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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Choosing Your Artist Name - Standing Out From the Crowd

One of the things that artists don't think about when they are beginning their professional careers is their name. I think this is because many of us think "to change my name means I am not being true to myself". I respect that line of reasoning. But It is important that we at least consider alternatives earlier in our careers rather than later.

Names identify us. They give identity in a way that few other things can do. Writers when they begin their career often change their names. I always liked the writers rules of thumb on names.

  • Choose a name which is in the first three letters of the alphabet or the last three letters of the alphabet so that you don't get lost in the middle of the book aisle. 
  • Choose at least one name which represents a shape or a color or something so unusual that the mind doesn't forget it. 

These are great rules of thumb for choosing any name especially if you are an artist which focuses on graphic arts and may have a book of your own some day.

Another rule of thumb that should be considered is the use of a common name such as John or variations of that name such as James, Jack or Jim. There are so many artists with these first names that they all blend together. Consider that you want your audience to be worldwide. Common place names are even more confusing for people in other countries. Reverse this and do a google search sometime for Chinese artists using a Z in their name. Here are just a few:

  • Zheng Chunhui
  • Zhu Yu
  • Zeng Fanzhi
  • Zhang Huan
  • Zhang Daqian

Each of those artists were or are very well known, but can you tell them apart?

Now consider Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei. He stands out because his name is unforgettable. Not only does his work and his art activism stand out, but his name is one that few forget. Even if you've never heard of Ai, once you do hear it, you probably won't forget it.

I always tell new artists that while it may not seem important now, choosing the right name to represent them can be of huge value later. The problem is that many artists put it aside until after they've gained somewhat of a reputation and then its too late. To change horses in midstream just doesn't work. 

If your new to the art world and you are planning on making art your life, now is the time to consider it. Think about it in terms of actors. Many actors change their names, but they do so early in their career. Consider John Wayne. Would he have made it as far as he did as Marion Mitchell Morrison? Perhaps just based on his acting abilities he might have gone far anyway, but would it have been the same? Would it have made the impact that John Wayne made? 

Some new artists think its vain to think about name changes. But you have to erase that from your mind. This effects your whole career. 

So its easy to say "change your name", perhaps not as easy to come up with that change or make it stick. Here are a few tips. 

Take some time to explore combinations of words that feel right to you. Consider the above rules carefully and don't rush to make decisions. Its important that it be done early in your career if you are going to do it, but it doesn't have to be done tomorrow. 

Write down the possibilities. Don't just roll them around in your head. Seeing it in writing makes all the difference. 

Consider abbreviations. Can the names you choose be broken down into stupid shortened names? In turn can an abbreviated name turn into something cool? Look at Ai Weiwei again. He uses AiWW for almost all is social networking names. 

Consider your actual signature. Names which are too complicated can make for a crappy signature on your work. Personally I hate signing my name, so I use a G with a long bar crossed. 

The point is to make it as user friendly as possible for you. This is not supposed to ad complications to your world, just make you more noticeable. 

Lastly, don't make the decision yourself. Once you make the final choices of which names work best for you. Write them all down. Don't choose just one. Have at least ten possible choices or combinations to work with. Choose a few friends and hand them the list. Don't tell them what the list is for. Don't bias them in any way or form. Simply ask them to rate the list from what name they like best to which they like least and then compare responses. Often one or two names will come to the forefront and narrow down your choices a bit. The rest is up to you to decide. 

So how do you get people to start using the name? You won't. There will always be people in your life that know your real name and will attempt to annoy the hell out of you by using it. But from this point on you take this name as your professional name. Don't try to force it on people that knew you prior to using it. But make sure your business cards have your new name on it and that when you are in a professional setting that you are introduced by that name. Create a logo. Shove the name in front of everyone until it becomes you. Eventually that is what people will call you. By the time your a fabulously talented artist, your new name will stick. And remember most of all that your name is still you. Its not a coat you wear only when your in an art gallery. It is you. The creative you! 

Don't get frustrated. This part of being an artist. Be creative. Be unusual. Be artistic.Your name should be as artistic as the work you create. 

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