The largest words on any resume should be your name. As the text that will be seen and repeated the most throughout life, what can you do to make your name leave a positive impression?

Personal Brand Name Wordle

First, some terminology.

There are 2 kinds of names:

Anthroponyms – literally meaning ‘human name', an anthroponym is any real name that can be given to a human being such as given names, surnames, nicknames, etc.

Pseudonyms – The opposite of “anthroponym”, it means ‘false name' in Latin. There are many good reasons for people to use false names without being a James Bond-esque spy as you'll see.

Both anthroponyms and pseudonyms can be used as personal brand names.

What is a personal brand name?

If a brand name is a word or group of words that communicate ideas about a subject, then a personal brand name is a word or group of words that communicate ideas about a person.

For most people, that group of words is simply their birth name. If your birth name is Barack Hussein Obama Junior that might be good enough, but there are some cases where an improvement is desperately needed.

Personal brand name nightmares

Having the same name as someone famousAlbert Brooks was actually born Albert Lawrence Einstein. Now a famous Hollywood actor, he changed his last name to avoid confusion with the Albert Einstein that the whole world already knows about.

Having the same name as someone who's infamous – As Steven Moody wrote to Penelope Trunk, “I am trying to get to the top of Google searches for my name, but competing with a Death Row inmate in TX and a con artist in Utah is proving difficult.”

Having the same name as someone not famous, but still being found ahead of you online – even with his own blog and solid web presence, Ryan Healy is still finding it a challenge to be found first in search results on his name.

Having a name that's also used regularly as a pseudonym – In the US, John Doe and Jane Doe are names that police officers use for unidentified bodies but if you search Facebook, there are many live Jane Does.

If you're living a personal brand name nightmare or just looking for ideas to improve your personal brand name, there are more options than you might think. To fully understand those options, let's take a look at how names convey meaning.

Ways that personal names share meaning

Names that are words or sound like them – the most obvious case, when part of a name seems to have literal meaning or actually does. Examples: George Bush, Danielle Steele.

Single names – this only works when someone is so famous that the context makes it clear who's being referred to. Examples: Madonna, Elvis.

Titles – used to indicate special status. Examples: Sir, Doctor, Prince of Wales.

Historical names – the classic example would be biblical names; aside from having a meaning in Hebrew, these usually indicate a Christian/Jewish background. Examples: Sarah, David.

Ethnic names – names like Fernandez, Goldberg or Wu can give an idea of a person’s origins.

Patronyms & matronyms – many cultures used to express names through who the parents were. Examples: Wilson, Carlson.

Hyphenated family names – these typically mean that a woman in the family decided not to take her husband’s name at marriage time. Example: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Maddox Jolie-Pitt.

Senior/Junior – a way of distinguishing a son from a father with the same name, the ‘Jr.’ often gets dropped later in life or when there's no longer a risk of confusing father and son. Example: Martin Luther King.

Roman numerals – typically associated with royalty, aristocracy or wealth, roman numerals can make someone appear aloof or even silly if the person doesn't fits the association.

But how can you use these possibilities for your own personal brand name?

4 ways to improve your personal brand with your name

1. Capitalize on existing meanings – use an etymology dictionary to fully understand what your name means and then harmonize that definition with the personal brand you’ve chosen for yourself. This works best when your name's meaning is easy to grasp i.e. no etymology dictionary is needed, but don't let that limit you if your name has a story to tell.

2. Use a nickname – everyone knows who Joe the Plumber is now. If my last name was different, I could go by ‘Jacob the Job Search Expert' on my blog, in discussion forums, even on my resume. Give yourself a nickname that meshes with your personal brand.

3. Take on a pseudonym – probably the most typical usage of pseudonyms are as entertainment (stage/screen/pen) names. Many Jews have used less ethnic-sounding stage names – Jon Stewart is actually Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz, Natalie Portman is really Natalie Hershlag – because they thought it would improve their chances of success. On the other hand, Caryn Elaine Johnson chose the more ethnic-sounding screen name of Whoopi Goldberg for the same reason. The advantage of a pseudonym is that using the list above for inspiration, you can literally design a name that conveys the meaning you want.

4. Change your legal name – this is the brute force scenario, the kind of thing to do when you feel you have no choice such as when Talula Does the Hula, age 9, was granted a court-ordered name change that will save her from a life of embarrassment and increase her chances of eventually getting a job when she's older.


The sweetest words to your ears, you will make your name appear in many places over your lifetime. Take advantage of that reality and use your name to convey the branding message of your choosing.

How far would you be willing to go in using your name to improve your chances of success?

I originally published this article on the terrific Personal Branding Blog.

