Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Pseudonym

A few weeks back, in a FAQ, I addressed my name (link).  The only comment made on the article was from the artist known as Daarken.  While his comment made in interesting inquiry which I shall now ignore, it did get me thinking about something else entirely.  In an article entirely about names,  an option I failed to address was the possibility of having a pseudonym. know...Daarken.  See how I got there?

Moving on....

So what of pseudonyms?

Personally, I don't have anything against them.  I didn't want to use one, myself, because I like my name and am proud of the work I do while using it.  If you're of a similar frame of mind, you should at least consider going down the same route.  Two advantages are that there are simply fewer identities to keep track of, and that folks will know how to address you and you'll always know that it's you they're addressing.  On the other hand, you may feel differently.

Now, there are many reasons you may want to use a pseudonym.  You may be unhappy with your real name, you may do illustration on the side and not want it interfering with your "regular" job, your real name might be something you find embarrassing, you may do fine art under your real name and want to keep the illustration work on the down low so as to not affect your fine art's value, you may be hiding from the mob or in the witness protection program, or it could just be that you're called "John Smith" and want to go by something a little more unique and exciting.

So what, then, do you call yourself?  How do you choose a name?  Well, I'd suggest that I'm the wrong person to ask this as I've never done it.  However, I will endeavor to try and help you, anyway.

I've known folks who've used childhood nicknames, folks who've used old pet names, folks who've made up words, and folks who've even used their old character names from their days of role playing.  A name can come from anywhere, really, and as I'm not the kind of guy who was ever good at naming things, I can only give you some guidelines that might narrow things down for you.

First off, coming up with a pseudonym is like trying to name a band.  It has to tonally fit the genre — even it fits ironically.  Personally, however, I'd steer away from irony, as irony seems to go in and out of fashion so regularly that an ironic name may seem out of place in a matter of years if not months.  'Course that's just my opinion.  The point I'm driving at here is that you don't go after children's book work with a name like "Baby Slayer."  It's not going to go well for you.  So, choose wisely.

The second rule I'm stealing from fellow artist Peter Morbacher.  If you're going to go by a different name, it should not be more difficult to spell than your real name.  I'd extend this further to say that you should make it easier to pronounce, as well.  I'm not sure if it's ever happened before, but you don't want to be the first person to lose a job because the art director decided not to call you out of fear of mispronouncing your fake name.  Not knowing how to say "Belledin" is one thing, not knowing how to say "Pjumdiharzdt" is another (I made that one up... I told you I was bad at this).

Third, I think it's important to be flexible with the name.  Like it or not, people will want to know your real name.  Accept that the illusion will eventually be broken.  Mystique is cool, but there's always a few out there who wants to know how the magic trick works, and among those few is the jerk who wants to spoil it for everyone else.  So, eventually you may end up becoming known as "Joe 'Pjumdiharzdt' Bloggs."  A benefit to this flexibility is that should your name become less valuable to you over time, you'll have a head start on transitioning to a new identity.  It's entirely possible that your career may change, and eventually you may just want to own up to being plain old Joe.  Perhaps the above middle ground will help.

Anyway, should you choose to go the pseudonym route, be aware that there will be certain people who dislike you off the bat.  A lot of folks find the very idea pretentious and off-putting.  Others feel it to be amateurish, somehow.  I'm personally not in either of these camps as I feel that quality of work trumps all, but clearly not everyone sees things that way.  Understand that there may be people who either publicly or privately roll their eyes at you for your decision.  The weirder the name, the more eye rolls you're likely to get.  I'd be willing to bet, however, that the vast majority of folks will shrug, chalk it up to you being a "weird artist-type" and go about their business.  Or, better yet, some may even use it as a device to engage you.  What's with the name?  Why don't you use your real name?  Etc.

