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 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

29 Comments

  1. I agree that the name you use as an artist is important as a brand and using your own birth name is best. Friends, family and others know you by that name and in casual or serious conversations, may forget to add the “oh, if you want to see the work it’s under the name xxxx.” Your name should be your website and email address and needs to be simple.
    In my case, my last name is…Difficult and Not memorable to remember, say or spell. In wanting to try to stay true to it but have people “remember” it, I took my first name and the first 3 letters of my last name for my brand. Even if they search just the 3 letters, my full name is there somewhere.
    Also, many women who have changed their name at marriage struggle between the 2 identities if they have established a career in art in some way.

  2. I love my pseudonym for privacy and having a better sounding name and because I may have more than one pseudonym, so I can paint more than one style while having one style for each pseudonym to maintain marketing recognition. To avoid having both your pseudonym and your real name in use, I suggest getting your pseudonym set up as early as possible, so your accounting, professional suppliers/contacts/associates, marketing materials, and signature on each work of art are using your pseudonym, not your name. I also suggest researching how you should sign contracts when you have a pseudonym.

    1. Variety is a very excellent point. It boggles me that most clients feel — to the heart! — that there is no way to excel in more than one media. That is a wonderful way to give it a solid separate identity. Hmmm… a little late for some of my work, but I will think about it.

  3. I use my own name however I have a “brand” name. I always use them in conjunction. When I sign things it is always.
    Rebecca Adams
    The Adventuring Artist

    This is so that if people are searching for me by name there is no confusion like what is stated in the post above. But my “brand” name is a way to distinguish myself from others because I do have a fairly common name.

  4. Funny how this topic came up, just when I was debating whether I made the right choice by putting myself out on the web as SSh – using my initials. I just didn’t like connotations that could come up if I were to use my real name, and also privacy issues were on my mind. So here are my reasons:
    1) Googling real names scarily brings up your current address and your past ones, including phone numbers (cleaning that from google searches is an ordeal and phone/electric companies give your data to third parties without you knowing).
    2) Real name can link to a career profile, such as linkedin, unrelated to art things, which should be separate in my view. I got annoyed when googling myself once and finding a 15-year old cv I was posting on job search websites. The site was dead by then, the servers meanwhile became ghosts and I sent requests to google to make those links dead for good.
    3) My married name indicates Russian origins while my maiden name is Polish, and I am really neither strictly artistically speaking and I don’t want to be culturally linked to something I am not. Am not ashamed of my background but it has nothing to do with my art, so I am eliminating here unrelated questions or potential opinions. Someone once compared one of my works to Chagall, and all I could say was “really?”. Then I diplomatically listened to how it looked like Chagall. My work has nothing to do with Chagall, btw.
    4) Some artist women like to promote themselves as such, there is a whole area of feminist art, etc. It is not at all what I want to be known as, or ever be referenced to as such. Once again, it is completely irrelevant to my work and I don’t see myself using the fact that I am a woman as a platform of some kind to promote myself, or any other reasons.
    5) SSh got a funny extension when I was trying to create my facebook page. The site wouldn’t let me use just SSh unless I were to add a number to it or modify it somehow – like SSh83636. I wanted my name nice and clean but there was no way. Then I got annoyed after several options I tried were already “taken”. So I typed in “darkpagesmaster”, because I liked something with “dark” in it – more reflective of what I do and like. It got accepted. As a result, I am now SSh.darkpagesmaster and people told me that was cool, so that will stay))).

    1. Your points ring true to me. The issues of maiden name vs married name, female vs male persuasion, names already taken, origins that are not relevant or extensively clunky, Google searches that link to unrelated names or history. It’s tortuous.

  5. In my experience having a name that fits into the culture you are exhibiting in is an advantage. Going through school my teachers found my birth surname unpronounceable. My married surname “Drone” is simple, easy to remember and combined with my first name “Esther” Google searches quite well.

  6. Great article. I am well-known in my community as a watercolorist. Now I am switching to sculpting. So as not to confuse my public I have begun using a Nickname. I have no intention of marketing my new found passion

  7. A agree with Rebecca and her reasons. I also have a brand name; not because my name is particularly common, but to differentiate me from the teaching business I ran for 25 years before retiring in 2017. Is it a good idea to copyright the brand name?

