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.

Starving to Successful

StSBookSHave you always wondered what it takes to show your work in galleries? Is your work being seen by qualified collectors?

In his Amazon.com best-selling book, Xanadu Gallery owner Jason Horejs shares insights gained over a life-time in the art business.

Learn more and order today.

2015-01-07 14_43_10-CSS Button Generator

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of Dad was an Artist | A Survivor's Story and 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

22 Comments

  1. There are three representational artists in our locale with the name “Mary Klein” and for years people would mix up our identities. To differentiate myself from my these other artists, I started adding my maiden name. It’s been over ten years since the name change and I see a lot of benefits. SEO is a big one – as well as less confusion and easier name recognition. “NagelKlein” is now the term I use for my website and Instagram – and “Mary Nagel Klein” is how I refer to myself in all artistic contexts. The one awkward issue is how to fill out forms online that ask for only a first and last name. I work around this by using “Mary Nagel” as my first name and “Klein” as my last. This means I get form emails addressed to “Mary Nagel” – but that’s not a big deal. I still sign my work the same way as I always have – with a fluid-slanted-script “Klein”. This has all worked very well for me.

  2. When deciding on the name to use when signing artworks and with art business, it is a good idea to do a Google search and see if it is already used, and if so by how many people. Sometimes modifying what you use slightly will help with this.

  3. I have been a professional artist for 40 years. I am now semi-retired and am TOTALLY reinventing myself. …….changing medium, subject matter, style and size of my artwork. It is giving me a refreshingly new and exhilerating perspective on my life’s work. I felt that my “public” would be confused and never accept this drastic change in my art. I am at the stage where I dont need to sell my art to earn a living and want to change to a pseudonym…..and still I hesitate….even although I now only wish to paint for myself.

  4. Great blog, I was actually talking with an artist friend of mine about this topic the other day. I’m a marketer, and see an obvious need to refine / change a name for specific branding purposes, as authors and actors have done too.

    A good follow up would be how to choose another name – and a list of examples of famous artists with their before and after names, analyzing each and whether it really made a difference.

    http://www.JonathanPoston.com

  5. I started my own gallery in Mendocino in 2006 and was signing SUZI in a bold script. Then I was told it wasn’t a professional name. In my mind, if VERA could do it, so could I. Well, I bowed to the superior knowledge of this well known artist and started signing MARQUESS, my maiden name. Nice, but pronounced differently by everyone. And it’s an adopted name so while I found my birth mother’s name unappealing, I went to SUZI LONG on my pastels. I’m getting back into watercolors and setting out on an rv adventure, and I’m back to SUZI but with a different style. It’s been really frustrating, and in retrospect, I’m sorry I changed from my original signature.

  6. With authors, an alternate name signifies a different style, genre or time period. Each name used tells the buyer what they will be getting: Nora Roberts vs J. D. Robb, for example; and Jayne Ann Krentz, who also goes by Amanda Quick, Jayne Castle, and four other lesser known names. Some of the names she may have used when she was first starting out, and as she honed her skills, using her own name began, perhaps, to feel safer? But the idea of using different names when painting in a completely different way sounds reasonable to me, perhaps because I’m used to the practice with authors, and find it helpful. With artwork, a person would immediately see that the work was quite different, but maintaining different names would also allow an artist to indulge alternately in both styles if it works for them.

  7. I picked a new name for online and business about a decade ago and carried it on to the art when I started that last year. It feels like a good choice because I also carried over the existing branding. I have a fictional name filed with the courthouse and a dba and use it for my schedule C for taxes. I’m happy with it still.

  8. Ugh, I struggle with this one since I got married 7 years ago. I’ve built my following around my maiden name, but now a lot of people know me personally by my married name, even though legally I hyphenate. If they walked into a gallery and looked for my artwork under my married name, they wouldn’t find me. I keep wondering if I should now hyphenate my name on my artwork to avoid confusion with people.

    1. My 2 bits – stick with your branding and focus on the professional audience you have created under your maiden name. The audience who doesn’t know you personally should, or will be, significantly larger than the number of personal friends who are confused by your name.

      People who know you personally will find you – even if you have to educate them.

  9. A few years before I graduated from high school, I composed music and recorded all the instrumental scores myself. When it first appeared on the radio, I shortened my name to make it more recognizable. I began building a brand and I thought I was on my way. Then I chattered my dominant hand and my dream. I abandoned all creativity for more than a decade.

