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A stage name, also called a showbiz name or screen name, is a pseudonym used by performers and entertainers such as actors, comedians, and musicians.

Motivation to use a stage name

A performer will often take a stage name because his/her real name is considered unattractive, dull, unintentionally amusing or difficult to pronounce or spell, or because it has been used by another notable individual or because it projects an undesired image. Sometimes a performer adopts a name that is unusual or outlandish to attract attention. Other performers use a stage name in order to retain anonymity. The equivalent concept among writers is called a nom de plume or pen name, while the term ring name is used in professional wrestling.

Family connection

Some individuals who are related to a celebrity take a different last name so that they are not perceived to have received undue advantage from their family connection. Examples of these include Nicolas Cage (real name Nicholas Coppola, nephew of Francis Ford Coppola) and Mike McGear (brother of Paul McCartney). Conversely, individuals who wish to receive benefit from their family connections may take that person's first or last name. For example, Lon Chaney Sr.’s son Creighton spent a number of years appearing in minor roles before renaming himself Lon Chaney Jr.. Emilio Estévez and his sister Renee chose not to take their father Martin Sheen’s professional name and use their birth names; however, their brother Carlos chose to use their father's professional name, and took the name Charlie Sheen.

Guild and association rules

Guilds and associations that represent actors, such as the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) in the United Statesmarker and British Actors' Equity Association in the United Kingdommarker, stipulate that no two members may have identical working names. An actor whose name has already been taken must choose a new name. Notable examples include Nathan Lane, whose birth name, Joseph Lane, was already in use, Stewart Granger, whose birth name was James Stewart, and Michael Keaton, born Michael Douglas. The latter chose the last name Keaton simply because he was an admirer of actor Buster Keaton. Michael Andrew Fox became Michael J. Fox because a Michael Fox was already a member of the Screen Actors' Guild. Ugly Betty actress Vanessa Williams officially uses "Vanessa L. Williams" due to SAG guidelines, although the other actress by the same name (Vanessa A. Williams) is arguably less notable. Similarly, David Walliams changed one letter in his surname due to there being another "David Williams". Terry O'Quinn of Lost fame changed his surname from Quinn to O'Quinn as another registered actor already had the name Terrance Quinn

A person hoping to become successful as an entertainer who has a name identical to a name already familiar to the public (in any field of endeavor) may change his/her name in order to not have his/her name evoke the other person with that name. By way of example, the actor/writer/director Albert Brooks was named "Albert Einstein" by his parents and chose a different second name so that his name would not be a distraction that would evoke the renowned physicist of the same name. Singer Katy Perry, born Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson released her self-titled album under the name Katy Hudson, but later changed her surname to Perry to avoid confusion with actress Kate Hudson.


In the past, a stage name was often used when a performer's real name was considered to denote a specific ethnicity that faced potential discrimination. An example of this type of name change involved Freddie Mercury of the British rock band Queen, who was born Farrokh Bulsara to Parsi parents; his name change was partly intended to conceal his heritage. The actor Kal Penn changed his name from Kalpen Modi for professional purposes; after changing his name, calls back increased by 50%. Historically, Jews in Hollywoodmarker were encouraged to anglicize their names to avoid possible discrimination. This still happens to a degree (Jason Alexander, Jon Stewart, Brad Garrett, Jonah Hill, Winona Ryder and Natalie Portman for instance), but the growing acceptance of ethnic performers in the performing arts has made this occurrence less frequent. Ramón Estévez changed his name to Martin Sheen because he expected a better reception for an Irish name than a Spanish name; his sons made divergent choices: Carlos Irwin Estévez is now Charlie Sheen, while Emilio Estévez left his name unchanged. A well-known (now) actor who adopted a non-German stage name was Hans Gudegast who is better known as Eric Braeden.

In a more extreme example, the American Spanish actress Margarita Carmen Cansino underwent electrology to change her hairline to a more Northern European appearance, and was renamed Rita Hayworth.

