was a brand, nobody would buy it.) Of course, strangers will always have assumptions about who you are and what you’re like as a person based on your work, no matter what your company is called, but if it’s your NAME, it’s an added, strange layer of pressure to “live up to the brand” at events, trade shows, etc. 5. When there’s an obvious name associated with the ownership of your company (yours), some customers really, really want your personal attention when things go wrong, even if you’re not the person most equipped to handle their problem or issue. 6. Social media gets weird. Sunshine Industries could have a social media manager who isn’t me, but if someone who isn’t Emily McDowell is tweeting or posting as Emily McDowell (the brand), it feels disingenuous. As you grow, you can't do everything yourself. 7. If you ever want to sell your company and go do something else, your name goes with the company and belongs to the people who bought it. If those people start making incredibly hideous products with your name all over them, you can’t do anything about it. Except change your OWN name. And so! Now that I know all this stuff, we’re actually in the middle of transitioning our brand name from “Emily McDowell” to “Emily McDowell Studio.” This is a good solution for keeping the brand equity we already have, while also expanding the brand umbrella and fixing some of the above issues. (People are still going to have to google “emily who makes cards” to find me, though.) Here’s our new logo, which is deliberately pretty similar to the old logo.                    

Did I miss anything? Any other reasons you can think of? Do you disagree with anything? What did you google to get here? (A lot of people also end up on our site by searching “lady ass,” and I’m sure they’re very disappointed.)

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