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Where’s the Line? Professional Gets Personal for Women

By Tiffany Monhollon

In the world of personal branding, the emphasis on branding your name is understandably strong. One of the first steps to branding yourself online is always to snag your name’s URL – or the closest substitute you can find. To market yourself, your brand name, online, your best bet is to write, and comment, under your name as often and as broadly as possible. Online identity calculators can determine how big your brand is, how effectively your name is representing you across a multitude of popular pages.

Name, name, name, of course, is synonymous with “brand” in the personal branding lexicon, so it makes great sense.

Until, of course, you decide to go do something crazy like, say – change your name.

When I started blogging and stumbled into the world of personal branding, I never dreamed all of this would make much difference to me whatsoever, much less impact my real life decision of whether or not to keep my maiden name when I got married nearly a year later. Then, I was struggling with whether or not just to blog under my full name.

But here I am, two years into this, looking back at the strange journey that’s led me to a place where I function under a somewhat lopsided identity, fully functioning under my maiden name for work and online and under my married name “at home” – which really means at church and on holiday cards, I guess, when I really think about it.

It may sound odd, but really, I can’t tell you I’d do anything differently.

It took a long, hard time getting used Monhollon, as a name. I’d finally come around to appreciating its uniqueness, as a writer, and there I was, contemplating leaving it behind.

And let me tell you. I thought about it. We talked about it. Hashed and rehashed it. The great debate. Should I change my name? Hyphenate? Leave it the same? Oh, so many thoughts and worries and unknowns. Concerned looks from confused friends. Awkward introductions.

When I think about it now, it’s when I’m counting syllables on my fingers on the drive home from work. No hyphenated guest expert on NPR has yet to tie my new nine syllables, and I think I’m coming to a place where I can embrace that, too.

That’s the thing about it, I guess. A question that burned so strong in my mind, now seems so simple.

When it comes down to it, your name is your name. However much of it you want to use or keep or change. There’s nothing to fear in embracing it. Now, or ever.

I had to realize that having someone worth thinking about changing my name over also meant being lucky enough to have someone who already accepted all of me.

First name, last name, and whatever I chose to do with the rest.

Your Turn

What do you think about women, personal branding, and the name debate? Single gals, what do you think about the name change tradition in our culture? Guys, could you handle it if your wife didn’t change her name to yours? Anybody know examples of where this has gone well, or horribly wrong?

Men and women, please chime in and share your thoughts in the comments section! I’ll be waiting to talk it out.

This post was originally published in Personal Branding Magazine. You can snag a free sample of the latest edition here.

By Tiffany Monhollon | June 4, 2009

Topics: Blogging, Career, Life, Personal Branding, Personal PR, Transparency, Women, Work |

26 Responses to “Where’s the Line? Professional Gets Personal for Women”

  1. Monica O'Brien Says:
    June 4th, 2009 at 1:15 am

    Great post again Tiffany!

    I have a strong opinion about this in regards to personal and company branding. I think it’s stupid to not embrace your current name simply because you may or may not get married in the future. After all, you can ALWAYS get divorced, even though no one expects to.

    If I were to get divorced, I would still keep my name because of the professional and personal brands I’ve built with it. There are tons of woman who have built their entire brand around their names. Arianna Huffington, Michelle Malkin, Liz Strauss, Penelope Trunk, Julia Allison, and that’s just to name a few. And I seriously doubt they would change their names at this point based on their marital status.

    Many female writers use pen names too - in fact, I’m writing a fiction book under a pen name rather than Monica O’Brien.

    In the end, who cares? A name is simply a brand, and your name matters when you start a new venture. You also don’t want to have conflicting images associated with one name. Also, in my experience it was not difficult to get used to going by a new name and an old name - it’s not like I’m confused when someone calls me by my maiden name now.

  2. James Dalman Says:
    June 4th, 2009 at 1:42 am

    Tiffany,

    This is a great question and when I met you, it was something that I thought about.

    For you I think it is a matter of what works for you and your husband. Is he truly happy with either decision or does it cause division? How does he feel about it?

    For me, I think when a man and a woman become one flesh, that the wife should take her husband’s name and feel this shows unity and commitment to the marriage IMO.

    Does this mean you or other women aren’t committed to their husbands? Absolutely not! I do wonder however, if this cultural change or mindset came more from the idea of looking out for “me” than for “us”. If the question is what do I do if we get divorced, then I think maybe the marriage is doomed from the start because that admits there is already a Plan B. That’s an entirely different debate though.

    As for the branding side of things…you need to be who you are and embrace that and does the name REALLY matter? I like Tiffany because of Tiffany. If you were Sue I would like you because you are Sue. :)

    Sorry for the book!

  3. Nicole Relyea Says:
    June 4th, 2009 at 2:27 am

    I’ve often wondered about this, particularly as I’m about to put a website up at http://www.nicolerelyea.com.

