Ask a Gallery Owner | Should I Use a Pseudonym?

I recently received the following question from an artist:

I was wondering if I could get your opinion on having an artist name.

Do you think it’s a bad business move to give yourself an artist name? If when you may concerned or want to protect your private life from your business life would that be a sufficient reason to have an artist name?

I was wondering what your thoughts were?

–Victoria

Many artists have asked  variations of this same question. I’ve worked with artists who use their real names, along with a number of artists who have adopted pseudonyms. It’s quite common for actors and authors to change their names.

First, let’s explore the possible reasons that might lead you to change your name:

  1. As the artist above mentions, you might want to use a different name in order to protect your privacy.
  2. Some artists change their name because their birth name doesn’t have an artistic ring to it. Artists are a creative lot, but that doesn’t mean that their parent’s were particularly creative in the naming department.
  3. Artists with common names may choose to change their name to avoid having their work confused with other artists of the same name. This has become more important with the advent of the internet. If your name is Bob Smith, any hope you have of getting website traffic from Google searches is pretty slim.
  4. Some artists have changed their names to fit better into a new culture or language. Many artist immigrants adapted their birth names when they came to the US.  Mark Rothko was born Marcus Yakovlevich Rothkowitz, for example.
  5. Perhaps you just want to reinvent yourself.

These are all valid reasons, but you should weigh very carefully the costs and disadvantages of using a pseudonym. These could include:

  1. Building fame and notoriety around a pseudonym commits you to using the artist name forever. It’s hard enough to build name recognition once – having to do it twice if you eventually decide to go back to your birth name
  2. Confusion. If you continue to use your real name with family and friends, you are inevitably going to run into some confusion. I’ve had people come into the gallery and ask to see an artist’s work. They were dismayed when I informed them that I didn’t represent that particular artist. Only later did I realize they were looking for the work of one of my artist who uses and artist’s name.
  3. Paperwork. There’s a fair amount of paperwork involved in changing your name if you want to legally have a new name, and if you don’t, you have to create paperwork with your bank to create a DBA account.

 

Many artists have overlooked these problems and gone ahead and changed their artists name and have built successful careers using a new name. It’s not a decision to be made lightly – your name is your brand when you are an artist. If you are convinced that your given name just doesn’t cut it, however, a name change may be just the right strategy.

What do you think?

Have you every considered changing your artist name? What ultimately helped you decide what to do? Are there other factors that I’ve failed to consider above? Please share your thoughts and comments below.

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About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of ARTsala. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business. Connect with Jason on Facebook

42 Comments

  1. Lise Tanguay Chowdhury
    Read your book. That`s my real legal name on my passport.
    Tried an artist name and that became confusing.
    And, really: Who has a French and Bengladeshi name ?
    I thought it was too long so for a while switched to Lise Eva and even signed Lise Eva only to find collectors had gotten used to Lise Tanguay Chowdhury so I will stay with what life had decided for me. Lise Tanguay Chowdhury. And after reading your book, I closed my Saatchi account so my activities would not compete with the gallery representing me. I realized from your book how important my loyalty to the gallery was. Reading your book was exactly what I needed. Thank you. Lise Tanguay Chowdhury, Montreal, Québec

  2. I have been using aPseudonym for a long time now. Yes there are ocassions where I have to explain to people why I have two names, but when it comes to art I always use my art name which is Sasha T. I have built my brand around this name and people who know my work, or are looking for me on the internet have no problems finding me. I chose aPseudonym to stand out from the million Alex’s out there. I feel just as an art style needs to catch peoples attention, so does a name. Everything matters when it comes to selling art. I think the thing to remember is that if you do go by an artist name you should represent yourself by that name on everything you do so there is no confusion.

