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Vote Dlabola stickers from 2002

I’m not Tom Cameron. At least, it’s not the name I was born with. Nor is it the one currently on my driver’s license. Rather, it’s a name I’ve adopted and grown to love entirely thanks to my dear wife. A rebranding of who I am, if you will.

I recently became Tom Cameron by choice. Bucking tradition, I decided to take my wife’s last name when we got married. With our 2-year anniversary this week, let’s take a look at the timeline of events that brought me to this decision, and how to approach rebranding yourself or your business.

Growing Up an Unknown Brand

There’s tons of research out there about name effects. The problem with my given last name isn’t that it’s long or boring or unpronounceable (although it certainly is that last one) It’s that no one has seen it before. When a person comes across “Dlabola,” they don’t know what to do with it. What’s its origin? How do you say it? What even are you? All questions fostered entirely by a weird and uncommon last name.

It’s well established that certain sounds mentally match with certain concepts. A Dlabola (pronounced: Da BO la) triggers few, if any. Without a frame of reference, your name is meaningless. People don’t know what to expect from you, so they remain wary of you. This is the major lesson I’ve learned living half a lifetime as an unknown quantity.

So I set out to define my brand. First, I wanted to do my best to be the most famous Dlabola that ever lived, so that my personality would become synonymous with the name. That’s a momentous task, though (and this guy beat me to it). So, I went the route of rebranding.

Tommy Jay: The First Rebranding

A Tommy Jay in the Wild
A “Tommy Jay” in the Wild

Everyone wants to rebrand themselves when they get to college, right? You want to escape the person you were in high school and become your own individual. Such was the case when I went half way across the country to study. That’s when I dropped my original moniker and went with the elongated Tommy Jay.

My thought process on this rebranding was that Tommy Jay evokes certain qualities to which I aspired. It’s catchy. It’s lyrical. It’s energetic. It’s a name that almost jumps out of your mouth with youthful exuberance. Go ahead and say it out loud. Satisfying, right?

It was a change for the better. Soon, I noticed a difference in the way the world perceived me. Doors opened. People were receptive to my thoughts. Some were derisive, yet overall it was a gamechanger for my career, personality and sense of self.

I kept using my real name for official purposes though, which created some confusion with classes or employers. The time I had my wisdom teeth out and my dentist client wrote me a prescription for painkillers using my assumed name instead of my legal one was especially miserable.

Tommy Jay was good to me. It was who I was when my career got off the ground. It was who I was when met my wife. Still, I needed one more rebranding to really complete the picture.

Dlabola by Any Other Name…

When I got married, we agreed that whatever kids we had wouldn’t be Dlabolas; I didn’t want them to play the same name game that I had to when I was younger. So they’d be Camerons, my wife’s surname. That left me with a decision to make. Would I be the sole outlier in my nuclear family and retain my constructed identity, or change my name yet again in a show of solidarity?

Slightly off topic: This is an agonizing yet important decision made by many women today at the confluence of progressive feminism and our naming conventions. I don’t envy them.

So TJ Dlabola became a member of the Cameron Clan. Not as some sort of subversive statement about the tradition of women being treated as property. Simply because it makes a lot of sense for me, my wife and our future family. Truly, it’s not a big deal to me.

This was a positive rebranding. I shed the youthfulness inherent to Tommy Jay, completely abandoned the uncertainty associated with Dlabola, and gained an air of credibility, sagacity and wisdom with a more refined brand. Tommy Jay is an adventure novel protagonist; Tom Cameron is a mystery novel writer. It’s been good for my confidence knowing there’s someone out there who shares my name. And it’s been good for business, too.

What a long slog through semiotics that was. In short, names mean something whether you like it or not. There are values associated with every syllable and constructs built on every character. Keep that in mind when you think about rebranding yourself or your business.

Even so, roles change, values change and you change. Maybe your name needs to change with it. Mine did a couple times, and I haven’t looked back once.

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