Be Like Mike

The last time I told anyone my name is “Mike” was 1987.

That’s a long time ago and a lot has changed.

Ronald Reagan was in the White House. Walk Like an Egyptian was the #1 song. I had very little hair on the top of my head. Okay, not everything is different.

As for me, I don’t really remember why I switched to Michael. But I know that by the time I met my future wife in early 1988, the switch had already happened. I’ve been a “Michael” ever since.

And yet, among those who know me by name, roughly half call me Mike (and one guy who, for reasons unknown, has settled on Mikey).

It doesn’t seem to be a function of how long they’ve known me. One of my brothers goes with Michael. The other – and his entire family – use Mike.

It doesn’t seem to be function of how well they know me. My friends Matt and Belinda use Michael. My friends Fred and Rick use Mike.

Frankly, I’m fine with both.

And that’s a good thing. Because as I have discovered, people are going to do what they are going to do.

This reality doesn’t just apply to names. It also applies to how people think of you and describe your work to others.

You can tell them what you want them to hear and remember. But if it’s too complicated, or confusing, or uses words they don’t like or tend to use … well … you can say Michael all day long and some people are still going to hear Mike.

That matters. A lot.

Because in the referral-based, word-of-mouth world in which people like us operate, your ability to be remembered and mentioned, at the right time and by the right people – i.e., people who might want to hire someone like you – is entirely a function of how you are talked about.

Consider the example of my friend John. He’s a “Leadership Coach.”

He works one-on-one with people in senior positions at big companies, helping them be more effective as leaders.

The problem is that John doesn’t like the word “coach.” He thinks it’s too lightweight a word and that it fails to capture the scope and depth of what he does, not to mention his advanced degrees and years of business experience.

Is he right? Maybe.

But that doesn’t matter – we are practicing marketing here, not describing reality.

What matters is the words people already use when talking about or looking for someone like him.

So let’s say, to make something up, he instead decides to call himself a “Leadership Enhancement Consultant.” That’s beefy and impressive, and possibly even a more accurate description of his work.

But it has three big problems:

#1. Nobody will remember it. You’ve already forgotten it (don’t peek) and you read it 15 seconds ago.

#2. Nobody is asking for it. “Leadership Coach” brings up 31 million results on Bing. “Leadership Enhancement Consultant” brings up two. Not two million … two.

He would be the world’s leading provider of something nobody wants. You know, like mint-flavored bacon ice cream, or “Oppenheimer, The Musical.”

#3. Nobody will understand it. The words make sense, but since they are not used by anyone else as a thing, John will spend the rest of his professional life and a fair number of Thanksgiving dinners answering the same question: “What is a leadership enhancement consultant?”

At which point he’ll say, “It’s like a leadership coach except…” And he’s right back to where he started.

I’m all about the extraordinary benefits of a niche – a narrow focus that sets you apart based on what you do, who you do it for, or where you do it.

But people have to first understand what species you are:

I’m an attorney who does X…

I’m a management consultant who specializes in Y…

I’m a leadership coach who works with Z…

Trying to redefine the overall category itself, on the other hand, by devising a new word or phrase to replace what is commonly used and understood, is creating a problem that didn’t exist until you invented it.

Start with the words and phrases already in use and put your spin on it from there.


Discussion Questions:

  1. What variations in your name do people use?
  2. Have you ever walked like an Egyptian? Give examples.
  3. What species, professionally speaking, are you?

Share your answers below…


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36 thoughts on “Be Like Mike

  1. Jessica Eken

    My name is Jessica. My family calls me Jessie. Close friends call me Jess. Acquaintances call me Jesse and others call me Jessica….. And then, some call me by my Hebrew name… Go figure!

    I’ve danced like a wild woman. Does that count?

    Professionally speaking I am a lioness.

    So there you have it in a nutshell.

    Reply
  2. Ian Mapp

    To quote my dear departed mother-in-law, “you can call me anything you like as long as you don’t call me late for my dinner! “.

    Reply
    1. Michael Katz Post author

      My dear departed mother said that as well! I wonder if it was a popular joke-phrase from the 40s or something.

      Reply
  3. Patti Hermes

    1. My given name is Patricia, totally acceptable. I go by Patti in all instances (except for a sewing group that had 5 Patti’s, wherein I was christened Zeldah), and 1 person, and only 1 person, is allowed to call me Pat (my younger sister, can’t change baby habits).
    2. Only when the Bangles are playing.
    3. Professional species: I’m a writer. And a witch. So, a witch writer.

    Reply
  4. Janet Falk

    1. My name is Janet. Only my mother (now departed) and husband call me Jan. No one else dares or is allowed to do so.

    3. I’m a Public Relations and Marketing Communications professional. (I’m not a copywriter or a flak, which I view as a typographical error).

    I often say “I’m an octagonal peg.” Then I explain I’m not a round peg or a square peg; I don’t fit the mold. I’ve worked in diverse sectors (Wall Street, Nonprofit, Legal Services, Higher Education). It resonates with others. They say branding is what others say about you when you’re not in the room. I once overheard a colleague say to another contact “octagonal peg,” so I know it’s working.

    Reply
        1. Chris Hilbert

          Hi Janet!

          A success for me would be some new connections to overwhelmed/stressed female creatives who want and need help with their marketing and photo fixes! Creatives could be artisans, crafters, event producers, dancers, crocheters,,,,anyone who creates and sells! 😀

          What would be a success for you?

          Reply
          1. Janet L. Falk

            Chris (and friends),
            A success for me is an introduction to:
            an attorney at a firm that has fewer than 100 lawyers
            a business owner
            a consultant

            who wants to be seen in the news to attract more clients or to win a litigation and needs help to contact reporters, plus polish their website and LinkedIn profile to display their authority.