  3. When I first started with museum placements I tired a pseudonym. I figured if Weegee could do it so why couldn’t I? Well, it didn’t work for me. A pseudonym can add mystery, if you want to try it go head and see how it turns out. I think it is easier using a pseudonym if you are really outstanding like Banksy or you have already made a niche in the art world.
    .
    The reason I wanted to use a pseudonym was I didn’t like being associated with some of the subject matter I shoot in the social documentary field. I got over that in a hurry and proudly use my name on all my work.
    .
    Your name is your trademark, so you should promotes it like you promote your art online.
    .
    nsfw
    .
    https://danielteolijr.wordpress.com/2015/05/09/the-importance-of-naming-your-digital-files/
    .
    In the digital era, it is a dream to get your work out there compared to the 1970 film era when I first started with photography.

  4. Yes Jason,
    In the 90s I wrote magazine articles and also signed my artwork as Lori Simons, but I had always had a desire to honor my artistic heritage by using my maiden last name. I come from a long line of graphic artists on my father’s side

    So by the mid 2000s I began signing my work “Woodward Simons” and authored my articles by the same name. Then when I began writing a new series of articles for watercolor magazine, I switched my by-line and my artwork signature to “Woodward” This long term method worked pretty seamlessly for me. Now I’m known by Woodward alone. I had to buy a new domain name to reflect that fact

  5. Some authors use as many as three different names in order to write in quite different styles without confusing their readers about what to expect of the book’s content. Perhaps that would be a consideration for someone who enjoys creating art of more than one, and quite different style or content. In the case of both of the authors I’m thinking of, the reading public now understands that it is all the same author, but in at least one case that was not originally so. As the work produced under each name became sufficiently well known, the work began to be declared as x author, writing under the name of y. That may or may not translate well into the painting world, but might, for example, work for someone who paints, but also sculpts. Anyone out there doing that?

  6. I use my maiden name. It is the one I’ve always used for artwork . I startedto put my work out there when I had split from my first husband and not yet remarried. It didn’t feel right to use my surname at the time and in the long run could have caused more confusion due to the custom in my country for women to change their name on marriage thye would have many name changes to keep up with, unlike Spain. I’m guessing this wouldn’t be a consideration for men.

  7. I adopted the artist name “Kanika” for my Kanika African Sculptures business that I started in 1993. I never particularly liked my given first name, Kathy, and I wanted to assume a different personality for my art business. I became much more extroverted as my alter ego , having to learn to talk with people and make sales, and could wear different types of clothing – mainly African – for my art shows. Since I don’t have a great facility for remembering names, it was helpful knowing that if someone called me Kanika, they knew me for my art. That was all well and good until 2015 when I stopped doing art vendor shows and most gallery shows. I now only do sculpture garden shows at my home And occasionally enter one or two pieces in our competitions or group gallery shows (my outdoor welded steel and ceramic art is too big and heavy for me to cart around anymore). In 2016, I started writing Family history books under my given name of Kathy. This did/does pose A lot of confusion for people who know me as Kanika. My solution is pretty simple: now I sign my name Kathy Kanika Marshall, I have never legally changed my name and freely use the combination on all manner of applications, letters, emails, telephone voicemail messages, checks, etc. So far, so good.

    1. As long as none of this requires your Social Security number, you’re probably fine. If you have to give a SS number, it gets tangled. I used the name Molly instead of my former first name for many years, but when I hit a time where SS got involved with birth certificate required, it became a nightmare and that’s why I eventually did the legal change. Good luck.

  8. My parents gave me nickname that has no relation to my legal name. It has caused nothing but confusion for my professional career. Everyone in my hometown knows me by my nickname. I have attempted to use my legal name, but even I can’t remember to introduce myself that way. And, unfortunately, my surname is so generic that I’m nearly anonymous. Choose a name and stick to it. Don’t waffle.

  9. I use my maiden name because I sold my art before I was married. I took a hiatus to raise a family, and have now re-entered the art world. It is a bit confusing to have friends and family know me by my married name, but have a very different art name.

