Stage names are used by some of the most popular acts of all time, and for good reason. Bob Dylan is a heck of a lot catchier than Robert Zimmerman. P!nk is more memorable than Alecia Moore.
In many cases, fans will see your name before they even hear your music. Your name needs to have some of the same personality that you let shine through your music and branding. For some, their given names might already work. Others must come up with a stage name.
Coming up with a stage name is difficult – it must be something you are comfortable associating your entire musical life with. Here are some general guidelines on making a great name.
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Your Stage Name Should Suit Your Music & Brand
The most important thing to consider regarding stage names is how well they fit with your music. Second, how well does your name suit your overall brand?
Not everyone is born with a catchy stage name. Elton John was born Reginald Kenneth Dwight. A fine name, but not a name that suits a marquis. Elton took his new name from members of his first band; Elton from his band mate Elton Dean and John from Long John Baldry.
The name sounds regal, rock n’ roll, glitzy, and English. It perfectly suits Elton’s music and it perfectly suits his brand. It is memorable, original, and catchy.
Of course, that is easy to say now that he is massively successful. Picking a stage name as an artist who is just starting out (and if you are picking a stage name, you are mostly likely just starting out) is a lot harder.
Look To Other Artists In Your Genre For Ideas
Different genres will have different trends in their names. This is not to say that you should copy what everyone else is doing, but it is a good place to get some ideas.
For example, rappers will often have short names with abbreviations or adjectives like “Big” or “Lil.” Here are a few rappers, their stage name, and their real name.
- Jay-Z; Shawn Carter.
- Nas; Nasir Jones.
- Lil Wayne; Dwayne Michael Carter Jr.
- Dr. Dre; Andre Young.
What can we learn from these names? For one thing, many rappers and artists in general will shorten their names. Nasir Jones became Nas. Dwayne become Lil Wayne. Andre became Dr. Dre.
Let’s take a look at some country artists for more examples.
- Troyal Garth Brooks; Garth Books.
- Ernest Clayton Walker Jr.; Clay Walker.
- Eileen Regina Edwards; Shania Twain.
- Audrey Faith Perry; Faith Hill.
- Alvis Edgar Owens Jr.; Buck Owens.
Country musicians tend to do a couple things. They will remove part of their full name that doesn’t fit and go by their middle names, like Troyal Garth Brooks or Ernest Clayton Walker Jr. This works well, as it is easy to transition to going by your middle name.
Or if your name doesn’t suit your music or suit the stage, you can invent a new “country” sounding name. Eileen Regina Edwards became Shania Twain, by taking the Ojibwe word for “I’m on my way” and her adoptive father’s last name, Twain, and making a new name out of it. Alvis Edgar Owens gave himself the country sounding nickname, “Buck.”
You would be surprised by how many artists go by stage names. Do a little bit of research into how some of your favorite artists got their stage names, and then try a few of those methods on yourself.
Use Family Names
Working with family names is a good place to start when choosing a stage name. First, if your stage name includes part of your real name, fans, friends, and family will have an easier time with your transition. It also may be easier for you to accept the new name.
Second, family names offer you an opportunity for a good story. If you are going by a stage name or moniker, you will inevitably get asked about the origin story of the name. Using family names gives you a chance to create a story for your artist career.
You can also consider going by just a first or last name. Plenty of artists have done this over the years; Beyoncé, Madonna, Wynonna – to name a few.
Did you have a nickname growing up? How did you like it? It may be time to bust out that old nickname! Nicknames are unique, catchy, and short. Nicknames often have a good story attached, whether it is a family story or not.
My only word of advice on using family names or using just one name, is to make sure it is searchable and memorable. If your last name is Smith, maybe don’t use that. It is just too common!
It is also worth giving your name a quick Google search. Make sure that your name is not associated with anything you would not want to be asked about in an interview. You do not want to be mistaken for some famous criminal or notorious historical figure.
Look To Songs, Books, Movies & TV Shows
Earlier, I mentioned Wynnona. When she and her mother were in The Judds, they both chose stage names. Her mother changed her name to Naomi, which she always liked.
Wynonna became massively famous, and went by only her first name, which was also a stage name. She apparently took her name from the song “Route 66” which mentioned a town in Arizona called “Wynonna.”