While some may show you prejudice for arbitrary reasons, there are others who will be wary for reasons potentially more legitimate.  I've heard several folks complain about fake names because they are sometimes employed to represent artist sweatshops as a single individual.  Seriously.  Somewhere in this world there is a room full of guys making pennies on the dollar putting out work in a more or less unified "style" all under the guise of being someone who goes by the name "Pork Fat" (again, not a real name as far as I'm aware).  As a result, there are art directors out there who may, in an attempt to not deal with such folks, steer clear of pseudonyms (at least until they can confirm that there's a real person behind the name).  I have no idea how often this tends to be the case, as I don't have the resources to poll enough art directors on the subject, but even if it's just one person, it's worth noting, as fate would dictate it's the person you most want to get a job from.

To be perfectly frank, I'm not entirely sure how important a name really is.  I can't say as to how much of a make/break impact it may have.  Suffice it to say that in this day and age, as a commercial artist, you are a brand.  While it would be nice to say that we are above such things, it just isn't the case.  Being brands, there is an element of perception that we have to deal with.  While I still feel it most important that the work is good (after all, Coke would be long forgotten if it tasted like window cleaner — which I assume tastes lousy having never tried it), this business is full of people and people bring with them consciously or subconsciously all kinds of prejudices regardless of your name.

At this point, it's beginning to sound as though the supposed lack of prejudice on my part isn't entirely genuine.  I assure you it is.  My first art teacher worked under a pseudonym.  Sure, it was an abbreviation of his last name, but it wasn't his full, legal name, either.  By his own standard, I think he'd say that he was pretty successful, and I don't think his situation is at all that unique.  In fact, I'll give you a (very incomplete) list of other folks who use some degree of pseudonym:

Android Jones
Dr. Seuss
Eddie Guy
jD (admittedly just his initials, but he's really good so shut up)
Red Nose Studio
Rockin Jelly Bean

Like I said, really incomplete.  However, a quick glance through, and you'll find plenty of pseudonyms.  It's surprisingly common.  At the end of the day, whatever you go by — real name or fake — you can rest assured that you'll be in very good company.

Note: This article was up for less than a day when Blogger went down.  Despite Blogger asserting that they got everything back up and running, this article never returned.  So, I've had to recreate things as best I could using a very old draft.  Hopefully this one won't get lost in the ether.


  1. Many thanks to all on Facebook who helped my pull that list together. It's clear that I'm a lazy, lazy man and the last bit of this entry just wouldn't have come together without you.


  2. A quick thank you to my Facebook friends who helped flesh out the list a bit. Also, thanks for the pretty awesome discussion that ensued which got my wheels spinning in several different directions on the subject.

    Also, a big, angry shaking fist at Google for losing my original article. I think this one might be a bit better, though.


  3. Hey Steve, if you feel so inclined, I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on different names for different styles of work from the same artist. While at Illuxcon in November, as artist I was chatting with mentioned this and felt that it was pretty important in his opinion. For instance, you're Steve Belledin known for your work on Magic cards, but let's say you took an unrelated graphic design job doing a few logos or maybe wanted to pursue fine art painting bowls of fruit and such. This gentleman felt that it was important to have alternate names because clients tend to know you for a style and will be turned off if they see something seemingly unrelated on your website. What have your experiences been in this regard? Also, I'd love to hear about personal glyph design! I know it's a pretty basic assignment in most art schools, but I've never come up with a good sigil design for my name that I thought worked. Any thoughts on that topic?

  4. It's interesting, I work my name around backwards to this, I go by Cain when I'm at work and Kade, which is my real name, if it's connected to my writing. Many people find Kade (K-aid)to be hard to pronounce, spell, remember, as I was told by someone this very day in fact "It doesn't just roll off the tongue". And I can't stand hearing people mispronouncing my name, so I have a very close name that everyone knows when they hear or read it what it is.

    As far as my writing though, I want everyone, all the haters, naysayers, the crabs (pull the ones climbing out back into the bucket), everyone who ever said I couldn't get published or thought I was just plain inconsequential, everyone who knew me as Kade before I started calling myself Cain, to read the name Kade Morton on the face of that graphic novel and know that name is relatively unique and there's only one Kade Morton it could be. At Supanova Brisbane I was talking to Ben Templesmith and he said Kade was a cool name as far as the comic industry went that that it is a name that would get me remembered, so that's a bit of vindication I guess :)

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I welcome all comments, questions, and discussion so long as you keep it civil.