  10. I asked G. Harvey (JONES) if he had had any negative results from not using his given last name on his paintings. He told me he hadn’t and the only time that his total name was presented was at auction houses that had listed him (his paintings) using his total name. No other situations had presented themselves.
    I would like to mention though that if one chooses to use an “art name” … make this decision very early in your art career. Confusion may result if you have painted ,or created , under your real name and then decide to change. Be true to your Brand .

  11. I have a common name that is also the name of many other artists found on the internet and who also paint in a similar style and even the same subject matter. Unfortunately, there is even a porn star with my name. At one time people told me they were afraid to search for my website for fear they would get the porn star. I considered changing my name but I had already shown and sold work under my current name and decided not to go that route. I continuously get emails or Facebook messages inquiring about my work but through continued communication I discover they intended to be communicating with a different artist with my name. It has been really frustrating, and I’m just not sure what else to do at this point.

    1. I can relate to that. I, too, had that problem. One person with my name is a sex therapist, and another is an artist. So I just gave myself a new middle name. Now no one else has my same name. And “Star” is memorable. A star is a symbol that can mean many things to many people. And on my website and printed material I use the star symbol instead of the word. I have not changed it legally though. So all my financial dealings leave out the middle name. Seems to work OK.

  12. I use my given name for my more conventional visual works. In addition, I have a separate name for a performance persona I have created, which is also visual but tends to live in video and live/guerilla theater. I keep them both separate entities since what I say through each “medium” is an entirely different method or mode of story telling.

  13. I use two pseudonyms in addition to my birth name. My pseudonyms create different styles of work & my collectors have bought into it. It’s a lot of fun & that compensates for any difficulties that arise…

    1. I have one of those names- Stephen Carpenter. I am not the doctor with all the research to is credit. I am not the famous guitarist. I am not the other doctor. And last but not the least by far, i am not the Stephen carpenter-artist, living and working less than 90 miles from me. Same age, different styles, same marketing area. That Stephen Carpenter has a ling career well established.
      I have thought about this for the last 5 or so years- a name change. Added to the mix is 3 different media styles and two conversant disciplines (visual art and music). If I were a pseudonym sounding kind of exotic, I might be able to make all of this work.
      I’m seriously needing to visit this issue again and make a decision as I head out into a broader circle.

  14. An artist friend of mine who paints in both realistic and abstract styles uses his real name for the realistic work and a pseudonym for his abstract work. He has a following of collectors in both. Often someone will say “That doesn’t look like your style”. Why should an artist have only one style? This way he becomes a different artist in name for the different style, like an author who uses one name for writing mysteries and another for biographies.

  15. I dropped my first name a couple of years ago because I liked the way my last name looked and sounded on its own. I also liked the unisex idea but my name sounds feminine so people tend to assume I’m female. In correspondence though, I tend to use my first name as well, it’s the first part of my email address. But I probably should stop doing it, it’s confusing. Luckily, when I first started many moons ago, I bought both Raschella.com and ArtbyRaschella.com, so no problems there. Because I’ve been using my first name as well, I haven’t changed any paperwork, but will probably need to at some point.

  16. Names are important. I changed my name legally many years ago because I really hated the name I was given at birth. The process is not at all difficult, but it’s important to be sure. Years later as a writer, I began to use my maiden name as a middle name and it’s fine to do this legally. I did it because my new name Molly Cook (married last name) was pretty common and there was a fairly famous person with this name. The maiden name in the middle clearly distinguished me from all the other Molly Cooks. I like using it for my art and there’s no confusion with family, friends, on business cards, etc. It’s not a particularly “arty” name, but it’s mine.
    I do think everyone who wants a new name should get one, but I also suggest taking the legal route for clarity.

  17. A side note to using more than one name, for the sake of your family and their lawyer once you pass on. If you have accounts under more than one name, a bank can refuse to render funds to a claimant until they have written, legal proof that person A is identical to person B. My daughter is an attorney who had to discover such information on behalf of a client.

