Wednesday, September 1, 2010

What's in a name?

I've had many "identities" in my life. I've played/assumed many roles. While I don't consider myself much of an actor (far from it in fact), I feel like I can understand why people might like acting. Acting creates something between a vicarious experience and an actual experience. Sometimes your role can consume you and you can lose yourself. This is a short story about the brand L U C I M A.

I googled "lucima" today. Out of the first 5 results returned, I was directly responsible for 4 of them. The 5th and unrelated google result was someone that had wiki'd "what is lucima?". While I'm not sure when this question originated, it's possible that it existed after I created L U C I M A. Today, I went ahead and answered the question :)

What is L U C I M A? At first it was just a word. Literally, it was a word that I conjured out of nothing. When I started my photography business, I wanted a website. The challenge came in trying to name my website. I decided against "" or "" (which incidentally still appears as a watermark over my older images. Just looking at those words makes me cringe because I know there are people out there that can't spell "photography" :) j/k. Those URLs are just ridiculously long. Not gonna work. So I created the word "lucima" from the latin root "luc-" like the Spanish word "luz" which means "light", hence the words lucid, lucent, elucidate, and even Lucifer (light-bearer). The "-ima" ending was attached to balance the front of the word. Don't ask me why. I would have gone with "lucida" but that was taken. I think I also considered the "lum" version of the Latin root of light but most of those variations were gone too.

From April 2009 to December 2009 the word "lucima" was just the name of my website. It had no other meaning or value than simply to exist as the place where I housed my professional images. I thought about using it as a brand but I didn't think too much about it or how to bridge the gap between Charles Yeh-the photographer and L U C I M A-the brand.

From here on when I refer to "L U C I M A" as the brand.

In January 2010 I decided to merge this discrepancy. On, the website on which I initially conducted most of photography, I had previously been known as "Charles Yeh Studios". The link to my website was always In an effort to bridge that identity gap, I changed my profile on from "Charles Yeh Studios" to "L U C I M A".

That's when everything changed.

Coinciding with the drastic improvement of my photography at the time, people started calling me "Lucima". It was strange at first. The first person to call me that verbally, was Kathleen Ty (makeup artist). We were in my studio and I was in the other room and couldn't hear her calling my name. Then all of a sudden I heard, "Hey Lucima!" It was the oddest thing to my ears.

And although I always introduced myself in my online profiles as Charles Yeh, people seemed to neglect the fact that I ever disclosed my real name. People preferred to call me Lucima whether in messages or even sometimes in person. In fact, the first time I met fellow photographer Robert Dahey, I introduced myself as "Charles Yeh". Five minutes into our conversation he asked me what my ModelMayhem name was and I said, "Lucima" to which he responded "Oh yeah... I've seen your work". Later on he could barely remember my real name... instead he'd called me Lucima.

I realized that people didn't want to know "Charles Yeh". Not that they didn't want to know me, but rather that who I really was (in real life) was irrelevant. People don't care about the person behind the brand. They only care about the brand, so to speak. In this case I discovered that the brand had clout. People recognized "L U C I M A" online. And while I feel it's pretentious to introduce myself as Lucima, it made no sense to continue calling myself Charles Yeh online. Speaking of pretentious, I had a wardrobe stylist tell me that when she's "on set" we were supposed to call her by her "stage name". Now that's pretentious. Anyway, when I signed off on my emails and messages online, I was still so accustomed to signing off as "Charles". I found it very difficult to make the transition to signing off as Lucima. Worse, it was nearly impossible for me to introduce myself to people in person as Lucima. It just felt odd.

So here I was a couple weeks ago trying to merge the remaining distance between Charles Yeh and the brand L U C I M A... at least on FaceBook. Before I created the L U C I M A fanpage on FaceBook, I tried converting my personal page to just "Lucima". Unlike wedding photographers that use their real name for their photography business, FaceBook did not like the fact I was trying to go by just a first name... particularly one with a bunch of spaces in it. So I did the next best thing by creating a fanpage. The problem with the fanpage was that people could not easily associate Charles Yeh with the L U C I M A fanpage. Sadly, FaceBook doesn't make this transparent and along with the long list of other FaceBook bugs, makes it nearly impossible for people to see who owns the fanpages. Since I've had the fanpage, I've added a ton of models, makeup artists, stylists, and other photographers onto my personal profile. Some of them have found my fanpage (I invited all of them at one point) and many of them have not. Many have not discovered the link between my personal profile and my fanpage.

That's when I changed my FaceBook profile (my real name) to Charles Lucima Yeh.

And everywhere else (photography-related), I go by Charles Lucima.

To a certain degree, the brand has encroached upon my personal life, and understandably so. I simply can not completely disassociate Charles from L U C I M A (the brand). As a result, this is the best compromise I have found. I get to keep my first name and at the same time there's no longer any confusion to who's behind L U C I M A the brand. I guess this is how women feel when they drop their last name and take on the family name of their husbands. Definitely some level of identity crisis.

Funny thing is that people used to always ask me, "So, what is 'lucima'?" Most people thought it was my last name. Some people thought it was my Chinese name. Some people thought it was my middle name. Most of the time I just said, "It's just a word I made up". Ironically, I've come full circle and adopted "Lucima" as part of my name as either a middle name or a last name. I could have never predicted that the events involving this brand/name would have resulted this way. When I first started Lucima was nothing more than just the name of my website.

The issue however, has always been about branding and indirectly about my own identity. It was important for me to evolve when I saw how people responded to the name. It was more important for me to take on the identity of the brand that people recognized. As such, it doesn't matter who Charles Yeh was. It only matters who L U C I M A is now.


  1. This was very interesting because I had some of same struggles when naming my company (Nappsack)as I did not want to use my full name which is a hyphenated name but I wanted to create a brand. Branding is key especially when the biz starts to take off. I just saw a friend refer to another persons photos as "Nappsack's" work and it was a little weird at first but as I sat in the office staring at the monitor I realize how important the name really is.

  2. Haha that's awesome! Yup it is strange at first but it males sense in the long run! Welcome to the blog! :)