Why your actual name might be your best business name

It’s kind of funny that one of my most frequently asked questions doesn’t seem to have much to do with design. A surprisingly large and completely unscientifically measured percentage of the business owners I’ve talked to have asked:

Should I have a business name or go with my name?

Some of them were just starting out when we talked, which is an expected time to be asking that question.

Most, though…. Well, most were already well on their way and had technically already named their business.

The first few times I got the question, I was surprised.

Here I was talking to an established business owner and they’re asking me what I thought was a newbie question… and it was coming up during a conversation about design, of all things.

I’ve gotten to dig a little deeper every time the question comes up, and now it makes complete sense.

Each of the established business owners asking about business names was in a phase of growth or transition. And when your business is growing or changing, you’re asking questions about literally everything… right down to it’s very name.

These business owners were either getting ready to level up their game or shift things around significantly. And as we were talking about creating visuals that matched their new direction, the name question naturally came up.

Not only because the whole shift was already top of mind, but probably also because they understood that a good visual identity can only be built on a strong strategy… and that includes the right kind of name.

(Also, let’s be honest… no one wants to put money and a bunch of work into a new logo before they’re completely sure about the name it’s going to literally spell out.)

Just recently, I found myself in a very similar place of transition asking myself the exact same question: What the heck should I name my business?

Long story short, I ditched the business name a few months ago and now I’m singing praises to the whole concept of operating under your own name. Here’s why:


Your name can evolve with you

When I started my business, I had a very specific audience in mind. I absolutely knew I wanted to design visual identities and websites for holistic wellness practitioners. And Wild Olive Branding Studio was the perfect name to reach that audience.

But even though I’d been so sure… things changed, of course. And when I realized I actually wanted to work with radical change-makers bringing social justice awareness into their work, the name that had been so perfect for one audience felt completely wrong for the new one I wanted to reach.

You might outgrow an official business name, but your actual personal name has infinite built-in room for growth.

I can almost guarantee that your business will change several times over the course of its life. Especially if you are a one-person shop or service provider… you will grow as a person and your business will evolve along with you.

The beauty of operating under your own name is that it is attached directly to you. And that means it’s as malleable and flexible and as open to change as you are. Your audience almost expects your brand to evolve when it is attached to you as a person.


Your name can hold complexity

Another thing about the Wild Olive name is that it was always attached to a very specific brand identity. The name itself carried such strong connotations that I felt like I always had to fit perfectly into the narrow niche I’d carved for myself.

So when I wrote things like 50 Times its Ok to Say ‘Fuck the Hustle’ or wanted to talk about how internet marketers are the new vacuum salespeople or felt complete outrage at the systemic garbage and violence I was waking up to…

I felt like I didn’t know how to start talking about things that matter because I was stuck in this official business brand that didn’t have enough room for all of me.

Going with your own name makes room so that all of you can inform what your brand is about. Every part of you has permission to show up when you’re writing, making images, going live. Instead of a stodgy set of brand rules, you get to decide what you share and how you show up.

So if you want to drop an F bomb or two or fifty, you can. If you want to take a stand against the darling of online business and her marketing school, you can. If you want to call people to action or just not have to pretend that the world is ok, you can.  

When your name is attached to you as a person, people expect that complexity and realness. Not everyone will like it, but they at least won’t be surprised by it.


Your name lets you play

I’m completely aware I’ve given this example before, but nothing shows the evolution of my own visual identity quite like my Instagram profile. Check it:

This was my Instagram feed under Wild Olive…

Ummm… can you say boring and predictable and ugh?

And his is my Instagram feed now…

Much better!

When I was Wild Olive Branding, all my posts had to look and feel the exact same way. It was always either a scenic outdoor lifestyle shot or a spotless flatlay on a white background. It was ridiculously boring and, to top it off, no one knew what I actually even did. I never knew how to share my actual work because it always felt off brand. *insert facepalm here*

Switching to my own name opened the door to play and creativity and experimenting… I haven’t run into anything that feels off brand (except those boring flat lays) and sharing my work feels natural. Plus, it has made image-making fun again!

It’s really the same stuff I’ve already said: going with your own name just makes room for more of you. Your name leaves way more room for experimentation and play.


Your name will always feel more like you

When I started Wild Olive, I thought I wanted to create a small boutique studio. I would be the owner and head honcho, just barely directing the show and collecting a nice paycheck from a far away homestead in the forest.

Now I know that (1) I love the city and never want to live in the forest and (2) my favorite part of designing visual identities is getting to know my clients so intimately that they turn into close friends.

Ditching the business name came from owning that my goal isn’t to build a template I can sell, as a very popular business book says everyone should… My goal is to serve my clients and serve them so damn well they pretty much fall in love with me.

That didn’t actually sink in until I was talking to a friend about my name change and he said that Wild Olive had always felt like Lilly’s business… not Lilly herself, but her business. And that now, everything feels much more tied to me as an actual person.

That may not work for every type of business out there, but it definitely works for what I’m working to build.

What about you? What kind of business name are you working with? Let me know in the comments!

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