What’s In A Stage Name?

joaquin phoenix

Actor stage names range from outlandish to believable. I’ve never doubted that Whoopi Goldberg used a pseudonym, but personally assumed that Julianne Moore’s name was given at birth. In actuality, both use stage names! Multitudes of actors have been recorded with stage names for decades, so there must be something to their method.

Well known actors often use stage names

Some believe a simpler name will make you more memorable, or that techniques like using your last name as your first will make you seem more exotic. Michael Keaton and Emma Stone both use stage names, but what sets them apart are the reasons for using one. In Michael Keaton’s case, there was already a well known actor named Michael Douglas.

For Joaquin Phoenix, the last name “Bottom” may not have been considered as marketable as his adopted moniker. In Emma Stone’s case, there was already an actor with her name registered in SAG, which avoids enrolling actors with similar or identical names. After checking with SAG, she ended up dropping “Emily” for “Emma”.

Actors aren’t the only ones choosing to re-name themselves. Singers like Elizabeth Grant became Lana Del Rey to give herself feeling of old Hollywood glamor, while Miley Cyrus adopted her childhood nickname. Comedian and actor Louis CK’s adopted last name is by far the cleverest: it looks hard to pronounce “Szekely”, but it actually sounds like “CK”.

Many reasons to change your name

If you feel your first or last name is too long, you want to sound more culturally ambiguous or simply want to be considered more memorable, a stage name may be worth considering. Natalie Portman dropped “Herschlag”, while Blake Lively opted to use her mother’s maiden name over her father’s last name “Brown”.

Others have chosen to go a more superstitious route and create a new name for themselves using numerology. British model turned actress Agyness Deyn is thought to have used a consultant in Chinese numerology to create a name that would drive her success. Named Laura Hollins at birth, Agyness wasn’t getting booked as a model, until she changed her name to enhance her career. Shortly after changing her name, her career skyrocketed.

Whether numerology actually made a difference, or the name “Agyness” caused booking agents to pause at her head shot is impossible to know. What is clear is that after her name change, the Manchester model’s life changed.

Old fashioned psychology

There’s a lot communicated in a name. Certain names may make you seem more hip, memorable, or confident. Most people feel that names that are easier to understand are preferable, which varies from culture to culture. The familiarity of names tends to put others at ease, which explains why certain actors opt to have a first or last name that is easier to pronounce and spell.

Many actors are tailoring their name to an image, and want to sound more exotic. Reese Witherspoon ditched the name “Laura”, while Tara Patrick felt she would fill more movie seats as Carmen Electra. Having a more alluring name may also separate an actor from their competition, by making them seem like a star in the making.

Are you considering a stage name?

Choosing a new name for yourself is a huge undertaking! Before you begin searching for potential options, consider why you want a stage name. Are you creating a brand for yourself as an actor? If you are, how will this new name help you achieve that?

A common way to begin to find possible stage names is to look at the names of your relatives. Perhaps your great grandmother had a name that you’ve always liked, or a relative has an interesting maiden name you can use.

Make sure to Google your new first and last name before you submit any legal forms, to make sure there aren’t any negative associations with it, also check for any union restrictions. Marilyn Manson once said “you choose the lie you like best” regarding his own stage name, so be sure you’re selecting a name that fits you. Choosing to build your career around a stage name is a very personal journey, so take your time and be certain of your choice.

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