    The thing is my maiden name is hard to pronounce, hard to spell, and, I suspect, not the easiest to remember for those two reasons. So I’ve long looked forward to changing it to something easier.

    But of course, if I’ve already built a brand with it…

    So I’m not sure what I will do. Or if I should make up some other last name that will work before and after marriage. I know another blogger who goes by just her first and middle names online.

  4. Rebecca Says:
    June 4th, 2009 at 3:10 am

    I’m going to have a lot to say on this, so bear with me…

    I disagreed with Monica when she wrote her post in regards to this and I disagree now. It’s pretty complicated for women as you’ve laid out, and frustrating that this is even an issue. I don’t think that your personal brand has to be built around your name - specifically first and last, because that’s what we’re really talking about here, using your last name.

    I have a really difficult time remembering everyone’s name. At my last job, I probably met twenty-five new people a week. No joke. And it hasn’t gotten any better. I often forget people’s names online even if I know them really well. It’s just human nature.

    I also don’t like my last name. I’ve tried really, really hard, because I like the family history that it stands for, but at the end of the day I would never brand myself with it.

    Not to say that it’s bad to build your personal brand on your name, or that you shouldn’t do the right things (I have rebeccathorman.com forwarding to modite.com), but I don’t think it’s “stupid” not to “embrace your current name.” I think if you can build your brand on something else - as a ton of people have - that’s just as good.

  5. Bonnie Ann Cain Says:
    June 4th, 2009 at 3:20 am

    It actually took me over two years (after the wedding) to make a decision about my name and I’m still up in the air occasionally. I eventually changed it legally to Cain-Wood to simplify things like mortgages and insurance.

    Professionally, I kept my maiden name, although it is actually a struggle to get others to respect that.

    I’m attached to my maiden name, and for me it really is part of my identity. No one would ever expect a man to change his name when he marries. I have never understood why women are expected to happily cast off the moniker that has represented them to the world for decades. If taking a married name is a sign of unity and commitment, then why don’t both parties change their names?

  6. Nisha Says:
    June 4th, 2009 at 3:51 am

    I started freelance writing online under my current name when I was 18. Since then I’ve done a lot of writing for a lot of different sites and magazines, and that only increased this past year when I started my own personal blog and a site (nishachittal.com). I do agree with Monica that you should brand yourself around your name.

    But it’s also easy for me to make that decision because a) I like my first and last name and am fortunate enough to have a relatively unique name that googles well, which we all know is a big deal in personal branding, and b) All personal branding issues aside, I would never change my name if/when I get married anyways, because it’s part of my identity and that’s not changing. I’d never marry a guy who insisted I change my name, because if he did insist on something so unimportant, we clearly would have such different values that we wouldn’t be compatible in the first place.

    The tradition of women changing their last names is an outdated one because when it was created, it was meant to signify the transfer of ownership of property (the woman) from the father to the husband. Knowing that, personally, I just couldn’t follow such a tradition. I know lots of women want to do it anyways, and I try to respect their personal choices, but it boggles my mind why women are STILL expected to follow such a misogynistic tradition in 2009!

    So for me, it’s almost a non-issue: brand yourself under your name, publish under your name, and build your brand identity around what you are doing. I really like Bonnie’s comment above — my name is part of my identity, and why exactly would I change my identity when I get married? No one would ever expect a man to do such a thing. And as far as all of this relates to ‘personal branding’ — name recognition is everything in personal branding, so why change your name halfway through when you have already built a brand?

    Sorry to rant — you can tell I have strong opinions on this topic. But thanks for bringing it up — definitely a great post.

  7. Marie Says:
    June 4th, 2009 at 9:26 am

    So when I got married I was ready and willing to change my name. I had never really considered NOT changing my name. But my husband insisted and I went with the hyphen thing (we were both going to become “McKinney-Oates” so he was going to change his name, too. Yes, we’re very progressive. Not really.)

    Anyways, it’s a year later and I’m thinking I just want to be Oates. It’s easier to just have one name, and he hasn’t changed his name yet (it’s a bit of a hassle for guys to change… or so we’ve heard). Except now that I’ve already become McKinney-Oates on the internet I think I’m stuck with the hyphenation. This is more of a laziness decision rather than a branding one, though.

    While I feel that a name is part of a brand, I don’t think it’s the most important part. I think brands are developed by the content they provide and the style it’s provided in.

  8. Laura Cococcia Says:
    June 4th, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    This is a fantastic post and something I’ve personally struggled with for awhile. I’ve never felt the need to change my name when I get married…and it’s not for any other reason than I have always had this name, this is who I am. I also publish under my name - I think, again, it’s just important to be who you are (even taking the professional piece out of it). Guess I’m a bit of a purist that way. Thanks for this post, definitely had me thinking quite a bit!