    By contrast, my wife uses only her name along with the brand name “Artist”…

    Keith Dickinson
    Pinhaw Printmaker

  8. As a person who followed two different professional tracks, namely, an artist and a history professor, I have kept the two separate by having distinct e-mails, using a pseudonym “Mylius” in my art-related email. But I have used my own name both on my art work and on my history publications. I do this as a way of keeping the two aspects of my work distinct and not mixing art into 16th and 17th century history — or mixing my historical work, colleagues, and correspondence into my art. I did toy with signing some of my artwork as “Mylius” but it seemed as if it would cause just the kind of complications that Jason mentions. The result is one identity and two tracks.

  9. My first and last name are common. What is more, there is an artist (well established) less than 90 miles from me who has both my first and last name. he does figures, I do not. We are the same age and both art school trained though not at the same schools. I’m living very close to my birth home. He moved into the region decades ago.
    My website (carpenterhillstudios) is as close to my name as I can get, and even that can be confused with a private school and one other website, if the google search does not include “artist” with my name.
    I have debated this for quite a while, but I already have an academic presence with my real name.
    Jokingly one day, I came up with a pseudonym and used it in a gathering. Some liked it, dome didn’t. (I do but I’m not ready to make a legal change).
    Confusion is not what I need just now, but I apparently can’t escape it whichever way I go.
    Since I am trying to get known and have a small reputation, this is critical and not necessarily “cosmetic.”
    I’ve even thought of acquiring a “studio assistant.” (that would be the pseudonym).
    Any thoughts?

  10. Google “Mary Scott” and you’ll know why I use my maiden name as part of my name for writing and art — Mary Kolada Scott. It has drawbacks; some people think “Kolada” is Spanish but it’s Czechoslovakian. It’s not easy to remember, but others confuse “Mary Scott” with “Mary Queen of Scots.” The full name looks harmonious, and ethnic is acceptable now.

  11. Well, one thing I can say for sure is, it might also work in your favor. I happen to share a name (!) with a well-known artist. When people look for her site, they occasionally land on mine instead. Some of them actually check it out once they’re there. Might as well, huh? After all, it’s free and you’ve already arrived. These are all people who wound never have known I existed, without being ‘led’ by a case of mistaken identity. When life hands you a lemon . . .

  12. Back when I still had gigs as a singer-songwriter, I totes with the idea of using a stage name. The main idea was to announce beforehand: “If you’re going to listen to a man who calls himself ‘Croco’, don’t expect elaborate harmonies”. Still, in the end ‘Croco’ would just sing about the things happening in Niklas’ life. If I hadn’t moved to another country and still had my side gig as a singer, I don’t know which name I would end up using.

    Which brings me to my next point: My biggest gripe about using pseudonyms, either as a creating or a performing artist is that it is really hard to find a good name and not come over as pretentious. And believe me. Doing open call fan art exhibitions, I have seen my fair share of guys calling them self ‘Sean ArtRambo’, ‘Lucius Blackprince’ or ‘Hank Solo’. And for most of them their name just ends up way more artistic then the world they display.

  13. I have two tracks to my artwork: fiber and oil painting. I did the fiber full time for 25 years and then went full time into oil painting for the last 13 years. The paintings are plein air and studio paintings of the forest that surround my home and studio. The fiber was totally different.

    A new technology has finally allowed me to print my sacred geometry, fiber art designs on 100% natural tree rubber yoga mats and I have just recently begun producing and marketing those.

    I use the same brand, signature logo, Marsh, for everything. The paintings are on one website(two domains), http://www.CharleneMarsh.com and http://www.CharleneMarshStudio.com. The yoga mats have their own website, http://www.MarshYoga.com. But the same brand signature logo.

    I decided I am one artist with multiple mediums but they all feed into my creativity and into my creative output. People that knew me as a fiber artist had a hard time making the leap that I was a painter but now, everyone who only knows me as a painter have no idea I used to do fiber!

    As I am now introducing the yoga mats, I find that people have incredible respect for the depth of my artistic output over the years and my ability to grow and innovate. I don’t try to separate out my artwork or anything else I do as an artist, no matter the medium or venue or task. Building one identity is enough. I don’t need to build two.

  14. I use a pseudonym of sorts. I just use my middle name because I hate my first name and a psychic once told me to never use my last name because “It won’t be good for you”. I’ve never had any problems at all and the nice part is that when signing things, especially multiple prints, I only have to sign one name.

  15. I chose to use my first and middle initial and my last name. It makes it easier to find me and not find me, if you know what I mean. The only hurdle is that the galleries will inevitably call me by my initials and sometimes it takes me by surprise.