Ease of use

Another consideration in choosing a stage name is ease of use. The Actors' Equity Association (AEA) advises performers to select a name that is easy for others to pronounce, spell, and remember. Some performers while paying great attention to their skills and abilities give little thought to the difference that a well-thought-out name can make to their career. Often it is only after the realization that a poorly chosen name results in an undesired impression that a person or group decides on a different name.

Actor Michael Caine was born Maurice Micklewhite and chose the name Michael because he preferred the sound of it to the less glamorous-sounding "Maurice". He chose the name Caine reputedly because at the precise instant he needed to decide upon his new stage name, he saw a cinema marquee for the then-current movie The Caine Mutiny and thought that it would make a good last name in conjunction with Michael. ("Had I looked the other direction," he would later quip, "I'd be known as Michael The One Hundred and One Dalmatians.")

Relevance to image

Commonly in the music world, and especially those of heavy metal, punk rock, industrial and hip hop, musicians will rename themselves with names more menacing than their birth names. Examples include Slash, Sting, Darby Crash, Sid Vicious, Johnny Rotten, Zakk Wylde, Nikki Sixx, Count Grishnackh, Necrobutcher, Blasphemer, Nivek Ogre, Rob Zombie, Dimebag Darrell, Trey Azagthoth, Vintersorg and Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein as well as every member of Avenged Sevenfold (M. Shadows, The Rev, Synyster Gates, Zacky Vengeance, and Johnny Christ). Being that those genres pride themselves on a larger-than-life quality, larger-than-life names are desirable. Madonna, Prince, and Pink are pop music examples, though both Madonna and Prince were given those names at birth. Every member of the punk band The Ramones took the pseudonymous "Ramone" surname as part of their collective stage persona.

Actor John Wayne's real name was Marion Morrison. He adopted the stage name because the name Marion had since his birth become a female name and he felt at odds with the masculine cowboy characters he portrayed. Similarly, Norma Jeane Baker changed her name to the far more glamorous-sounding Marilyn Monroe.

Euphony and ease of remembrance

Some performers and artists may choose to simplify their name to make it easier to spell and pronounce (and easier for others to remember). For instance, Andy Warhol dropped an "a" from his original name, Warhola, while couturier Yves Mathieu-Saint-Laurent dropped the first of his three surnames. Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Piero Filiberto Guglielmi adopted the stage name Rudolph Valentino in part because American casting directors found his original surname difficult to pronounce.

Some surnames may carry unfortunate connotations in English. Hal Linden, born Harold Lipshitz, adopted his stage name for fear that the embedded obscenity in his original surname could cost him work. Ralph Lauren's brother (who was his guardian) changed their family name from Lifshitz for a similar reason: fear of mockery.

Musical use

Some types of music are more associated with stage names than others. For example hip hop/rap artists almost always use stage names, whereas "classical" composers and performers virtually never do. Some Algerian raï musicians use the prefix Cheb (for men) or Chaba (Chebba) for women. Both Arabic words mean "young" (e.g. as in Cheb Khaled, or "Young Khaled"). Some performers take a series of different stage names. The British pop singer successful in the 1970s as Alvin Stardust previously went by the stage name of Shane Fenton in the 1960s. He had been born Bernard William Jewry. Some performers will use different names in different settings. Charles Thompson, singer/songwriter for the alternative band the Pixies, was known in that band as Black Francis. He was called Frank Black as a solo performer, and again called Black Francis in a reunited Pixies.

Many performers refer to their stage name as their "professional name". In some cases performers subsequently adopt their stage name as their legal name. For instance, the former Robert Allen Zimmerman's legal name has been Robert Dylan (Bob Dylan) since he changed it in New York Citymarker Supreme Court in August 1962. Elton John was born Reginald Dwight but changed his name by deed poll, making Elton John his real name. When he was knighted, he became Sir Elton John rather than Sir Reginald Dwight. Elvis Costello (born Declan McManus), who had adopted his professional name as a legal name, changed it back to his birth name in 1986.

Due to recording contracts which do not permit them to openly record for competing companies, musicians may appear on other performers' recordings using other names.

See also

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