  18. Back in high school a friend of mine said that I should have a signature name for my art. He said my legal name could change through the years. He was so right. I have had four. That is why my signature & my email name is deljena. I rarely put my signature on the face of my art. I have seen too many good paintings ruined over a sloppy, badly placed signature. Maybe that could be a new discussion for your blog.

  19. I just dropped my first name, which I’ve never been that fond of, and use the rest of my name, Loveday Funck. It’s unusual enough that I seem to be the only one, but an endless number of people feel compelled to ask me if that’s my real name. I like think it’s memorable.

  20. It’s so important. I recently moved from DC back to the market I was in 10 years ago before remarrying. I was told, by my DC gallery, to use my married name with my new married name so all will know who I am. It works and has a nice ring to it. However ladies, just keep your maiden name as your painting name and that would have resolved this. Life throws us, I was widowed young, what was I to do.

  21. I honestly feel that the people who buy and love my work are buying a piece of me. They are buying decisions I have made, they are buying time I have worked, most importantly they are buying my story. My story is interesting and it’s my life. I think to be successful you, your story and your art need to be consistent and authentic.

  22. I use my whole name with my maiden name as a middle name. You can do this legally in Canada. I found less confusion since I married late in life and there is work out there with my maiden name on it. In order to shorten the lengthy name, I chose DLFdesigns and on all of my social media it also has my whole name and photo. Legally, the company has both DLFdesigns and my whole name listed. I started using a nickname, then changing that so it wasn’t so long, and both caused confusion. In the end, I decided that I should put my own name on the work that I do and it finally feels right.

  23. I’ve discovered that having the 4 syllable first name of Obadinah, tends to both cause problems and, being unusual, tends to be memorable. How to pronounce it is a big one.
    (Oh-bah-DINE-ah) I prefer the name not be shortened and have learned Americans prefer 2 syllables and 3 at most for a first name. Still, people tell me they like the name, want to know its origins, and generally ask me about it. That is, if they are not trying to avoid it all together. In the past I used my first name, when I was an illustrator and that worked. I am now an oil painter of impressionist landscapes and it seems to me a more formal first and last name is appropriate. I still have mixed feelings about this name. Sometimes I wish I had a different name, but at this point I would not change it. Too much equity is built into it at this point. Best to make a change like that early in life or early in one’s career. Side note: I love meeting people with unusual names and/or simple rhythmic names, but it is their work or who they are that in the end is what is most memorable.

  24. My pseudonym is actually my middle name so there’s never been too much confusion among family members. Since my work is in the Art Deco style, I see it as a throwback to the time when many artists went by one name, i.e. Erte, Zig, Fish, Adrian, etc. For many years when I lived in California, it was the only name on my driver’s license but Oregon doesn’t have that law so my full name appears now. Having one name also saves time when I have to sign things!

  25. I wonder about this in terms of gender issues. It’s much harder for women artists to get the same kind of recognition, interest, and profitability as men. It’s certainly true when you see who tends to be featured in museums and galleries. The numbers speak for themselves. Perhaps this is a different question to answer on another post, but when I have thought about this issue, that would be my consideration. I’m not saying to change a name to one that sounds male; I’m just wondering about only using a first initial.

  26. There’s a happy medium in here somewhere and each artist has to find it. Women artists sometimes adopt their husband’s surname, divorce, remarriage … it’s complicated. One daughter kept her maiden name because that was the name she made her reputation. Another adopted her married name for simplicity with children. I feel for people with elaborate or ethnic names … they must be dealt with.
    I know of one artist with such an odd, complicated studio name even though I know her well I have to google her every single time because I can’t remember the spelling. I find her husband’s name and then by association, hers. His is pretty generic, by the way.
    Introducing myself socially is cumbersome if I have to explain a different professional name. As awkward as it is to remember any new acquaintance stick with YOU.
    I’ve used my married name since I was a young woman, although I have done variations. For awhile I was so annoyed at the dearth of women artists I purposely spelled out “Jacqueline” so there was no doubt this was a woman painter. I got over that … then I went to JW Knott. Finally, I arrived at my last name alone; simple, concise – this is me.
    You need a name easy to find on the Internet but not confused with anyone else. Distinguish yourself but don’t get too clever or too mystical. In this age of marketing the importance of “branding” would behoove artists to find that happy place.

