Stage names are very common among actors, and especially young actors. A stage name can:
- Protect their identity from stalkers
- Make it more difficult to track where they live, & what school they attend
- Protect the identity and privacy of family members
- Either highlight or de-emphasize heritage
- Make leaving the profession much easier should they decide to later
Stalking can be an issue for actors of any age, and sadly, young actors can be especially vulnerable. Public records and the normal publication of school activities, team rosters, etc., can point potential stalkers to exactly where they might find their targets. If a young actor uses a different name for their personal life than the one fans would look for, they can be much safer living their lives off set.
Later, when as adults they are doing simple things like making a hotel reservation, or putting their name on the mailbox of their apartment, a different legal name can continue to protect their privacy and safety.
Actors who become famous can cause ripples of unwanted attention for their family members. Many siblings of famous actors don’t enjoy the association and expectations thrust upon them by the curious. This can be especially difficult for siblings who choose to follow the same path but who may not have the same level of success.
Sometimes a name can be especially identified with a particular ethnic heritage, and an actor may want to either emphasize that, or avoid associations with any particular group. A name can be a powerful label. Traditionally the trend was to downplay ethnic origins, but today the trend is more often to celebrate them. Either way, choosing a stage name can be a great way to make that choice.
Child actors don’t always go on to act as adults, for various reasons. Sometimes they simply decide they want to do something else. Sometimes the “cute” factor that worked in their favor for casting doesn’t translate as they become older. Very famous child actors who do not continue acting later in life have a much easier path transitioning if their past is not constantly dragged along forward with their name.
There are other reasons an actor may need to use a stage name:
- If another SAG-AFTRA union member is already using the same name
- If another famous person already has this name (avoids confusion)
- If their name has any negative associations
- If spelling or pronunciation are very difficult
If you decide to use a stage name for your young actor, here are some things to know:
- You do not have to change their name legally.
- You do need to make the decision before they join the union.
- Standard contracts for actors have a line for “professional name” as well as legal name.
- The stage name should be listed on the work permit.
- The stage name should be used on the headshot and resume.
- Coogan accounts should list both legal name and stage name.
- The social security number is the primary tracking point for payroll, and checks should be made out to the legal name of the actor.
- Working with a financial institution that is used to actors/stage names can help cut back on any confusion.
Finally, there may be a more subtle but very important reason to consider using a stage name—the chance for an actor to emotionally and psychologically stay separate from their professional identity.
Actors are especially vulnerable to identifying with their profession, but some breathing space can be built into their lives if their friends and family call them by a name that is not their public one.
If you decide to go with a stage name, Google it to make sure there are no unfortunate surprises (unexpected associations, use by another famous person, etc.) and check IMDB regularly to see if someone else has started using it before you have a chance to join the union under that name. Take some time and sit with the name before you commit to it, to be sure it’s something you want to live with.
Stage names are often taken from nicknames, family names, middle names, or something with personal meaning for the actor.
Finally, it is always an option for an actor to change their original name legally to their own stage name! But the many protective advantages of keeping a legal name separate from a public name are what continue to make this practice popular, and a great choice for many performers.
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