Looking to your favorite books, songs, movies, and TV shows is a great way to come up with name. Characters are often named after their personality. This can be a great way to come up with a name for your artist brand or personality.
Start looking out for potential names, nicknames, or even cool town names in art. Don’t be afraid to borrow from these sources!
Start Brainstorming & Getting Feedback
Once you decide that you need a stage name, start brainstorming right away. It can take a long time to find something that feels right.
Write down every idea that comes into your head. Even if it does not seem like it is the right idea at the time, an idea can sit with you for a while and take on meaning over time.
My friend goes by the moniker Field Guide, which was not the first or only idea he had. We were on tour and someone was reading a book with Field Guide in the title. Someone mentioned that was a good name for his project. He wrote it down, weeks later deciding it was the most fitting option.
It is important to let your stage name or moniker sit for a while before committing. It is a big change. Changing your name is a pretty big pain if you’ve already spent years working under another name.
Get feedback from friends and people in your music community. See what they think of the name and if they have any criticism, take that into account.
You should also note how you feel when you tell them your name. If you are feeling embarrassed about the name, if you hate saying the name, if you have to repeat the name a few times for them to understand it, these may be red flags.
Questions To Ask While Brainstorming
While you are brainstorming, ask yourself these questions to start thinking outside the box.
If Someone Didn't Know You, But Checked Out Your Instagram Page, What Kind Of Music Would They Expect To Hear?
This is important. You need to have an idea of how you would like to be perceived by potential fans. If you want to be perceived as edgy, you have to be able to own an edgy online presence, edgy name, and an edgy look – whatever that means to you.
Is My Name Marketable In The Digital World?
Speaking of Instagram, you need to make sure that you can fit your name into an Instagram handle, or a TikTok handle, or a Facebook page for that matter.
How does the name Google search? It is not essential, but it is handy if your name is unique enough to be searchable.
It is also important that the name be memorable enough and easy enough to spell, that someone who hears the name on the radio could Google your name or look up your Instagram.
Is Your Name Needlessly Offensive?
There is nothing wrong with having a shocking or surprising name. However, you should take care to be socially self-aware when you are picking a name.
Remember, this is your art. You do not want people to write off your music because they find your name distasteful. You also do not want to be denied opportunities (shows, showcases, media ops) because your name is too offensive to be aired or given a platform.
Who Is The Intended Audience?
Consider your audience when you pick a name. Picking a name that has some sort of relevance to the people that like your kind of music will help them remember who you are.
Make 100% Sure That You Can Commit To The New Stage Name
You need to be 100% sure that you can commit to your name. If you are not sure about the name, I would recommend going by your real name until you come up with something you can commit to.
There is no use in changing your name a dozen times. Going by your own name and then changing your stage name is an easier transition than cycling through a dozen different names.
You need to be able to say your name over and over without hating it. You need to be able to explain the story behind the name 100 times without getting too bored of the story. You need to be able to put that name on the music you’ve painstakingly created and feel good about it.
What To Do Once You Have a Stage Name
Once you have a stage name, you should not waste time in changing it. Do the following as soon as you can:
Register Your Domain Name & Start Working On A New Website
It's important to spread your new stage name in as many ways as possible, and this is a good first step to take.
Claim Your Social Media Handles
In general, it's a good idea to claim your handle everywhere, including sites you might not end up using
Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, and SoundCloud are a good starting point.
Create A New Email Address
You should be able to set up a custom email address with your new domain name (e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org).
Make It Official
You should change your name officially as soon as possible. Don’t wait. The sooner you can change your name, the sooner people will start referring to you by that name.
Get New Pictures & Branding
Next up – new pictures, new branding. Make it fresh. Make it noticeable. You want to get people talking about your new name!
Make New Videos
New videos are the best way to get your new branding out. You can make the videos of anything – covers or originals – but the point is to further establish your name and new brand.
Release New Music
The last step is to start putting out new music. Take your time and build up to your big releases. Get in people’s face. You need them to know your new name and your new music.
Final Thoughts On Picking A Stage Name
Picking a stage name is hard, but it can be done! Brainstorm as much as you can, let the names sit for a while, try out a few, and then pick one. Once you pick a new name, stick to your guns. It can be hard to make a big switch like that, but that is part of being an artist.