For anyone struggling with choosing a name or title for your blog or website, this post is for you. I'll use myself as an example and take you through a visual tour of my thought process over the last 10 years of writing on the Internet. I'll also give you some thoughtful questions to consider, pros and cons of using your own name, and some examples of writers and authors who do it differently.
When I started a blog in 2006, I came up with a title by thinking through some of my favorite songs and choosing a line. I ended up choosing a phrase from Tuesday by Sarah Masen and that was that.
“Tuesday, after a reckless and used day, I was running and running without a chance to stop and chat at the sky.” Sarah Masen, Tuesday
My blog was Chatting at the Sky for ten years. My “purpose” in 2006 was simple: I wanted to write words down on something more permanent than the back of grocery store receipts from my purse. The twins were still toddlers and I was a shadow woman losing my mind one diaper at a time. I simply needed an outlet.
For that, Chatting at the Sky was a perfect name. A lovely name. It even had background and meaning (to me) and I was happy with my choice. I continued writing under that name for the next nine years.
Now I'm going to walk you through a visual map of how the concept of writing online looked in my head at that time.
It is rudimentary. Be prepared.
When only blog writing lived under that name, everything worked out just fine.
This is where many of you are right now. You've started a blog, you have a title for that blog, and maybe it's a title you love. Perhaps it's something specific to your life-stage right now.
Again, this is lovely and fine.
One of my earliest blog designs. The header didn't load properly when I took the screenshot. But you get the idea.
I also know, though, that since you joined hope*writers, you are probably not simply writing for your mom who lives out of state or to document photos of your kids as an online journal.
You are beginning to write for a reader. You are waking up to the reality that you aren't simply writing for yourself anymore (although again, if you are, this is a great reason to write! But then it wouldn't matter what you name it.)
Now you are writing to communicate hope in some way.
For me, this began to happen around year 3 or 4 (I'm a slow learner). That's around when I had an idea for a book and began to speak some. Then, that graphic organizer of my online writing in my head looked like this:
Now I had a few more things that needed to fit under that title, Chatting at the Sky.
For long-time readers, Chatting at the Sky was fine. It was familiar to them and it's how people knew who I was. When I would show up at writer's conferences or meet people who only knew me from online, they would call me “Chatting at the Sky” instead of Emily or, more often “Chatting With the Sky” and sometimes even “Chatting Up the Sky.”
Who has time to remember pesky prepositions?! No one, that's who. (Also I have no idea why that watermark has the word “copyright” on it – I think that photo was cropped from a photography contest I entered. Carry on.)
I grew weary of having to explain the title of the blog to people who were only casually curious. I rolled my eyes at myself every time someone introduced me as Chatting at the Sky to their writing friend. I started to develop a deep dislike of the word “chat” mainly because I'm actually not a chatty person. I don't like small talk!
You can see here how Chatting at the Sky started to make less sense for me. Instead of helping to support the work I was trying to do, the obscure blog name started to get in the way a little bit.
That's a big question you'll want to ask yourself when deciding on a name for your blog or website or, sometimes more complicated, deciding if you need to re-brand.
Q1: Will this name/title help or hinder my message?
For example, if you have the words toddlers, snot, diapers, or pacifiers in your blog title, that might be great if you always plan to write for moms with babies and toddlers, from now until forever. But you are only a mom of babies and toddlers for a relatively short period of time. In five years, you might not want to be known as SnotMom.com. Well you probably don't want to be known as that ever, but you get what I mean.
Q2: What makes my tail wag? (aka: what am I passionate enough about to still be doing several years from now?)
In some ways, Chatting at the Sky worked for so long because it was so vague. I could write about anything! That's an opposite problem that Snot Mom has. But it didn't say anything about my who, my why, or what I was offering my reader.
I understood the corner I was backing myself into by having Chatting at the Sky as the title and blog address, but I wasn't sure the solution. Since I had a book by this point, I thought perhaps I should have the book be the main thing. This did not last long, let me assure you.
For about five minutes the visual in my head looked like this.
This made even less sense, because once a second book released, I would need to change the focus of my entire online space. While a book is a great way to serve an audience, it isn't necessarily a long-term solution to branding everything you're doing.
I needed a bigger umbrella, so to speak. I just wasn't sure what the umbrella was to be called.
So I spent some time and wrote down every single solitary thing I was doing online. Not only that, I also wrote down things I wanted to do in the future.
Q3: What am I doing now online and what do I hope for in the future?
