Navigating Name Changes: Strategies for Maintaining Your Online Identity

Navigating Name Changes: Strategies for Maintaining Your Online Identity

How to change your name and minimise the online impacts after marriage or divorce. Get it wrong, and you could blow up your business and derail your career.

Do you mind if we talk candidly about something that affects 80-95% of women and only 3% of men?  It is something that has implications so far-reaching that women should (and rarely do) have strategies in place to deal with the potential fallout before it happens.

Today, let’s talk about name changes relating to marriage and divorce.

Why? A few times each year I have clients struggle with this issue and only realise the problem they have unconsciously wandered into when they suddenly find that the phone has stopped ringing and they are trying to work out why.

If we put it into business terms, changing your personal name is equivalent to renaming a business, and has all the same potential problems, pitfalls and dramas.

(Want to know more about renaming your business and the potential impacts on your SEO? Check out our post). 

Not so ancient history (or herstory)

When women head to the altar, it is still custom for women to take on their husband’s name after marriage.

Putting aside all the feminist debate about the topic, in the era before the web, name changes were relatively simple. Fill in a few forms; sign a few bits of paper and Shazam, people called you something different.

If someone got divorced, they filled in some papers and had another change of signature, and people readily adapted.

Pretty much the same thing happened when people renamed their business. They filled in a few forms, bought new letterhead and signs and then Shazam, they were trading under a different name.

Trust in an internet minute

Fast forward to the age of the web – online your name is your brand and your most important piece of identity.

Everything you do and everywhere you go on the web, you are leaving your name as a modern day calling card. From this breadcrumb trail, Google forms a picture of who you are and your reputation (trustworthy or untrustworthy).

Trust is the currency of the web

In this connected world, the first thing most people do when considering hiring a new business is Google a person’s name before contacting them.

People look to see that a person and a business have an established presence and a solid reputation on the internet.

Think about eBay for a second. If you have two suppliers of a particular item you wish to buy – one with 19,000 positive sales and one with two sales, which supplier do you choose? You generally go with the seller with the demonstrated history of success.

Read more about how you can increase trust in your business online.

Now imagine for a moment that your 19,000 sales suddenly were turned back to zero. All of your experience and positive reviews were wiped in an instant. That’s what happens when women change their name in the digital world without a conscious strategy.

Having a consistent online presence is crucial for trust, credibility and sales.

Changing your name impacts your digital footprint. It affects your social media presence, your email addresses, online records, and overall reputation.

It can also impact your perceived career continuity which can affect job applications and your future career trajectory.

So, what do you do if you want (or need) to change your name?

There are stacks of great articles and resources on how to change the name of your business on the net and minimise potential digital fallout. If you need to change your personal name, take the lessons from business renaming and apply them to your situation.

If your old URL was for your individual name and you want to move to a URL with your new name, don’t simply delete your old website and start a new one. You need a small business web designer who understands SEO and can set up clear redirects to minimise SEO implications of the change.

In a nutshell, you need to:

  • Create a plan
  • Find out what needs to be changed
  • Update important backlinks
  • Allow time for it all to take effect (knowing you can’t change everything and there will be some drop off)

Here are four way to Consciously Couple/Uncouple Online

Option 1: Keep your current name online (and your new name offline).

This works well if you are very organised and compartmentalised, but becomes challenging when the mums at playgroup want to connect on Facebook.

It can also create problems with trust, as people running aliases tend to be associated with shiftiness. If your industry already has a perceived trust problem (e.g. real estate, used car sales, finance brokers), this can be enough to push someone away from using you.

Option 2: Make it obvious: List your name (formerly known as).

Many of my clients find they need to include their former name in their “About Us” pages, simply as a way to help past clients and suppliers locate them. It can be cumbersome to do, so is not an ideal strategy but is better than nothing.

Option 3: Add – Don’t subtract – Keep your current name as your middle name and add the new surname as the last name.

This is a great compromise from an SEO perspective, but it has to be in that order to work, as you need your first and former names to appear together on Google. Works best if you have nice short surnames as many sites have character limits on the name fields.

Option 4:  Change your name … and then track down and change every important link you can find.

This is where a handy-dandy Excel spreadsheet is needed. Google your name to find every mention of your name across the net.

Next, assess which of these citations are the most important, or send the most traffic to your site, and/or which are possible to change.

You then have to contact each webmaster and request a change (or make the change yourself if you have access to the site). This is amazingly time-consuming and boring as anyone who has to update their business details can attest.

This is the strategy I went through when I went back to my maiden name Ingrid Moyle from Ingrid Cliff. It was a slow and amazingly painful process! The hardest part was changing email subscriptions to reflect my new name, which is a whole article in its own right.

Changing Names on Social Media

Most of us live our lives on at least one social media platform. Luckily, these platforms understand the name change dance and make it relatively easy. Always keep your social media presence updated with your latest and previous names (where possible).

Facebook allows you to add in an “alternate name”

LinkedIn allows you to add in a “former name”

 X (Twitter) – It is often better to simply change your Twitter name and leave your Twitter handle> alone. That way, other people can’t claim your old name and benefit from all the old mentions of your Twitter handle. If you do wish to change your username it is quite straight forward

One huge takeaway

You are your brand on the net. If you think at any time in the future that your name may possibly change, it pays NOT to name your company, your website URL and your Social Media business pages using your name.

Can you imagine what would happen if Mari Smith with her 261,000 Facebook followers on her page had to close down her page and open a new one? Not pretty!

Business naming is something not to be undertaken lightly, which is why many marketing consultants get very rich off naming and branding businesses.

When in doubt, brand your business and your social media presence with something other than your personal name. As an extra side benefit, naming your business something other than your name also makes it easier to trademark your business name.

In summary, changing your name after marriage isn’t as simple as it seems. It’s essential to navigate this process with awareness of its online impact and plan accordingly.

About the Author

Ingrid Moyle

Ingrid Moyle is a small business web designer and copywriter. When not hardwired to her computer, she quests for the perfect decaf coffee while chasing virtual reality creatures across the backstreets of Brisbane.
Bowler hat with lightbulb.

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