Names are important. You don’t realize that when you’re young. Some people don’t realize that when they’re old. I never understood why my parents would always get so concerned about how my actions were reflected on them. I always used the argument, “It’s my life! It has nothing to do with you!” Sound familiar? In retrospect, it turns out that was crap. What I’ve learned since then is that your name says something about you. It is a unique identifier that can either have positive or negative connotations. I think to a certain extent everyone’s has both. I know mine does. There are a fair amount of people who like me and there are just as many who don’t. Those who don’t I’m sure are justified in some way and if you read this please reach out to me so I can make it right.
I have been fortunate enough to learn the value of a name. Some of that came from my education and experience in marketing but most of it I learned from my father. My dad is a respected businessman in his community. He has been an influential leader in the building and real estate industry, has served on numerous boards, and is an all around likable guy. I’ve been able to coast to some extent on his name. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used the line, “My name is Mike Dokter, Jim Dokter’s son.” I also can’t tell you how many times it’s directly resulted in business for me.
Here’s what makes the concept even more valuable. I was adopted. I inherited the name. I have no blood rights too it but because of the grace of my parents, I have all “legal” rights to it. How cool is that? I didn’t even deserve it and it came to me! An inherited name can only get you so far though. At some point you have to build your own legacy. I was listening to an Oxford Business School talk about forming a business plan on iTunes University earlier this week and one of the things that stood out to me was that venture capitalists are more likely to invest in people than in an idea. People and reputation hold more weight than innovation and when it comes to several hundred thousand or millions of dollars, people feel more comfortable investing in a name than in an idea.
My point is this. Sometime soon, you or someone you know will begin to change. You or they, have no choice in the matter. It will be a realization and something of the utmost importance. There will be a time when you or someone you know will realize that they can’t just ride the coat tails anymore and have to start making a name for themselves. When that happens, do you know what to do? My best advice is to enjoy the journey. It may suck at times but it’s worth paying attention to. Chances are you won’t understand most of it. I know I didn’t, still don’t in some aspects. Nevertheless, pay attention. Developing your name is part of developing your story and everyone has a story worth telling. If you don’t know who you are, you don’t know who you can be. Look for the details. Become aware. Learn how to learn. Develop your character. Figure out your name. In the process, you’ll uncover more value than you could ever imagine.