Because I knew I didn't want to have 5 different websites for my different endeavors, I knew the umbrella had to be big enough to cover it all. Here's what that graph looked like.
This is an important practice for every hope*writer because this is the space where crazy ideas and hidden dreams begin to emerge.
Since you are not a co-founder of hope*writers, you will not have to publish your graphic organizer on the Internet like I am. So be brave, be honest, be curious, and write it all down. Even if it doesn't make sense. Even if you need to label it weirdly or call it something for now as a place-holder.
You might not be aware of some desires lurking in the back of your mind that you have convinced yourself will magically work out in the future. This is your chance to pull them out onto the table. Instead of assuming they will fit into what you already have happening, you're going to design your online space to make the fit easy and natural.
If you're feeling stuck, here is an example of the kinds of things you might want to do one day in the future:
- speak at events
- write curriculum
- teach an online course
- host a podcast
- create a video series
- host a live event
- sell your wares and what-nots
- have a book club
- publish books or ebooks
- create a mentor, coaching, or discipleship program
- something I can't think of because it only exists in your mind and we're waiting for you to create it
It's also possible that when you sit down do discover all the many things you'd like to do in the future with your writing, all you come up with is “write.”
This is a lovely discovery and certainly worth knowing. And that will make your choice for a blog/website name that much easier!
Q4: Once I name my website, can I live with the solution even though it may not be perfect?
Now by this point, I had already decided on a filter for my writing – I create space for your soul to breathe. This served as my tagline but, more importantly, it was the filter through which all of my writing had to pass in order to be posted on my blog. As it turned out, my answer was with me all along just like the ruby slippers.
For the work I wanted to do and continue doing online, I realized it would simplest to just use my name.
But – snafu! roadblock! – there was already an Emily Freeman out there working as a published author and she owned the domain emilyfreeman.com.
My solution was simply to use my middle initial to differentiate us. I had already considered this when my first book came out because my book on Amazon was being categorized under the other Emily Freeman's name. That's when we realized we needed an initial (luckily that happened before the book released).
People still confuse us. I get her email and she gets mine. Not often, but it happens. But you know, I also made a new friend!
We met in real life a few years ago. Here's proof!
authors Emily P. Freeman and Emily B. Freeman
I've had a few emails over the years from people saying this: “Okay so…are you like, Mormon?” Nope! That would be the other Emily Freeman. When someone buys her book thinking it's me or buys my book thinking it's her, things can get a bit confusing for the reader.
I share all of that just to say it isn't a perfect solution. Some people still think I wrote her books and she wrote mine. Oh well. Most people are intuitive enough to realize that we are different people even though we share a name.
Here is what using my name did for me in my head:
You see how my name made more sense to use as my umbrella?
Once I decided to change the blog name to match my author name, I didn't do it all at once. For a year or so I had a header with my name large but also Chatting at the Sky still up there – a marriage of sorts.
my header during the transition time
Do you have to have a transition time? No. But I still had a secret love for the title, Chatting at the Sky and wasn't quite ready to let it go. Last summer, I decided to make the leap in the URL of my blog. I changed chattingatthesky.com to emilypfreeman.com and took out the Chatting at the Sky from my header.
My homepage now in 2016
The truth is, I didn't completely throw out Chatting at the Sky. If you type in chattingatthesky.com, it still redirects to me. If you sign up for my newsletters, you'll get an email that says “Welcome to the Chatting at the Sky community!” I even have a tab on my menu that says “About Chatting at the Sky” that explains where the name came from.
I still refer to the blog as Chatting at the Sky even though it's not labeled that way. Is that logical? Not really. But it's so familiar! So long-time readers get it, but without it in the header, new readers aren't confused.
Now Chatting at the Sky lives under Emily P. Freeman and not the other way around. This makes more sense to me and gives my writing longer legs.
I've given you four questions to consider already. Now let's think about the nature of your blog and/or website.
When to Use Your Name: The Pros + Cons
I know how easy it is to become overwhelmed with all the details of writing, much less having to come up with some kind of Very Clever And Memorable But Also Meaningful Name For My New Blog That Maybe No One Will Read Anyway Oh My Gosh Why Am I Even Doing This?!
So here is your nifty hope*writer perspective from someone who has been there to help you decide if you should use your name or come up with something different.
The Pros for using your name:
- It's easy for people to find you.
- It will be consistent with your book if you are an author or hope to be someday.
- You have the freedom to change your content without having to change your website name.