  16. I don’t believe you need two names for two styles. I paint in two styles – realistic flora and fauna graphite drawing and mixed media Steampunk themed works. Both styles carry my initials, however, they are marketed separately. I exhibit one style at a time and pick my display depending on the exhibition/theme. I have two facebook pages, one for each style, and two online stores, separating the styles. Even in my studio, the styles are displayed separately. So far it seems to be working. It is a little extra work as I have two sets of marketing to keep up to date, but this way does not confuse my customers – who want to know “who” did the work. They want the “story” behind the artist and the work. How can we share this without sharing a little about who we are…and our name is the number one key to who we are.

  17. How about a common name like Tom Smith? I chose to keep and use my real name (and not Thomas either) because I always hated it! Becoming a professional artist has been a big part of therapy for depression and to help me declare myself and accept myself I said “screw it-that’s my name, and I will accept who I am!”. The decision to use my real name is part of my artist statement and I have received awards and sold art for about 6 years now. I am very well known now as Tom Smith. painter!

  18. I use my nick name for my art. My first name is Ildiko, very lovely historical Hungarian name. Unfortunately, people thought I was Japanese because is sounded a lot like Hiroko or Keiko, etc… to further add to the confusion, my married name is Van Helsland…very Dutch.So I took the last 2 syllables way back in college and made my name Dikki. I am known as Dikki Van Helsland, batik artist extraordinaire. Works for me for the past 50+ years

  19. Jason, I love your book “Starving to Successful” and refer to it constantly, as well as following your RedDotBlog closely through your emails to me and through the Bold Brush Newsletters. My birth name is Günther Johannes Haidenthaller. My family immigrated to the US from Austria when I was 6 years old and had started first grade in Wels, Oberösterreich. We all learned English and pretty much integrated into American society, but none of us have forgotten our heritage nor our homeland. I come from several generations of artists and creative folk; the earliest record we have of a “von Haiderthal” or Haidenthaller is Ulreich der Erste (the First) von Haiderthal, is a business transaction dated 1320. The Haiderthal is a small community in a valley about 30 minutes north of Salzburg. When I sign my paintings “von Haiderthal” I am paying tribute and gratitude to all who have gone before me. So far, that business persona has not been a detriment…
    Thanks for your very informative blogs, book, and for your time and effort on behalf of artists everywhere!

  20. Regarding my art: I go by my maiden name “Kallstrom” as that’s how I started out before any relationships.

    Over the years, I’ve signed paintings with my previous married name. Then, I signed paintings with my maiden name “Kallstrom” because I reverted to it when I divorced. Then I re-married and gladly became “Barritt” but made the decision that any artistic creative works would be under the name “Kallstrom” because I didn’t want yet another name on paintings.

    I had no idea that I would have the opportunity to go to art school years later where my student records had me as “Barritt” yet I signed my artwork “Kallstrom”. It caused a lot of confusion. In order to connect me to my work, I legally added my maiden name to my married name and became “Kallstrom-Barritt”. It’s too long to use to sign a painting but I use it on my business cards.

    I wish it was easier (many would say I’m making it harder than it really is) but in social circles, I want to be connected to my husband but still be “Kallstrom”, the artist. I’m also paying homage to my parents, who encouraged creativity, and my Swedish ancestry.

    This has been a long confusing journey (and post), but I think I have settled the issue.

  21. Understand the reasons for some of the posts in regards to a name change or a pseudonym. I was born Barbara Jean Johns and was never called Barbara. When I got married I was now legally Barbara Jean Craynock. Always went by Bobbie Johns. Different papers have different names, Exhausting! So 17 years ago I got my name legally changed to who I am….. Bobbie Johns. I always signed my art work that name and Love it!

  22. My name is Reginald Rousseau. When I first started out I created the name “Ousseau” because I was getting tired of people asking me about “Henry Rousseau”. While I enjoyed being “Ousseau”, especially when it comes to making restaurant reservations here in NYC.. Professional, I felt like I was in a closet. In 2010, I decided, that I am going to use my real name R. Rousseau, but people also call me “Big Art”. Because, I am a big man and I like to make big art pieces.

  23. I had a maiden name that was hard to get spelled right. I was happy when I married to get a name that was alliterate. The changing of my name when I married was so onerous that I swore I wouldn’t change it again. Too much paper work! The marriage didn’t last long, but I’ve kept the name and I’m happy I did.
    It’s distinctive.
    One day I found an art book in Chapters for an artist from the 18th c in the USA. I bought the book just to prove to my friends and relatives that there’s been a serious artist, serious enough to have a whole art book published about him, in my family (smile).

    I’ve always thought that changing my name back to my birth name or to choose another name would only confuse people.

Leave a Reply

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