  5. Chris

    I absolutely love this point in your article: we are practicing marketing here, not describing reality.

    1) A *very select few* get away with calling me “Chrissy” – what I was called until I hit 14 and decided I was too “old” for such a nickname! My grandparents continued to call me Chrissy, but not my parents or siblings — a big fight with my dad over it…thought he was going to kill me. lol

    2) Before foot surgery, I was a bellydancer and did several routines “walking like an egyptian”!

    3) A Graphic Designer helping overwhelmmed/stressed female creatives with their marketing and photo fix needs!

    Reply
      1. Chris Hilbert

        Thanks! As a creative in my “day job” and as my stress relief in the evenings and on weekends, I understand the desire to spend more time creating and less time with the have-to’s of designing your own marketing materials!

        Reply
  6. Howard Pierpont

    I used to work for a large corporation. We were allowed to put our preferred calling name on our badge,

    I became H.F. Earl Pierpont and used that on my convention visitor badges, too. [Homage to John Irving and his bears.]

    I knew that anyone who call me Earl didn’t knw me.

    Reply
  7. Stacey Shipman

    Given name is Stacey – I’ve been called Stace, Tracy, Stephanie, and Spacey ‍♀️

    Used to walk like an Egyptian all the time!

    I haven’t had to promote myself as a solo in 1.5 years, but aside from my day job I’m starting to emerge as a singer and stand-up comedian. My message has always been about living and working without the pressure. Topics include networking, career change, dealing with stress and burnout. And I have a couple of audiences I’d love to perform for!

    Reply
  8. Dr Arthur LeVine

    What variations in your name do people use? My name is Arthur, but I’ve been called Art, Artie, Artemus, Arturo, El Jefe` (wife currently rolling on the floor laughing), or if you’re my mother-in-law, Pantywaste. (I think I’ve deciphered her correct spelling of “waste”.)

    Have you ever walked like an Egyptian? Give examples. Yes, but only when my underwear rides up to high, or my hemorrhoids are making another grand appearance.

    What species, professionally speaking, are you? Medical insurance billing and collection. My company name is iCollect Medical Billing Services, or IMBS [I am BS] – so, my species is whatever category dung beetles fall under.

    Reply
  9. Keanisha Mona Johnson

    My name is Keanisha but I get called Keisha, Tisha, Tasha lol

    I’m mainly a humor, story telling kind of species until otherwise but I do experiment with other kinds of writing) I like how you said “narrow” your niche so people see you ( extrodinary benefits of a niche). I think I finally found my niche, but can change later as they say

    I never danced

    Reply
  10. Kristine Schroeder

    My name is Kristine. For some reason, the K confuses people to no end. They assume it’s Kristen. So I have heard Kristen or Kristina the most. When I was in High School people called me Kris. I was too shy to correct them, but I hated it. So now I correct them by simply telling them I prefer Kristine. Seems to work with most people.
    I’ve never walked like an Egyptian, but I’m not 100% sure how that walk would be, so maybe I have.
    I am the species of Virtual Assistant. However, 2024 is fraught with a new challenge for us. I orginally faced some confusion because the VA acronym also applies to Veterans Affairs and my husband is a veteran.
    Now, the new confusion is with Artificial Intelligence. So people get confused about the “virtual” part. (Do they think I’m a robot? I don’t know.)
    I’ve begun to tell people I am a “Remote Office Assistant” or “Remote Administrative Assistant”. I like the acronyms ROA and RAA better too.
    Til the next thing comes along anyway.

    Reply
  11. Ilise Benun

    1. There are multiple variations to the spelling of my name, but my way (thanks, Mom) is pretty unusual so not many people get it right — but I couldn’t care less!

    2. Alas, I have not walked like an Egyptian.

    3. Like you, Mike, my species is “marketing consultant” which is what I say when I’m trying NOT to start a conversation. I got lucky with “Marketing. Mentor” — when I came up with it 20+ years ago, it was fairly original. Now it’s a popular search phrase! Unfortunately, those who Google it aren’t usually looking for someone who does what I do, which is “teach creatives to get better clients with bigger budgets.” Oh well….it still works for me.

    Reply
  12. Michelle Morris, CFP®, EA

    1. Nobody calls me anything but Michelle. When I was in 4th grade, a new girl arrived [a rarity in my small town]. Her name was Michelle! I panicked thinking of all the confusion, but fortunately she was actually a Shelly. We became good friends.

    2. I was in HS when this song came out and I’m pretty sure we all danced like an Egyptian.

    3. I am a financial and tax advisor. I help single women make sense of their money and their taxes.

    Reply
  13. Margaret

    1. My name is Margaret, so there are endless options to choose from! My parent opted to call me Meggie (Thorn Birds!), so that evolved to Meg. Most people call me Meg. If you call me Margaret, I know you’re either VERY close to me, or you only know me from the internet. Other acceptable nicknames I respond to: Meggles, Megger, Madge, Muffin.

    2. I’m pretty sure I walked like an Egyptian a few months ago. How can you not if that song is on??

    3. I am of the Photographer species. I photograph people, and, as an added bonus, I help people preserve their old photos/slides/negatives by digitizing them!

    Reply
  14. Gina

    1) My name is Gina (middle name Michelle), and here are some of the nicknames people call me: G, Gina-mo, G-mo, Gina Lollobrigida, Gina Mochelle, G-money.
    2) I’ve probably walked like an Egyptian at some point in my life… and adult bevvies were probably involved. 😉
    3) I’m a leadership trainer who’s now looking to specialize in bridging the gap between corporate and the flight line in the airline industry.

    Reply

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