  9. Tiffany Monhollon Says:
    June 4th, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    @ Monica - Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

    The idea of a pen name is interesting, but I think that part of the problem is, I don’t want a pen name for my professional work. I want my professional life to be accessible from my personal connections and relationships too.

    @ James - More good points. I guess what’s hard for me about all of this is that it’s not a matter of commitment. That’s wht bothers me. I am fully, 100% committed to my marriage and my husband for the long haul. Is’s a completely different issue, so should my decision about my name reflect on that commitment in any way? I don’t know if I really support that cultural idea. I wrestle with it, to say the least. Now, that said, I totally support my husband and his opinions on this, and we continue to talk about it and work it out Actually, I hope he comes and shares some of them at some point!

    @ Nicole - See, here’s where the technical side of all of this comes into play. It’s funny how those little things like SEO, domain names, niche, etc. start to become all these blurry lines guiding decisions that impact other parts of your life! I have the same problem with my maiden name (though fortunately if you Google any vowel variation of it with my first name, it’s such a rare combo Google finds me anyway). My husband has the opposite problem - he has one of the top 5 most common last names and top 10 most common first names, so he’s impossible to find online without a link. And he hates it. So he totally understands all those finer technical points too.

    @ Rebecca - It’s true that personal brand doesn’t have to be built around names, last names particularly. But to an extent, there is a reason for both first and last names, and that’s identification.

    You have done a great job building a digital brand around a concept that is uniquely yours and flexible enough to grow with you whether or not you change your name, but I don’t think of you as modite. I guess what I’m saying is, to me, it’s not just the digital hurdle here. That is one issue, and that’s the issue that made me grapple with this whole thing, but the issue is the whole package. In analog life too, names matter. And my name is what people know me by there. In the workplace and academic world I’m involved in already, and in professional speaking and authorship, two things I aspire to, names are pretty critical pieces of the professional puzzle.

    @ Bonnie - I’m glad you brought up the point about your personal affinity for your own name. I think this is not too fine a point here. Despite all the digital and career implications, there’s the personal side. I completely identify with the struggle to get people to accept your decision about your name, especially in the conservative part of the country we are in.

    @ Nisha - Thanks for bringing up the byline issue, too. As a writer, names are pretty important for credibilty, I think. I have built my byline for 8 years, and that work is an important part not just of my professional identity, but of my evolution as a person as well.

    As far as the inequity of it all, I think that’s pretty obvious. You know, it was interesting. I was sourcing some posts to link to and came across some examples of strong personal brands. Several lists in fact. And they were almost completely comprised of men. It bugs me that this is a nonissue for them, honestly, and I really respect and appreciate the men who interject themselves into this loaded, probably awkward to navigate, conversation - for them anyway.

    @ Marie - Rob and I have talked about that too. Basically, for me, it’s paperwork at this point. My plan all along has been to just add my married name and continue having and working/writing under Monhollon. But you’re right that it’s not an easy change, and over time, as you deal with the real world issues that arise, your opionions can change about it too.

    As far as names and branding goes, Rob and I talked about this last night too. I don’t think a name is a brand. A brand has lots of moving parts. But a brand is identified by its name.

    This all became pretty clear to me last year when the 26-year old international company I work for rebranded - both in name and in logo. The ins and outs and ramifications and investment in a change like that are huge, and I think a lot of the lessons I learned apply to my own brand as well. So it gives me a lot of pause to think of rebranding professionally just so the personal-professional connection is clearer.

  10. Tiffany Monhollon Says:
    June 4th, 2009 at 7:20 pm

    @ Laura - Thanks for the comment! In the end, I don’t think there is one wrong or right decision. There are too many individual factors that weigh in. But what is important is that you approach the subject with thought and respect. Rob and I are always honest with each other on the subject, though that doesn’t always make it easy to deal with what other people think and say. But, funny though it may sound, it’s not about what other people think, or say.

  11. Ryan Paugh Says:
    June 4th, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    Definitely wouldn’t care if my (future) wife decided to change her name. My Dad might have, and my Grandpa might have, but it’s just not important to me. Maybe it’s part of our changing culture, or maybe it’s just me thinking that it’s not that important.

  12. Ryan Paugh Says:
    June 4th, 2009 at 8:03 pm

    *Decided NOT to change her name … FYI

  13. Chris Wilson Says:
    June 4th, 2009 at 11:03 pm

    Tiffany,

    The value of a personal brand name is something that I’ve thought a lot about myself. I’ve thought about it not because I’ve been faced with whether or not to take my wife’s maiden name (lol), but because my name, Chris Wilson, is a very common name.