  27. I have never thought about using a pseudonym instead of my name, and have been signing my paintings with my intertwined initials with three dots… I am quite attached to my name and origins. There should be a fusion between name, signature, and style of work… So somehow it becomes one unique entity that cannot be mistaken with someone else’s work (without needing a pseudonym?…). For my part I would find disturbing to use a pseudonym…Often when I introduce myself to clients, I have to repeat twice ”Elodie”, spell it, and then say think ”Melody”, without the M….Usually people like it. It is not a common name in France or here in the U.S…I guess, I hope, a Foreign artist name is often a good start to open a conversation or attract interest or curiosity.

  28. You make good points on the reasons some people have an “art name.” I’m grateful that there are only like 3 of us w/ my name in the US, because I’d hate the headache of building recognition for a new name. It would be nice to have a name more easily spelled, though.

  29. My first name is common and I also share my name with a Russian porn star. I just joked about it when people used to find her first online. I sign my work with my initials because with fiber a long last name takes too much space.

  30. In many Asian cultures, artists have often changed their names when they change styles or phases in their lives. Hokusai was exceptional in this, as he used 30 different names through out his artistic life. Of course, as he became well-established it didn’t really matter what was his current artistic name. As a Western artist who creates in both Western and Asian painting styles, I have often debated with myself as to how to sign a piece — should I use my English name or my Chinese chop, or both — using both on a painting rarely works in terms of artistic design, but I sometimes do it. More recently, I have been trying to decide whether to change my Chinese name to something more appropriate for an older artist. I have tried to make certain that all of the names sound somewhat similar when spoken in most dialects.

  31. I had similar problems when I chose to adopt Zella as my artist name. It is my mother’s name and she was thrilled for me to use it because at 90+ years no one had ever called her Zella. I thought Zella was more creative than my name. Well , Zella turned into a mass confusion, expense (printing new business cards), trying to explain to art shows that I was using my mother’s name on my art (no one cared or remembered and were just confused), potential buyers confused … It just became a mess… so after a year, I went back to my legal name… My conservative community was not ready for such an extreme challenge and if my art takes off.. it won’t really matter what my name is.

  32. I have used N.R. Vogt, since the age of 10, when I began signing and selling my paintings. I am now 67 years old. I have always had a passion to paint historical scenes, depicting life in Northern California from the time period of 1840 to the 1950’s. In recent years, especially as social media has become so prevalent, I have named my Studio/Gallery, as well as branded my artistic work as “Paintings of Historical Significance by N.R. Vogt” – This became quite useful for me, beginning with Facebook, about four years ago when I opened a second Facebook page under this new branded name that is dedicated specifically for art topics and promotion of my work. I felt this was necessary because my first Facebook page that I started 9 years ago was under my full name “Nick Vogt”, which already had over 4,500 followers, most which were connections through my two other 45 year+ occupations as (1) an executive director for a non-profit Christian organization and (2) a Track & Field coach.

  33. In my artistic practice, I signed my paintings using my legal name “Reginald Rousseau” however, I am also known as “Big Art”, which fits my large frame of 6′-4″, my large works, my attitude and professional trajectory . I found people usually start calling me “Big Art” after they met me a couple of times.

  34. My maiden name was Christine Winters. I used it for awhile after I married and was told by some that I should use my “real” name Christine Dawdy.

    I don’t think it makes any difference. Most of my artist friends sign their names so you can’t read them.

    I always like Richard Diebenkorn’s using initials only.

  35. I’m still using both names. I am using DAA (doing art as) after my birth name. For right now, I use birth name in the city where I live and my artist name in anything outside of the state. Hopefully, I will merge to one “artist” name

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