When Lyna Rose changed her last name to Rose from Jones last year, she felt the career benefits almost instantly.

People in her social media networks started to refer to her by both her first and last name, which made her accounts more memorable and ultimately grew her online following and her business. She says the change also created a “softer” image she has long sought, which chimed with her career as a “spiritual influencer” – she writes about spiritual topics and has a large web presence.

“The business I’m in is helping people to connect to their spiritual roots,” she says. After the name change, she says people recognised her work as “being more authentic.”

As social media becomes plays a more central role in people’s career ambitions, pseudonyms are becoming more common

People have changed their names because of fear over racism or bias for centuries. But experts say that as social media becomes plays a more central role in people’s career ambitions, pseudonyms are becoming more common.

Whether it’s about making gender or ethnic background more ambiguous, adding a middle name or creating an entirely different persona, it’s easier to avoid the administrative headache of altering your name legally and just create a new moniker online.

But optimising your name is tricky. Many recommend shorter alliterative names or those that roll off the tongue (a la Kim Kardashian or Brad Pitt), while others love catchy gender-neutral names. Ultimately, the goal is to create an identity that helps you get ahead.

What’s changed?

In his historical research, University of Southampton economics professor Corrado Giulietti discovered that European immigrants who Americanised their names when arriving in the last century enjoyed more career and financial success than those who did not.

In my research, it was to reduce the stigma, [now] it’s to actually increase visibility – Corrado Giulietti

But nowadays, he says, more people are willing to change their name because they are interested in building a stronger personal brand. “In my research, it was to reduce the stigma, [now] it’s to actually increase visibility,” he says. These days more people are willing to experiment whereas in the past, simply adding an official-sounding middle name or shortening a last name would have sufficed, he adds.

Part of that increased need for visibility is creating a name that appeals to a wider – often global – audience, says Emilie Tabor, an Amsterdam-based strategic director at IMA, a digital influencer agency. Often times that means shortening difficult-to-pronounce names and changing common names to ones that are more memorable across cultures, says Tabor. Others just simplify spellings to make sure that they can work well as a Twitter or Instagram handle. “You don’t want to type in someone’s name six times to find their Instagram account,” says Tabor.

Social signals

Many people still feel pressure to ‘whiten’ their name just to get ahead in their career. Names have long been a signal of ethnic background, social class and race, says John Cotton, professor of management at Marquette University in Wisconsin. “People underestimate how much names are used as a signal about your background,” he says. And while some companies are working to remove names from CVs in job applications entirely, they are few and far between. Bias still exists, says Cotton, whose research suggests that those with a “basic Caucasian (first) name” were evaluated more positively by participants when they were asked to rate names based on likeability and as potential hires than when compared to  those with Russian or African American sounding names.”

An online name change can also help build up a separate part of your career, away from your day job, says Karen Leland, a San Francisco-based branding consultant.

Many of her clients want to build or create an area of expertise for a new side hustle or venture that is distinct from their daytime career – for example, a data analyst who wants to create a well-known history podcast.  In these cases, Leland advises clients to use new names, essentially creating two “brands” – your real name for your day job, and your online persona for the side hustle you’re trying to build.

Moniker business

When changing a name, John Cotton, professor of management at Marquette University in Wisconsin, recommends finding a balance between a unique name and one that’s used more frequently. “There’s some advantage to having a name that’s somewhat unusual, but that is easily recognised,” Cotton found in his research. “You should know exactly how to spell it.” For example, names of popular historic figures such as Lincoln can create a sense of authority but are unique when used as first names.

There’s some advantage to having a name that’s somewhat unusual, but that is easily recognised – John Cotton

Staying away from traditional names might help too. With so many new parents steering clear of religious names or choosing “fancy, trendy and more unusual names”, Corrado believes traditional 20th-Century names such as John or Mary are on the wane and will now be thought of as dated rather than associated with online success.

Jasmine Sandler, a New York-based brand strategist, will discuss a name change with clients if there are similarly named people on LinkedIn, but tells clients to go with their gut. While it’s simple to change a social media profile, many people make the mistake of updating their name with one they’re “not entirely comfortable saying out loud,” says Sandler.  So, whatever modifications you’re planning to make, it’s important to test out your new moniker before making the final call.

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