Subscribe to JobMob via RSS or email and follow me on Twitter for more job search personal branding inspiration.

Jacob Share

Job Search Expert, Professional Blogger, Creative Thinker, Community Builder with a sense of humor. I like to help people.

This Post Has 25 Comments

  1. Kim Avery, Certified Career Coach

    Dear Jacob the Job Search Expert,

    This is a part of personal branding that I had never even considered. Thank you for expanding my thinking.

    I am rushing to Google right now to see who comes up when I type in my name. Wish me luck.

    1. Jacob Share

      Glad you liked the article, Kim. Judging by the Google results, it’s good that you’re on the first page of results, but of course it would be better if you were first. Have you considered blogging?

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  3. nick

    I have an accountant with the same name, has resulted in some rather confused interviewers who have stalked me!

  4. Jacob Share

    nick- that’s frustrating, and it’s only going to happen more and more. The question is- what are you going to do so that your name is the one that comes up first in the search results?

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  6. Joe Brown

    I am almost finished with a book. I am the author and the publisher. I am considering a publishing company name that would help make my brand easy to follow and easy to promote. If anyone knows why- (The author’s name).Com Publishing- would be a bad choice, please leave a comment.
    It seems too obvious that any brand name would provide an easy-simple way to build a brand. I plan to brand every page. I figure that by making the web site the brand name, people will find an easy way to make sure they focus on the correct brand. It seems that my plan provides protection from copy cats. Thanks

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  9. Michelle Dear

    My major problem is my name as well. When one googles my name in quotes (“Michelle Dear”), one will get results for Michelle Dear. But you will get results for “Dear Michelle” also. And if you do a “Michelle Dear” -“Dear Michelle” that doesn’t work either.

    But I really like my name, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. It is quite a problem. I do have a middle name, but professionally, no one knows it, and my career tenure is over 15 years long.

    So, even when I try to get my search ranking up, googling my name is very difficult.

    1. Jacob Share

      Michelle- I just googled and binged your full name without quotes. The first 4 results are definitely for you or someone with your name, but I see what you mean, after that the word ‘dear’ throws everything off.

      If Google sees there are multiple ‘Michelle Dears’, it will try to show the most credible link for each one, because it wants the results to be relevant to as many searchers as possible, but there are ways of building the credibility of your various web presences to outshine the other Michelle Dears and rank higher.

      Start by trying to get one url of yours to the top of the search results page, such as your personal website, LinkedIn/Twitter/Google+ profile or Facebook fan page (if you have one). The way to do that is by spreading that chosen url around the web. Use it when you leave blog/forum comments, make it appear on your social media profiles, include it on your resume, etc. Once you see it appearing regularly at the top, you can start doing the same for other links of yours – without completely ignoring the first – so that in time, you can claim the first few results on the search page and dramatically improve your chances of being found.

  10. Michelle Dear


    Thank you so much for your reply. I am going to implement all of your recommendations.

    I am in the process of developing my domain (which I have owned for eons for mail purposes) using Drupal. I found it the other day and fell in love with it. I have used WordPress for a very long time, and I abandoned it without hesitation. I’m sorry, that’s off topic.

    Anyway, I also have a moniker that I have used for years as well, and sometimes it comes up with my name; cheldear. I am also going to try to piggy-back on that.

    What do you think about starting to use my full name in my branding and online presence (Michelle Lynn Dear)?

    My aunt and I (non-blood) have the same name, and there is another Michelle Dear that I compete with on the social sites. Should I start going by that professionally? That may help considerably.

    It would also cut through all of the noise that you found and help me with increasing my SEO.


  11. Jacob Share

    You need to know how people are searching for you and focus so that they find you in their searches.

    This is Google’s Keyword Tool.

    If I search for ‘michelle dear’ (without quotes), I can see that approximately 880 searches are done for it monthly.

    If I search for ‘michelle lynn dear’, the results are inconclusive.

    In other words, you should focus on building up the results for ‘michelle dear’.

  12. Michelle Dear

    Thank you so much for assisting me. I know you are very busy. You have been really helpful. I will use the Keyword Tool as you recommend. I will also focus on building my results as soon as I finish getting my personal brand statement finished (I think I am overthinking it to death!) and get my blogsite with Drupal set up.

    Again, thank you so much!

    1. Jacob Share

      Michelle- don’t overthink your branding statement. That’s what we call ‘analysis paralysis’. Better to put something out there and get feedback on how to improve it. Just by repeating it out loud and seeing how people react – including body language – you’ll get a feel for what works best for you.

  13. Kate

    And the best response to reading someone’s name is still “nice to meet you.”

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