A stage name (sometimes called a screen name) is a pseudonym used by performers and entertainers. The same concept is used across different mediums. Writers call it a pen name or nom de plume. Radio hosts call it a radio name or air name. Wrestlers call it a ring name. These aliases are very common for people in the public eye, and might be something for you to consider if you plan to enter one of these industries.
Why Use A Stage Name?
There are several reasons someone you could choose to adopt a stage name. You might think your real name is unattractive, it's difficult to pronounce or spell, it's too common, or it just doesn't project your desired image. When selecting a stage name, you want to find a way to stand out among the crowd, but still keep it easy to remember, spell, and pronounce. You also want the stage name to reflect your brand (the image you want to portray). If you're in a rock band, you wouldn't use the same stage name as if you were a rapper.
Some people might try to make their name sound more exotic or cultural, but it's far more common to do the opposite in an effort to create ethnic ambiguity. My close friend and fellow artist, Elie Thawn, further explains:
"Some artists (particularly of color, and in the past those who are Jewish) - myself included - will anglicize their names so they won’t be typecast or even looked over completely because of their names being anything that’s not Caucasian. When I worked in TV production, I was asked, in all seriousness, if I could consult on a martial arts scene, and where I had learned to speak English so well (I’m 3rd generation American). The unfortunate reason why we do this is that we have to, to get a fraction of the work that other artists will get."
Stage names are also a way to separate your personal and professional life. Taking on a stage name would create an extra level of privacy and security for you, your family, and your friends. Additionally, if you have a famous relative, you could either want to adopt that name to show your relation, or avoid it because you don't want to be seen as having an unfair advantage.
Another major reason for using a stage name is to comply with guild or association rules. For example, if you're an actor, you probably know that both SAG-AFTRA and Equity don't allow for two people to work using the same name. Because of this, it's very common for people to use stage names or variations of their legal names (i.e. incorporating middle names or initials).
10 Stage Name Suggestions
#1-5: Tips On Picking Your Stage Name
1) Play with your legal name. This is probably the easiest to do. Write your full legal name and any nicknames down, and just try different combinations. You can use portions of your name, you can play with the spelling, you can lengthen or shorten parts of your name... the possibilities are endless.
2) Use your family tree. Do any other names in your family's history work? There's your mother's maiden name, your maternal grandmother's maiden name, your paternal grandmother's maiden name, your aunt/uncle's surname, and more! This should give you a decent starting point.
3) Think about your influences. Are there any words, symbols, objects, places, cultures, or memories that hold significant meaning to you? Try using some of these. For example, if you are Italian, and you love butterflies, you can use "Farfalla". Another thing to think about is what artists inspire you. You can't take their name unless you're related, obviously, but you can look at their work and draw inspiration from it.
4) Consider your brand. Something to consider is what kind of work you want to create. What roles do you want? What music genre do you play? What books do you write? Another thing to consider is whether or not the name with grow with you. Is it very "now," or will it still work for you 10 years from now? You can also look up the meaning behind the name, or see if it has a dictionary/Wiktionary definition. Does it have a meaning you are comfortable with?
5) Ask for suggestions. If none of the above are helping you, turn to others. A great person to ask would be your agent or manager. If you don't have one, ask your peers, colleagues, friends, and family. It never hurts to get an outside perspective.
#6-10: Ways To Try Your Stage Name
6) Search for it. Type your potential new name into Google, IMDb, or any site which has a database of artists. The fewer results, the better. The best case scenario would be for zero results to come up. I would also do a domain name search. It's easy (and free) to find out if your domain name (www.yourname.com) is available on sites like GoDaddy.
7) Test and reserve social media accounts. See if you can create a simple, complete social media handle, and use it across all of your chosen platforms. Being able to use @firstlast is best, but something simple and easily identifiable works as well. I personally believe that continuity across all platforms is more important than using just @firstlast, but that's a matter of opinion.
8) Say it. Write it. Be sure to say the name out loud. Does it sound OK? I would also write it down to see how it looks. Maybe sign a couple autographs. If it doesn't sound and look "right" to you, try something else.
9) Tell your peers. Your peers, friends, family, and agent/manager will give you honest feedback. They can tell you what the name sounds like to them, and if they think it works for you. This will give you an idea of what your name will say to the world. Branding is important!
10) Give yourself an award. This is a great last test, and it works particularly well if you're stuck between a couple possibilities. All you have to do is say, "And the award goes to..." and then the name. Pick the one that sounds best. Voila.