I happened on this fun story the other day where graphic artists critique the campaign logos for the top eleven Democratic contenders in the 2020 presidential campaign. Back when the world was young, I worked in politics, so I find this kind of minutia interesting. 

What struck me looking over the collection of logos, wasn’t so much the colors or the graphic flourishes or the fonts. What jumped right out at me was the names. Six out of the eleven used only their first name in the logos. 

This would have been unheard of back in my day. I’m sure no one ever contemplated designing a yard sign that said, “Vote for Bill”.

The Hillary Clinton campaign in 2008 was the first major campaign I noticed where the candidate’s first name was prominent in the branding. (By contrast, her campaign used her last name, albeit with a large stylized ‘H’, in the 2016 general election.) That seemed like a reasonable exception to the convention of identifying candidates by their last name, since she shared the same last name with a former president. 

However, George W. Bush’s campaign had no problem using the name Bush despite his father’s recent presidency. So, my mind turned to another theory. 

It’s been my experience that women don’t identify with their last name the same way men do. Since it is likely a woman will change her last name when she marries, I theorize that women don’t identify by their surnames. Hillary has always been Hillary, while Bill has always been Bill Clinton. 

Another consideration is that women’s names have historically been more diverse than men’s since traditionally many men are named after their male relatives. Diversity makes for better branding. There is probably not going to be two Hillarys running for the same office, but there could conceivably be two Bills. 

So, my assumption when looking at the current crop of candidates’ brands was that the female candidates would be the ones using only their first names. “Kamala” certainly stands out as unique. But that wasn’t the case at all. Of the six candidates that used only their first names in their brands, five of them were men. Amy Klobuchar stood out as the only woman to use only her first name. 

So, we have Tom, Beto, Pete, Cory, Bernie and Amy in the first name-only club. Julian Castro doesn’t quite make the cut here because while he features his first name prominently in his brand, his last name is still there in what designers call ‘mouse-type’.

Biden, Warren and Yang went old-school and used only their last names. 

Kamala Harris used both her names in the same size font. I like the branding with two names, but it would make for a clunky Twitter profile pic. 

I’m not sure how this trend bodes for the future of the republic, (although the latest poll shows Biden and Warren in first and second place respectively) but it does provide a useful lesson in how communications conventions can shift. As long as it is consistent with your brand, going with a trend can make your organization appear more relevant and contemporary. But I would never advise going with a trend if it does not reinforce your brand identity.