What is in a Name?: by Michelle Mullins

Published On September 30, 2016 | By Samantha Mant | Essay, Performance

As long as there has been writing, there has existed a need for authors and performers to conceal or alter their identities. This is done for many reasons, including a wish to avoid stereotypes to an attempt to approach an issue from a different direction. A pseudonym is often to create a persona in these situations. A persona is defined as “a social role or a character played by an actor. Derived from Latin, it originally referred to a theatrical mask.” Carl Jung describes a persona as “a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and on the other to conceal the true nature of the individual”. Though it could be argued that most people create such persona, the use of pseudonyms is important in the art community. Whether simply to gain attention or for marketing creating a new name, or even personality, this can allow a freer, or more profitable, expression of ideas and concepts. Stage names are ubiquitous in many performance arts, especially screen and stage productions.

170257936_82828027da_bMany screen actors use stage names, generally an attempt to create a more marketable identity, concealing ethnicity or other undesirable background traits, or perhaps simply to create a more interesting marketing point. Marilyn Monroe (aka Norma Jeane Mortenson) is a famous example, but others include Charlie Sheen (aka Carlos Irwin Estévez ) and his father Martin Sheen (aka Ramón Antonio Gerardo Estévez), Vin Diesel (aka Mark Sinclair Vincent ) and Alan Alda

(aka Alphonso d’Abruzzo ) to name a few. Stage actors and other live performers similarly use stage names, but are often not as well known. However sometimes actors, screen and stage, along with other performers, will even adopt alter-egos like some musicians.

Musicians are more likely to create a performing alter-ego, a complete identity as opposed to a simple name change. Examples of stage persona include Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke (aka David Bowie), Sasha Fierce (aka Beyonce) and Jo Calderone (aka Lady Gaga). Though these examples also include artists who use a stage name, these alter egos are typically performance based and are a way of expressing a different personality or as an artistic statement. Unlike performance artists, mostly due to the text based nature of their work, authors can more readily conceal aspects of their background that challenge the image they want to present.

It is easier for an author to use a pseudonym than other creative artists, after all, most consumers of their work will only know them through their texts, though with the rise of the internet the practice becomes both more and less difficult. Adopting a pen name seems to be done for one main purpose, hiding author identity, though the reasons for that can vary it tends to boil down to marketability and attention, just like other artists. Also like other people in the art world, hiding ethnicity, lack of class status and, at least with authors though less so with artists in the public sphere, gender can be necessary to have work recognised and spread. Early science-fiction writer Andre Norton (aka Alice Mary Norton) used a gender neutral name, as had George Elliot (aka Mary Ann Evans) and more modern writer Rob Thurman (aka Robyn Thurman). These are far from the only women to do so, because women writers were, and still often are, not taken seriously in certain genres, science-fiction, war fiction, even fantasy. There is a slight gender swap in romance, male authors will occasionally take female pseudonyms to write in the genre but it is less common. In the end creating a marketable image to spread their work makes pseudonyms attractive to many in the arts community.

Pseudonyms can be described as a mask, and can allow a creative artist to present to the world the face they wish. There are many reasons for this, but in the end tend to be for increasing marketability. Establishing an alter ego can be liberating to an artist, or could be constrained upon them. But for whatever reason this is done, is can be a powerful tool to bring notice and attention to them. So, this performance is likely to continue into the future.


Author Bio: My name is Michelle Mullins, and I am a fantasy writer, who occasionally slips into science fiction and horror writing. Born in Townsville in 1991, I have been an avid reader and writer for nearly as long as I can remember (I started to read Robert Jordans’s wheel of time at eight, finished at 23). Apart from writing I enjoy cats, anime, computer games and collecting more piercings. http://www.townsvillespecfiction.com

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About The Author

Samantha Mant is the Editor in Chief for Artgaze magazine. She is also a naturopath. More of Samantha's work can be found at her website The Holistic Branch.

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