Hey, everybody. Emily here!
I wrote the original version of this blog post back in 2015, about two years after launching the Emily McDowell brand. As I write this update, it’s 2021, and we’ve just changed our name to Em & Friends. If you’re trying to decide whether to name your business after yourself, I’m hoping this information can help you make that call.
The Brand Formerly Known as Emily McDowell has undergone various small shifts to its name over the years, in an effort to fix the problem I unintentionally created when I decided to give the brand my full name. (More on that below.) Here’s the timeline, for some context:
2012: I launch as “Emily McDowell” on Etsy.
2015: We become Emily McDowell Studio.
2018: Emily McDowell Studio becomes Emily McDowell & Friends.
2020: Emily McDowell & Friends becomes Em & Friends.
This is not a best practice. I think it's actually what some might call a “worst practice.” So: here's an opportunity to learn from my mistakes!
When I started selling art prints and cards featuring my writing and illustrations in 2012, I tried (but not that hard) to think of a good name for the brand. When I didn’t come up with anything I loved (immediately), I decided to just go with my own name. “Hey,” I thought, “it worked for Jonathan Adler and Diane von Furstenburg!”
I am here to tell you this: I gave myself bad advice. Nine 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 and your work are the thing you're selling. 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, the creator.
However, if the primary focus of your business is manufacturing products to sell, and you plan to create a brand, I recommend going with a name that’s not your own. Here are some reasons why, in no particular order of importance:
As early as 2015, I found myself wanting to bring on other artists and writers to help create our products, with me functioning as creative director. This was one reason we shifted the name from Emily McDowell to Emily McDowell Studio in 2015, and the main reason we shifted it again, to Emily McDowell & Friends, in 2018.
Having the brand be your own name limits you if you end up creating a collection with another artist or writer. For example, “Elizabeth Gilbert for Emily McDowell” is confusing. “Elizabeth Gilbert for Emily McDowell & Friends” is clearer, but it’s way longer than it should be.
Ultimately, you get to call your company whatever you want, which is one of the benefits of starting your own thing. If you’re feeling wedded to your own name, more power to you! But for me, this has been a tricky thing to navigate.
Obviously, once you’ve established a brand and built recognition for it, changing its name is tricky. Your customers, social audience, SEO, hashtags, etc. already know you as one thing, so it's risky to become another thing. This is actually the main reason we kept my full name on the brand until now, trying to work around its limitations with the “Studio” and “& Friends” iterations instead of changing it: we were concerned that we’d lose the equity that we’d worked so hard to build, and that our sales would suffer too much as a result.
However, at this point, the limitations of the “Emily McDowell” name have come to outweigh those concerns. Becoming “Em & Friends” is an important step in reflecting who we are now and where we’re going as a company, and we decided it was time to take a deep breath and make what we know is the best strategic move.
Transitioning to our new Em & Friends name after so long is a little scary, but the main things I’m feeling are relief and excitement. The shift feels like a weight off my shoulders, and an opportunity to grow creatively, bringing in other voices and perspectives beyond my own, while continuing to make the kinds of things our customers know and love. I can’t wait to show you guys who, and what, we have in store!