Example of authors using their name dot com: Shauna Niequist, Leeana Tankersley, Barbara Brown Taylor, Seth Godin.
The Cons against using your name:
- Your name is already taken.
I've shared with you my solution to this one, the middle initial (even though it's not always a perfect solution). You could also use your first and middle name and leave out your last name (ex: Sarah Mae at sarahmae.com) or some combination of your name and the word writes or writing (ex: Jeff Goins – goinswriter.com // Shannan Martin – shannanmartinwrites.com)
- Your name is hard to remember or spell.
This one isn't an issue to me. With the internet, once you enter how you think something is spelled in google, it will give you options! And then once you go to the website once, it remembers you so you don't have to spell it again. Think about hard-to-remember or hard-to-spell names that you've figured out over the years. (ex: Lysa Terkeurst – she spells Lysa with a Y! And her last name is impossible! But still, we've figured out how to find her. We're so smart!)
- You and/or your spouse is worried about privacy.
I know this is a real concern for some of you. When Myquillyn first started blogging, she went by The Nester because her name was so unique that if someone googled it, it basically pulled up her personal tax records in the first search and a color coded map to her front door. And also she didn't want killers.
But these days, there doesn't seem to be a such thing as privacy on the Internet. If someone wants to find you for good or bad reasons, they will. Besides, your name is still your name even if it's not in your URL. So if you are Snot Mom Dot Com, people will still want to know your name. Basically if you're writing on the Internet, you might not want to use your name as your website title, but privacy isn't a logical reason why not.
When to Use a Name That's Not Your Name
While I typically advise writers to just use their name and move on, there are times when it's best not to use your name. Here are some scenarios where it's best to choose something different (with lots of examples):
- You run a business.
You have a product or service you are offering to a client or customer and that's the main thing you do. In this case, it might make sense to use something other than your name, or your name combined with other words.
For example, my literary agent Esther Fedorkevich owns The Fedd Agency. It's her website, not a blog. Her work doesn't really happen online the way, for example, mine does. Instead, the online space is simply a place someone can go to find out about her offline work.
Our very own Brian Dixon owns a business called The Dixon Agency where he helps people grow their impact and income online.
Darren Rowse owns ProBlogger. In a sense he is the problogger, but it's also his business where he is helping people become a problogger.
- You have a ministry or a non-profit.
Technically we all have ministries. But it makes sense if you have a ministry beyond just you or you see potential for it to be more than just you in the future, then you would want the blog or website to reflect that. Your name wouldn't be a big enough umbrella for the ministry or non-profit to live under.
For example, my husband John's website is not his name, but his non-profit ministry name instead, Grace Discipleship. Lysa Terkeurst is the President of Proverbs 31 Ministries. The ministry is beyond just her. (But of course she also has her own website that lives under her own name).
- You have a persona beyond your given name.
This one is a bit harder to start out with but tends to evolve over time and make sense after the fact. For example, my sister Myquillyn called herself The Nester online on a whim. But it grew into her becoming this persona called The Nester, all about reminding women that it doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful.
Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman, is another example of this. She is a real person, but The Pioneer Woman persona extends beyond her.
- You're creating a movement.
When Jennie Allen dreamed up the IF: Gathering, it wasn't about it Jennie, it was about a generation. When Joshua Becker started Becoming Minimalist, he was doing it to document his own personal journey toward minimalism but it was also part of a bigger picture of the minimalist movement.
- Your blog is community driven.
Maybe you are a writer who wants to have multiple contributors, either now or at some point in the future. It wouldn't make sense to use your own name in this case. Tsh Oxenreider owns The Art of Simple, where she writes about simple, unconventional living. But she has multiple authors who write there as well. (Bear in mind, she owns her own name dot com that serves as a hub for all of her writing).
I realize these reasons aren't exhaustive, but hopefully they've given you a lot to consider as you name (or re-name) your blog or website.
More than anything, remember it's never too late to change your mind. You are the boss of the blog, not the other way around. If something isn't working, you can tweak, change, or start over. If something doesn't feel like you anymore, scrap it! This stuff is the lowest on the hierarchy of things that matter or should bring you stress or grief. But I know it totally does because I've been there. I hope his post offers a bit of clarity in an often fuzzy decision.
Your writing helps people. And we are here to help you. So leave your questions and extenuating circumstances in the comments and let's talk it through! If I can't answer your questions, I know your fellow hope*writers will have great insights. They're cool like that.