February 23, 2023

Don’t name things “my-“ or “your-“

Log on to your utility company’s website. What’s the section for your account called? Probably something like this:

  • “My Account”
  • “Your Account”

Maybe your school’s portal is called “My Schedule.” If you use MetroPCS for your mobile service, you pay your bill on “MyMetro,” on T-Mobile it’s “My Account,” and AT&T it’s “My AT&T.”

In the App Store there’s a popular menstrual cycle app called “My Calendar,” a garage door opener called “myQ,” and a calorie tracker named “MyFitnessPal.” In Texas you manage your benefits on “Your Texas Benefits.” Here in my neighborhood of Queens, there was a recent proposed real estate development called “YourLIC.”

Ever since MySpace launched in 2003, this naming convention has sneakily stuck around in digital products. Twenty years later, it’s probably time for it to go.

Inherently, there is the problem of who is “me” and who is “you.” Is the website speaking to me? In which case “you” makes sense. Or am I reading the website as a verbalization of my own thoughts? Then I’m looking for “my” stuff.

It’s easy to understand why designers and product managers use this framework – because it’s well, easy. If you have to build out an account system on top of an existing structure, just slap on the my/your modifier and call it a day. If you want something to feel more personal and get buy-in, then what’s more personal than this signifier of possession?

But here’s the rub: The latter seems like some vaguely Orwellian doublespeak. The former is a more forgivable – but most of the time users would be better served by just a plain old “Account” or “Log In” button.

We’ve lived through waves of naming conventions that have largely come and gone: the “e” and “i” prefix to signify digital or internet tools, “1-800” or “.com” in a company name to indicate how to find them. Unless you’re one of the lucky outliers, these tend to make you look dated and distract from your message – and the user experience.

These extra bits have a habit of getting dropped over time in favor of the pieces of a name that hold the real weight of the brand equity. Facebook famously dropped the “The” before it’s name. Apple Computer became just Apple. Dunkin Donuts still sells plenty of donuts, but now just calls itself Dunkin.

The good news is that the fix is easy. If you’re making an account portal, just say cut to the chase and call it what it is – users will understand. If you’re building a new brand, test what it looks like without this verbal decoration, explore other options, and ultimately prioritize clear over clever.

(PS: Check out one of the best books on naming, Hello My Name is Awesome by Alexandra Watkins if you want to really up your branding game)

About the Author

Ben Guttmann ran a marketing agency for a long time, now he teaches digital marketing at Baruch College, just wrote his first book (Simply Put), and works with cool folks on other projects in-between all of that. He writes about how we experience a world shaped by technology and humanity – and how we can build a better one.

Get my new book, it just came out.

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