What’s in a name?
A name is a label – it’s what differentiates Jenny from Sue, it’s your personality, your quirks, your reputation. It changes depending on who is using it and if they’re mad at you (parents/siblings/partners especially). It most likely links you to your heritage, your birth country, your ancestral home, or that of your spouse.
When you are a performer, it’s also a brand.
When you start your journey as a stage performer, whether you’re an actor, model, musician, dancer or public speaker, most often you sign up and spend the first years of your education just as ‘you’. But as you begin to learn and evolve, perhaps you find yourself becoming someone else or adopting a different persona when you’re out in front of a crowd. Maybe thinking of your ‘other’ self as being the performer helps to ease your stage fright or assist in giving your best character performance or maybe that character IS the performance. Maybe at this point you decide you are no longer Sue but Suzanne the Magnificent, or Suellen Strange, or Sneaky Sue, depending on your character.
Deciding on whether to commit to a professional stage name is a big decision, like most brands, once it’s out there and you are advertising yourself, it’s really really difficult to change once you’ve built an audience and/or community – Christina Aguilera went to Xtina then back again, Snoop Dogg turned into Snoop Lion then Snoopzilla and who knows what the next name will be. As an audience it’s confusing and it’s really tough to keep tabs on your performer buddies if they keep switching names!
If you decide that a stage name is the way to go my advice is:
- Google it a few times, to be certain that the name isn’t already used or doesn’t have unfortunate connotations or associations
- Pick something to suit your performance style that is easy to say and spell
- Practice using it privately or with a trusted group of friends to see if you feel comfortable being referred to by that name
- Be absolutely sure that you want to stick with it
When I first started out as a soloist, I used my first given name. That’s who I was, who my teachers and classmates referred to me as and what I was most comfortable with. But there came a defining moment, where with the advent of social media and more public accountability I made the decision that for professional & privacy reasons I wanted to give myself a stage name. This also helped in compartmentalizing my social/dance life, everyone who knew me from then on knew Kalikah, and close friends, family and work colleagues knew only my given names.
The challenge with having a stage name is that it’s really really hard to change people’s mind as a performer once they know your ‘real’ name, or if they knew you prior to taking up your new identity. Personally I really identify with Kalikah and I have become my own brand so calling me anything else while I am at a show or in training (unless I’ve given explicit permission) is deeply jarring, both on a personal level but also at a performance level. It really ruins the air of mystery I try to maintain, especially at shows. I’ll never forget the time I was just finishing up a big stage show for the Adelaide Fringe, and I was heading out into the lobby to meet my family who had come along to watch. My mother got so excited to see me and screeched out my given name amongst the crowd and absolutely everyone heard it! In that instant it kind of ruined that character I’d built up during the show. Having said that, one lesson I’ve learned is that your parents will never, ever call you by your stage name ever. Even if you remind them!
A stage name evokes a sense of mystique, it gives the audience a sense that the person you see is not just your average citizen who goes to work like the rest of us, no she is ‘of the stage’ and therefore unique and exotic. I see my job as a performer to be like a game of imagination, the anonymity of an exotic name better allows the audience to believe even for a minute that they’ve been whisked from their everyday lives into a glimpse of the world I create through my art.
I think if I was to give any advice it would be to make it crystal clear to your troupe, teachers and colleagues that from now on you’d like to be referred to at all times by your stage name, at practice, at shows, online, to help get into your new persona.
As I touched on earlier, using a stage name is also a fantastic way of keeping your private life private. At the time I was coming up with my stage name I was also applying for my first graduate jobs which required me to have an online presence, so I definitely didn’t want any future employers looking me up and seeing my dance footage out of context. I was also acutely aware of the possibility of unwanted attention, so for my own personal safety and responsibility I thought it would be a good idea.
So for me using a stage name has had a huge number of benefits –
- I’ve been able to seperate my dance persona and my private persona
- my stage name reflects the kind of imagery I’d like to think I evoke as a bellydance performer
- I’ve been able to build a strong brand and presence around my stage name, allowing me to be comfortable in being Kalikah at any dance functions or performances, seamlessly able to get into or maintain my stage persona
- my privacy is protected
Everyone has their preferences for their identity, and for me having a stage name has worked for me for over 8 years. I no longer think of that name as just a label, it’s me & everything I stand for as a bellydancer and as a performer!
What do you think? Do you have a stage name? Do you choose not to have a stage name? What have been your greatest benefits from either using one or refraining from using a stage name?