    Right now I daily fight for Google juice with Chris Wilson the UFC fighter, Chris Wilson the Internet Explorer developer, Chris Wilson the drummer from Good Charlotte, and even a prominent Chris Wilson in same city in which I live. I’ve sometimes wondered whether or not I should change my personal brand name to something more unique to give myself an edge.

    My decision so far has been to continue using Chris Wilson, but use the username, Freshpeel, in the online space as a distinction. That way if someone connects Chris Wilson to Fresh Peel, I’m easy to find.

    I think the owning your name, especially online, is important, and it takes time and work. That’s why I wouldn’t have any problem with my wife keeping her maiden name for professional purposes. My wife has taken my last name and goes by that name even at work, but she hadn’t been out of school for very long before we got married. If things had been different and we were about to be married in a month or two, the decision wouldn’t be as easy.

    Hope my point of view as a husband adds something here.

  14. Tiffany Monhollon Says:
    June 5th, 2009 at 4:27 am

    @ Ryan - Interesting perspective. I think Gen Y men do have an evolving perspective on this, so thanks for chiming in!

    @ Chris - Thanks for the husband perspective! Definitely adds good stuff to the convo.

    Our last name is Wilson, too, and Rob faces many of the same challenges. So it’s good on the one hand that he understands the benefit of a unique name online. But the online is just one component to me. Like most of this whole issue, it’s complex, to say the least!

  15. Carlos Miceli Says:
    June 5th, 2009 at 4:37 am

    Not only I wouldn’t care, I actually wouldn’t want to. I like women with a strong personality, and embracing their single name is a part of that.

    It comes down to a cultural thing, but if you ask me, culture can change as well as everything else.

    Hold on to your names ladies, it makes you special.

  16. Tiffany Monhollon Says:
    June 5th, 2009 at 5:05 am

    @ Carlos - Culture is very much a part of this. I think that in your part of the world, perhaps there is a stronger culture of this being acceptable or even suggested. But then again, culture can change! Anyway, thanks for chiming in, as always!

  17. Kristina Summers Says:
    June 6th, 2009 at 6:13 am

    I have been having “issues” like this since I was in grade school. Before you write me off as a nut, let me just say that my given name (from my parents!!) is Keith but I am very much a woman. For years I dealt with teachers who assumed I would be a boy, or jeers at school. I made the decision to change my name in the 5th grade but it wasn’t until I got married and then divorced that the use of my first name, Kristina, really began to stick. Now that I am older I can appreciate my full name for what it is (I am named for my father and grandfather) and also feel comfortable enough in my own skin to tell people my full name. I even named my baby girl Kika, the Hawaiian version of Keith.
    When I really started getting attention as a writer and a blogger I realized that I wanted my middle name in the mix, that despite my own insecurities, it was a matter of family pride. Now I do not mind writing under my full name. I am Kristina Keith Summers and proud of it. I really enjoyed this post (and all that have led you to this point.) It was actually a post about your name that made me decide to subscribe. Good luck and keep on writing!

  18. Tiffany Monhollon Says:
    June 6th, 2009 at 10:13 am

    @ Kristina - Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. As a side note, this is exactly what I love about blogging. Bringing an issue out, cracking it open, and seeing people invest themselves in the conversation. So thanks for being a part of that and sharing your interesting history with this as well!

    It’s very interesting to hear about other people’s journeys with their names - and I’m glad you have come full circle on it. I think Keith is a very interesting name, and I love the fact that this example also brings up the concept of honor and naming, and heritage.

  19. Tiffany Monhollon Says:
    June 8th, 2009 at 9:38 pm

    @ All - If you’re interested in more on this topic, check out the 20+ comments on the syndicated post at Brazen Careerist

    http://www.brazencareerist.com/2009/06/03/where-s-the-line-professional-gets-personal-for-women

  20. Summer Says:
    June 10th, 2009 at 10:16 am

    I’m glad you’ve come to a resolution about all the name change stuff. It seems like what you’re doing is working for you and Rob.
    I think the name change debate has several angles depending on what the purpose of changing or not changing is. If a person is trying to figure out what name will work best for them solely in terms of personal branding, that’s a fairly easy conclusion to come to (a bit of research into SEO, domains, etc.)
    The other side, which tends to be stickier, is figuring what works for the individual relationship - which you’ve experienced first hand.
    I’ll just put my two cents out there saying I’m glad I took my husband’s name. I was young when I got married, but even if I’d been more established in my career, I still would’ve taken his name. It was important to him and honestly it was something I’d always thought I’d do.
    It’s true that it’s a cultural thing. Even so, I don’t think people should feel bad for wanting to follow a cultural tradition. Many people, myself included, find meaning in these traditions.

  21. J.D. Meier Says:
    June 11th, 2009 at 11:28 pm

    I’m a fan of branding things vs. people where possible. Just like I prefer to build businesses over work a job. I like the detachment and flexibility. That said, I get the value of personal brands.

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