A Business by Any Other Name

What’s in a business name?

Plenty, it turns out. Especially for women.

That’s what I realized after talking to a successful entrepreneur about my writing and editing business, which I named Teresa Meek Communications. A simple name that says who I am and what I do. Does the job just fine, or so I thought.

But no, my friend says, my first name makes it sound too personal, too much about me, not businesslike enough. I need to take my first name off and call it Meek Communications–or something else entirely. He was quite insistent about it. And he runs a multi-million-dollar business, so he should know.

Though I already have a website, a logo, and business cards,  making a change from Teresa Meek Communications to Meek Communications is not such a big deal. If I do it, my friend says, I will make more money. People will pay more for Meek than they will for Teresa. Meek sounds like it could be a company full of smart people, instead of someone who’s clearly a sole operator. And Meek is serious. They might not even realize it on a conscious level, but potential customers would take more seriously a company using a last name or a business name than one with a first name in the title. He didn’t say so, but I suspect having a female first name in the title compounds the problem. Or perhaps even is the problem.

I think of Mrs. Smith’s cookies. The Mrs. makes it personal and clearly feminine, but even she didn’t use a first name in the business title. But what about Aunt Jemima’s pancake mix and syrup? Hannah’s Cupcakes? Wendy’s hamburgers?

So there, I want to shout. They use first names in the food business. Female first names, too.

But maybe that’s because women have traditionally been associated with the kitchen. Everybody’s mom is the best cook in the world, so it stands to reason that a product or a company with a female first name would sound homey. As in familiar, homemade, fresh from the oven, delicious. A selling point, no question.

Outside the food business, though, I have to admit I’m initially stumped. There’s Barbie, but that’s a product, made by Mattel.

I’ve got it: Suze Orman, who after first working as a waitress, then making her way up the ranks at Merrill Lynch and Prudential, founded her own empire and named it the Suze Orman Financial Group.

She used her first name, and a diminutive-sounding one at that, but it’s a Group. A bunch of smart people, as my friend would say.

Like the Oprah Winfrey Network. Martha Stewart Omnimedia.

I could be a Group too. I’ve seen women in PR and communications use this trick. To take a hypothetical example, someone named Beth Jones calls her business Jones Media Group. Sets up an 800 line with people answering the phone for the Group. Must be a bunch of smart people working at that busy company. Who would ever know it’s just Beth?

It doesn’t work for me, though.  I don’t judge people who do it. I get it. But we all have our own comfort level when it comes to putting our best foot forward, and being a Group exceeds mine.

But you don’t have to do all that, my friend says. Forget the Group, forget the phone line. Just a simple name change.

I’ll think about it, I say.

I think about it. I decide my friend is probably right.

But I can’t do it.

Like most women, I identify much more with my first name than with my last. For one thing, my last name is my husband’s name. I wasn’t born with it and didn’t grow up with it.

But then, I wouldn’t feel comfortable using my maiden name either. Though it was my last name for 20-some years, it always felt like my father’s name more than mine.

The only name I feel comfortable using is Teresa. It’s who I am. Always has been, always will be. For my website, I even tried to get Teresa.com by writing to the owner, who doesn’t appear to be using it anymore. She didn’t respond, and who could blame her? If I ever got Myfirstname.com, I’d never give it up either, even if I stopped using my website. Even if the whole internet went down forever.

Next, I considered other names. Having a business name that has nothing to do with me is fine. It’s just the last-name thing that’s a problem. I thought of cutesy names like The Write Stuff (taken), SEO-driven names with Freelancer in the title, names with Writer, Writing, and Business in them. But none of them felt like names I wanted to be associated with.

I seem to be stuck with Just Teresa. Now there’s a name! Personally, I love it. But would you hire a Just Beth or a Just Rick? Probably not. Sounds like they don’t think much of the service they provide, so why should you?

I’m proud of the writing and editing service I provide. I would never denigrate it, but I don’t want to boast about it either. I’m fortunate because I’ve found something to do that suits me perfectly. It’s really an extension of who I am. Maybe that’s why the only name that seems to work is the one I’ve got.

So it will have to do. At least until the day comes when I can’t handle everything myself anymore.

It’s hard to envision a Network or Omnimedia in my future, but then, you never know. I started off as a waitress. Like Suze.