What people find when they Google your name can make or break the business you get. A CareerBuilders survey found that seven out of ten employers use social media platforms to check out applicants, and 57 percent have decided not to hire a candidate based on the content they found. Prospective employers aren’t the only people out there Googling you to touch base with your personal brand. There are collaborators, awards judges, publishers with potential book deals, future partners, and first dates at stake. Managing your personal brand has never mattered more.
How you look on the first page of Google is critical to your brand’s health, and this takes management. When you need to change what appears on that page, you can easily find yourself shoveling money into the $80 billion SEO industry.
This is on top of producing content, giving talks, speaking at trade shows or events, and actually doing whatever your brand claims you do. This takes years of meticulous reputation-building, and the heft of not only financial investment, but also the emotional labor of failing and trying again. And again.
When a brand this painstakingly built is tied to your personal identity, you can’t change it on a dime. But sometimes you need to.
Keeping My Ex’s Name was Google’s Choice, Not Mine
As you’re reading this, my byline reads Tina Mulqueen. I made the decision after my divorce to keep that name. (You see, among other highlights of 2020 was the end of my marriage.) But why I kept my name deserves some thought, and necessitates some innovation.
I didn’t keep my name for sentimental reasons. In fact, I feel like an imposter. Rather, I’ve spent years of my life developing a brand as Tina Mulqueen. If I elected to resume life under my maiden name, I would be resurrecting a pre-college Tina, as far as Google is concerned. So much of my success in business depends on this social capital, and my easily searchable accomplishments.
What is someone in my position to do? Reclaiming my maiden name would be an SEO disaster. My personal brand would crumble. Or worse, evaporate into thin air. Until recently, I had thought of it as a choice, but I didn’t really have a choice. It isn’t a choice if there aren’t good options. Google made the decision for me.
This is just one of the unforeseen obstacles professional women face in the digital age, and only Google has the power to fix it. It’s amazing they haven’t, considering over a quarter of Google’s leadership is women. At some point Google needs to develop an algorithm that delivers search results for previous names, so people are free to reclaim their authentic identities without risking their careers and livelihoods on it.
There’s a fix for this glaring gap. We just haven’t prioritized it. But equity is at stake, and it can’t wait. It even goes beyond equity for women. This is a problem for anyone who changes their name for marriage (like gay men) or to affirm a gender transition.
For Trans People, Health and Safety Are at Stake
Over one-third of transgender people cite financial barriers as preventing them from a legal name change. And more than two-thirds don’t have any kind of ID or document showing both their correct name and correct gender. This increases the frequency with which trans people are “deadnamed”(referred to by their birth name, intentionally or not).
Experts increasingly acknowledge that deadnaming is a form of violence, while research shows that chosen name use is “associated with large reductions in negative health outcomes” as well as improvements in positive mental health for trans people.
Yet when a trans person changes their name, Google doesn’t.
How many of us are stuck using names we want to move on from? To us, this is a glaring Silicon Valley oversight. One wonders if Google might already have fixed it if straight, cisgendered men were impacted. But alas, we can only wonder.
Google, if you want to move into a more equitable future, there needs to be more room for women, gay men and trans people to change their names without risking their careers on it—let alone their health and safety. It’s on you to develop a solution so we can move forward and live our authentic identities.