    Fifteen years later, I began painting but I couldn’t see myself using my “brand name” so I used my maiden name instead since I hyphenated my married name. That worked but for years I felt lost without an identity. Finally, I decided to scrap everything I ever painted with my maiden name and went back to my shortened name. Now I feel complete.

    I think Shakespeare got it wrong when he asked what’s in a name.

  10. G. Harvey certainly made it work. I spoke to him about it and he said it was never any problem ; that his real name :Gerald H. JONES was always added (as provenance ) to the rear area of his paintings. When up for auction by such houses as Sothebys or Christies .

  11. Once upon a time, I had an artist name “Ousseau”. It was great especially when making reservations at restaurants but that was all. When, my works started to get noticed and my confident was up, it was important to me to stand behind my work. Instead of hiding behind a pseudonym, which what I was doing.

  12. Several years ago I was active in the on-line world of Second Life. This was tremendous for me as an artist as in that world I could concentrate on promoting and marketing my artwork using my avatar name, Van Caerndow, and I had my own gallery. After about ten years I looked on Google and found that Van Caerndow was more famous than Phil Strang. Thankful to my avatar as I was I have since retired him and his international notoriety and worked to create an even bigger name for myself.

  13. To my frustration, but not really surprise, another artist and I share the same (very common) name. I’m just starting out and she’s established.
    I do have a “nickname” for my brand, which I’m still working out the best uses for. Turns out it might be a good thing I’ve come up with it, because I’ve already run into roadblocks, e.g. I can’t use Instagram with my artist’s email address because “Someone of that name is already using it” — which hacks me off, because before accepting FASO’s suggested website name & related address, I was assured that everything was unique.

  14. I think artists get hung up over details that don’t matter. Don’t like your name but have a following? It’s a hell of a good reason to run a marketing campaign on the re-brand. “What’s in a name?” can be the strategy. Boom, done.

    The thing is, most people don’t care as much as we do. They don’t spend their time thinking about us. I see artists agonizing over business names but in the end, the audience doesn’t care as long as they can find you. So… when or if you re-brand, make sure you show up and talk about it. On video. In posts. Via your email newsletter. On your website. If you have your old website, have a note on it with a link to the new one. Go all out.

    I watched a minor celebrity in Canada re-brand beautifully a few years back. I just did it with my business and the response has been an enlivened audience with new energy. As long as the name you choose resonates with you, don’t worry about it. But make sure you talk about it until you can’t stand it, and then do it again ten more times.

    It’s also a great conversation starter in galleries. Tell your friends you’re under cover as (alternate name). Make a game out of it. If you want, have them guess which work is yours and then tell them which name you’re under. Whatever. But add a sense of fun and adventure. Your success with two names, or changing your name, lies entirely in your mindset and how you approach it.

  15. I did it so that no other artist would have the same name! But it wasn’t much of a stretch…
    When I started creating art late in life, I used my married name: Beverly Gilbert – until I found out there were multiple other artists by the same name, including one from my home town.
    So… all I did was add in my maiden name Beverly Ash Gilbert – and there is only one of me.
    A middle name might do the trick too.

  16. I’d like to support Jonathan Poston’s suggestion for a companion article on how to pick a new name, and how to test it to make sure that there aren’t any hidden problems with it.

    Jonathan Poston: “A good follow up would be how to choose another name – and a list of examples of famous artists with their before and after names, analyzing each and whether it really made a difference.”

  17. I signed my work just as “denise,” but when I began showing and selling, my experienced artist friends recommended that I sign first and last names. I opted to use my middle name, which make a rather longer signature, but I am never confused with another artist with the same or similar name. I also filed with my state a business name, The Rowdy Goddess Art. As my work has become better known in my area, people refer to me by my full name and/or my studio name, Denise Elizabeth Stone from The Rowdy Goddess Studio.

  18. I came at it from a different angle. Back in the nineties, I started showing on the western/wildlife art circuit in the Pacific Northwest, but prior to that I attended a lot of shows, and it was very evident that there were still a lot of people who had a belief that women could not paint western scenes well (even though I grew up around horses, cattle and rodeo…apparently if you can’t ride a bronc, you can’t paint them). So I took a tip from a very good woman artist, and started signing my work with my first and middle initials and my last name (also a very common name and my entire name is the same as a famous author). That has worked for me…I still occasionally get a jaw drop when they realize a woman painted the piece they are admiring. I introduce my self with my nickname, and everything seems to work well. Sometimes people ask why I sign art that way, so I tell them the whole story and most seem to get a kick out of it, particularly women.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *