Pseudonyms, Pen Names, and Aliases for Artists

Promoting your art under a pseudonym: what do you need to know?

Ever heard of Michelangelo Merisi, Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi, Dominikos Theotokòpulos, Moishe Shagal, or Marcus Rothkowitz?

pseudonym art history

These names may not mean a lot to you, but they might if we told you the names these men are more commonly known by: Caravaggio, Donatello, El Greco, Marc Chagall, and Mark Rothko.

Working under a pseudonym is a big decision for an artist, and one that shouldn’t be made lightly. Once you make your decision, you need to stick with it. Changing your name multiple times across your career can greatly hurt your marketability as an artist. Long-time fans might not know who you are anymore, older collectors won’t be able to find you, and you will lose the carefully created reputation you have earned. Make sure you have considered all factors before making your decision.

 

Why should you work  under a pseudonym?

Common and Confusing Birth Names

One of the most common reasons to work under a pseudonym is if your name is either too common or too confusing. For example, Pablo Picasso might not have had such a memorable name if he went by Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso.

How to find out if your name is too common

Do an internet search of your name. Look on Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Search for your name and close spellings of your name. Search for your name + “artist.”

Artist Nilo Awakenings 5, Digital Artwork on Canvas
Artist Nilo Awakenings 5, Digital Artwork on Canvas
  • Are there more than 10 other people with your name?
  • Is there another professional artist with your name?
  • Is there somebody with your name who is famous in another way?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes” then you should strongly consider using an alias. Even if they aren’t artists, everyone else with your name is your competition: they’ll all make it harder for people to find you online.

For example, let’s look at the common “John Smith.” When you type in “John Smith art” into Google, you get over 288,000,000 results. Needless to say, that’s quite a few John Smiths that potential customers are going to have to feed through in order to find the correct artist – you!

How to decide if your name is “confusing”

This can’t be learned through a Google search, but you should already have a good idea of it. How often do people ask you to spell your name? How often do people mispronounce your name? How long is your name? Six syllables should likely be the maximum.

Also consider the market you are in. If you are planning on marketing your work in a new country, consider the language restraints of the native speakers. Some languages don’t use the same pronunciations of certain letters, so try to get in contact with somebody from that country and ask them whether your name will be understandable to the general public.

Don’t feel like you have to hide your heritage. You don’t need to white-wash your name to appease your audience: just see if there are some simplifications you can do to make your name more accessible. See what you can do to make your name less confusing without losing your identity.

Personal Life Conflicts

VAST Connection
Agora artist VAST started his career as a graffiti artist and kept his street art name in order to grow off the momentum he’d already established.

Privacy: Some artists are very open about their personal life. They’ll share every last detail of their personal biography to anyone who asks. However, other artists prefer to remain a little more anonymous. A pseudonym will allow you to create a level of separation between your personal life and your professional life as an artist.

Legality: Many street artists or artists who create very controversial pieces will work under a pseudonym. The art world isn’t all white wine and fancy parties; some artists are arrested for the work they do.

Multiple Professions: If you have a professional career other than your art, then you may want to consider using two separate names. For example, if you are a doctor, you may want to keep your given name for your medical practice and use a new name for your artwork. Otherwise, your two businesses may conflict with each other: when people are looking for your medical practice they may not find it if all of the internet results are about your artwork, and vice versa.

Marketing Advantages

Create a new identity: A pseudonym can be a good opportunity to reinvent yourself. Building a captivating new persona requires communicating a clear sense of your identity as an artist. A new or altered name can be powerful in redefining your narrative and establishing what you stand for.

Alexandre Ouiary took this to a new level when he pretended to be Chinese for over a decade, creating artwork with an “oriental” theme under the name Tao Hongjing. His thought process made sense, in a way: he knew he wanted to break into the Asian art market and that collectors would  not buy Chinese artwork from a French artist. However, the publicity that resulted when his hoax was exposed was very negative, and he likely will not be able to continue working under that name.

Remove any identity: Sometimes, however, an identity can interfere with some artists’ messages. Ethnicity, national background, and even gender can sometimes create preconceptions that alter how your viewers see your work. If you would prefer for your name to be androgynous, take a cue from famed authors J.K. Rowling or Harper Lee (real names Joanne Rowling and Nelle Harper Lee), who used slightly altered versions of their true names to keep from being gender-identifiable and keep their work from being influenced by gender stereotypes.

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Le quattro virtù (Four Virtues) by KOLE
Le quattro virtù (Four Virtues) by KOLE

Rebranding: If you are about to start an entirely new style of artwork, if you’ve recently come into bad press, or if you’re about to begin a collaboration, you may want to use a pseudonym to “rebrand” yourself as an artist. Many huge companies have undergone a name change: Google used to be called BackRub, Pepsi used to be called Brad’s Drink, and the TV station ABC Family will soon be changing their name to Freeform to attract an older audience.

Be careful when you are rebranding. Pick a name that “goes” with your new style of artwork. For example, the musician Snoop Dogg uses the pseudonym Snoop Lion when releasing reggae albums, and David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” persona was intended to appear otherworldly.

What are the possible disadvantages of using a pseudonym for your art?

If you are already established as an artist, it can be a bad idea to begin working under a new name. You will confuse your followers and possibly lose your audience’s loyalty.

Creating an artist name can also be addictive. Once people realize they can “change” their name, they tend to go overboard, switching up regularly and several times. You cannot build a consistent following if you keep changing your name, as you will lose out on the power of referrals and name recognition. If you do create a new artist name, commit. 

Having an artist name can cause some confusion in your personal life. Close friends and family may not consistently remember or respect your “new” name. Be clear with them that you are using your new name to promote your artwork, and ask for them to remember to refer to you by your pseudonym whenever speaking to new people about your artwork.

Sometimes, creating a new name can lead to some embarrassing mix-ups. For example, the Nokia Lumia translates in Spanish to “prostitute.” Just be careful when getting creative about what your new name could mean, and do some research before you publish it anywhere!

How to Create an Artist Name/Pseudonym

If you’ve decided that you need to promote your artwork under a pseudonym, deciding on your new name will be a difficult and scary task. Here are some simple strategies to create your art alias:

"Office" Artura Photo Art, Photographic Print on Metal 16" x 24"
“Office” Artura Photo Art, Photographic Print on Metal 16″ x 24″

1. Add an initial. If your name is John Smith and you’re looking to start off your career as an artist you can differentiate yourself from the hundreds of other John Smiths out there with a simple extra initial or two: “John P. K. Smith” or “G. John Smith” can make a world of difference and won’t actually change your name too much.

2. Combine your names. Many of our artists, like painter DAVO, have opted for this route to make their names shorter or easier to remember. Shortening your name can create a distinct, memorable aura around yourself and your art. It becomes an easy and quick to disseminate moniker, something catchy, indelible and straightforward. “John Smith” can become “Jomith” or “Smithon.”

3. Use a different part of your name. Maybe your middle name or maiden name are more ‘interesting’ than your current first and last name. Some of our artists just use variations of their first or last name to promote their works, like Mando and Goodash.

4. Play with words and translations. Agora artist Tony Svensson publishes his photography under the name “Artura Photo Art” with “Artura” being a combination of the words “art” and “nature” – the perfect name for his botanical-centric pieces.

5. Remove some syllables. When Mark Rothko changed his name out of fear of antisemitism, he simply dropped the “us” and “witz” from Markus Rothkowitz. Whether you’re changing your name to remove cultural associations, or if you think it’s simply too long for your audience, see what interesting things can happen when you drop a few syllables and change nothing else!

6. Think about what style of work you are creating and who your audience is. Although something like “Plumpy Pumpernickel” is definitely memorable and eye-catching, it doesn’t look serious or legitimate on an exhibition poster. “Plumpy” might be an appropriate name for a satirical artist or children’s illustrator, it won’t work so well for a professional portraiture artist.

Once you’ve come up with a name you’re happy with, “test drive” it for a few weeks. Say it out loud, tell some trusted close friends. Practice a signature. If you like it after a few weeks, make it official. Start signing your artworks, publish your website with your new artist name, create social media pages, and tell your friends and family.

 

Do you have any questions for the art experts? Comment below or email us at blogs@agora-gallery.com

With over 30 years of experience, Agora Gallery offers artists the opportunity to present their work to a broad range of national and international art collectors and buyers. Looking for an opportunity to enhance your career? Visit our Gallery Representation And Artist Promotion page for more information.

If there is a topic you would like to learn more about, we’d love to hear from you! Post a comment below, or send suggestions for future articles to blogs@agora-gallery.com

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62 comments

  • Hey Guys how would I dress like an artist if my influence is pop art?

  • Hello everybody. I’m pretty new to 3d printing and I have quite a few questions on the topic, so I hope you will not get mad at me for asking here at least couple of them. I think before I’ll get seriously into designing I should focus on the software itself, and that’s what I would like to ask you about. Mainly, should I look for the most crudest software there is or would it be better to look for something more complex? I’m worried that I’ll get some unwanted habits while working on less complex software. Currently I’m using some online software called SelfCAD (I didn’t have to download anything). I’ve read some good opinions about it, but maybe you could share yours as well? The second question is about the CAD software as well: should I search for software that would allow me design and slice it in it, or should I use a different software for each of them? The one I’m suing allows me to do both i it. Does it even make a difference? Weirdly, I couldn’t find the answer to that, as it seems like most blogs want to focus on the very basics (like what is 3d printing and so on), and while the answers to those questions are fine, it seems like no one wants to go into the details (it looks like some of them even plagiarise each other! I swear I’ve read the same answers to the same questions on at least 3 different articles) but I’m getting off-topic… The last question is about 3d pens. Would it be possible to somehow convert whatever I draw with a 3d pen to a 3d model in a software? For example, if I’ll draw a cat with 3d pen, would it be possible to get its design in a software? I’m not sure how that could even work, but the very idea sounds interesting to me. Anyway, I think I’ll stop here just in case no one will answer me and all of this writing will be for nothing. I’m sorry that I’m using your content to ask questions, but I hope you can relate and advice a newbie like me. Anyway, thank you for posting. I did learn something from this and that’s always appreciated. Thank you, and I hope to hear back from you very soon 🙂

  • Was John Petersham an artists pseudonym or alias.

    Who did it belong to if I can request the information?

    When can the truth be revealed?

  • Hi , my name is Lobke Vandendael , and i want a special name to sign my artwork and to use when i write a book. But i really have no ideas. I don’t want my name in it , i want something really sepcial and attracting.
    Someone who has advice?

  • I need a better pseudonym. My names Aswathy Biju. Ive been going by ‘Kyzzer’ to promote my artworks for the past two years. My art hasn’t really taken off yet and I’m starting to hate the name I’ve been using. I wanted to re-brand my art.

    • Bijou means jewel in french. Probably pronounced the same was as your last name. Maybe it would be interesting playing around with that?

  • This article was the best one i found. But i just can’t find the perfect “stage name” for me. Im an amateur digital artist/animator for now, i enjoy working in a game studio making art for or just doing logos/animations/designs on order. My name is difficult, for me to make “the” name is like inposibble because im not creative in original names. My name – Veronica Valentine is close to its English translation. I wanted to use Vivie but its too childish and i grew to hate it. Then Nikita which is Veronica in Russian. But i dont like the sound of it. Now im thinking about Selkie ( random mystical creature) or Ronnie (nick for the name Veronica in English), one is related to the name and other one isnt related at all but i like it more. Well i am not sure if both of these names will be ok after 20 years when I’ll get more professional. I want to use a pseudonym. And then there is a signature. I looked on many digital artists on how they do it, they just write for example “Zeronis” or “yeagar”, but then there are artists who are called for e. “Finchwing” but they signature their art by their real name “Chloe Peters”. Idont have a given name like that nor a stage name from it. I ask can you for help. ? What would you do if you had my name.? I have been struggling for a year now and i cant produse my art because i dont have a name.

    • Hi, Nikita is not a variation of Veronica, this is a male given name. In Russia, we also use Veronica(3rd syllable is stressed) and a diminutive form is Nika(first syllable). Nika Valentine sounds good to me by the way 🙂
      You could also separate your name into two parts and you will get two Russian female names – Vera and Nika.

  • What do I do to come up with an art pseudonym my name is Kevin James Mulder and I like to make pop art I have a fun personality and I want this name for Instagram,etc.

    • Just play around with your name like KJ Mull. Or Mulic Kames. Kane mulic. J Mulic. Idk why I like Mulic . But it’s your own taste what sounds better for You

  • Hello, is anyone there?

  • What pseudonym can I use for Kevin James Mulder?

  • Looking for the oil painting artist that signs their work JEM

  • You can use different names for different genres. For example, JK Rowling used a different pen name when she started writing crime novels, so the novel wouldn’t be associated with Harry Potter.

  • Hi you have a fine website It was very easy to post all the best

  • Hi I’m having trouble with my pseudonym my name is Kevin James Mulder I like to draw pop art any ideas?

    • Hi Kevin!
      Thank you for your message. We think that your pseudonym should represent you, your art, and your personality. Maybe you can ask for your family or friends for an advice after you put together a small list of potential pseudonyms?

      • What do you mean a pseudonym that represents me, my work and personality give me some examples

      • Hey, can you please tell me what other ways I could come up with an art pseudonym?

  • Thanks for your incisive article. You are even kind enough to help people choose their new names. That’s so sweet! The Agora gallery seems so considerate that as such I would value your opinion.

    I’m 52 yr old artist and have been in an Artist collective for about 27 years and we achieved a certain amount of fame. We came from the London squat party/rave scene of the mid 80’s. We made Large-scale sculptures from scrap-metal, and I guess aligned to the world of graffiti – (now Street art) so not ‘high art’ then. We are called The Mutoid Waste Company
    We were never taken seriously by the Art world, but we’ve gained a massive public following from parties and music festivals.

    We did an exhibition in in London 2009 called Mutate Britain with 30 000 attendee’s over three weeks. (It was a large warehouse!) The public love us, Art dealers not so much.

    I have had a pseudonym for 25 years (Wreckage International) it fits the ‘Apocalyptic’ look of my sculpture and my Comic book graphic art.

    But, I have also always done photorealistic, figurative oil paintings, but only now am I trying to sell them.

    Now, I hope that there is a common thread of humor, satire, attention to detail and composition through all my work that people might recognize, but I guess that is a big ask – Post-Apocalyptic Scrap metal – Comic art – Fine art.

    To make matters worse (or better) I did an Honorarium for Burningman that was very well received and is again large whimsical metal sculpture, titled The Lost Tea Party.
    Does this help or hinder my 3’x4’ oil paintings of twisted pin-ups?

    It’s obvious to see how an artist like Marco Cochrane’s 40-foot tall Bliss Dance figure compliments his 15 inch bronze figure’s and his charcoal or pencil studies or whatever, they have an obvious theme (and are totally awesome).

    I know that galleries have to see a consistency in an artists work to be able to effectively market them and maintain a collectors confidence in the work.

    I have thought about returning to my real name for my “oils’ but I risk losing or alienating the people who have followed my career for 27 years – albeit as one member of a collective.

    So my questions are;
    Do you think a reputable Gallery/Dealer would take me seriously given the diversity of my artistic output?
    And should I change my name to be accepted into the gallery world?

    I really would value your opinion on this.

    Wreckage ; )

    my Sculpture is here: https://flic.kr/s/aHskzcyUic
    My Graphics here: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmexLioV
    my paintings here: https://flic.kr/s/aHsky27PvS
    My Burning man piece here: https://flic.kr/s/aHskvkC4WN

    • Hello Wreckage,
      Thank you for your message. As someone who has been a member of an artist collective for over 27 years, your work is bound to have evolved over that time. That is never a bad thing, also diverse styles of work appeal to a larger audience range. With regards to your name, there are many fine artists who work under an alias, I think your unique name sets you apart from the crowd and it would be a shame to let it go.

  • Hello,

    After 13 years of being known under my real name, I have decided to change my name because I feel that my work took a drastic change and want to start everything over and give my new work a chance with more consistency instead of giving an image of permanent change. Just to give you an idea, the 2 galleries that were representing my work (40 x 40”) were selling it for around USD 4500. Does it mean that I also have to decrease and readjust my price to my new name/identity? If yes, what happens if my collectors find out? Thank you in advance for your reply.

  • Hello,
    Thank you for your article.
    I need an advice with a dilemna I have with my career and name.
    I am an artist for now 13 years, have exhibited in art fairs (Scope, Volta…) and have a few collectors who bought my work through the years.
    Galleries representing my work have closed down in the past years.
    My work recently took a dramatic change and I have not shown it yet. I feel that my previous work could damage this radical change and could even be a big turn off to galleries and new collectors so I am thinking of a fresh new start with a new name. I feel that my new work could be “the one” I have been looking for these years and do not want it to be tainted by the previous work. Do I need to let my collectors know about that, will the value of my sold work change? Does it mean that by starting with a new name, I will have to sell my work with a lower price? And most of all, is this a good idea to change my name? Sorry for the long mail…. Thank you in advance for your reply. T H

    • Dear T. H.,
      Our advice is to do what feels right for you. If you feel that starting over with a different name would represent better your current style, then you should do it. Before making a drastic change, start by testing the waters. See how the public reacts. Maybe you can create new social media pages. Ask a small group of collectors what they think about these changes. If the initial feedback is good, then make the big step. Good luck!

      • Thank you for your quick reply.
        How about the pricing of the new work with the new name? Do I have to adjust it to a price of someone just starting in the art world or do I keep the pricing I have now?
        All best

  • This is very helpful information! Thank you!
    When I apply for art competitions, can I legally use my pen name and let them know later my real name. I do have an LLC for my pen name. It just feels strange to enter my pen name in the ‘First’ and ‘Last’ name boxes on an entry form.

    Any thoughts?

    • Hi Marie! It’s advisable to enter an art competition with your real name and inform the organization in charge of your pen name so in case you are selected, the announcement will state the name desired by you.

  • This was so useful! I want to change my art name very slightly from ‘Mr Mead’ to ‘Tom Mead’ as I want to get more into illustration and think the former looks odd on a book. Yet it is fine if I paint a mural.
    Any help would be great. This sites very useful!!

  • Hi , I’m an hip hop musician n also a self writer n would like too know a few things. My names Stanley designers n use cool nature as artist for cool by nature music dba name n Stanley stone for another alies, n for writing. My question is if do I have pay for any alies, so no one can use names?

    • Hi Stanley, you do not usually have to pay for any aliases. You should, however, make sure that no one else is using the same alias as you.

  • Several Art Deco Artists used pseudonyms D.H. chiparus used AUDIN and DARCOURT on his sculptures..

  • Thanks for this. I was really at odds with how frivolous I was being considering an alias, until you reminded me of the historical (and sensible) context.

  • Hi, I have a separate issue. I was married for 30years and had a married name, yet always signed artworks with the initials of my maiden name, which is more like a logo signature CdV

    I haven’t made work for sale for several years, and am divorced now but still use my married name professionally. For consistency, it is important I use CdV, but I risk losing my market from friends and colleagues as people won’t recognise me by my maiden name. Advice please!!

    • Dear Carolyn,

      You are right, you might suffer a loss in supporters if you were to change your signature. Have you considered sending out a newsletter to inform all your friends and clients?

      However, we do agree that you should probably continue to use your old signature.

  • Last night I cannot sleep well. It was irritating me. After seeing your post my mind becoming blooming. I need a cup of HOT coffee. I am keeping your article and bookmark your article in browser. Thank you so so much : )

  • Very interesting…and very true. Looking at many artist and particularly famous athletes that used pseudonyms. Rocky Mariciano, Rocky Graziano, Sugar Ray Robinson, Jersey Joe Walcott; all not their real names. They were great athletes, yes,…but the new names really helped make them memorable.

  • Thank you! That was very thorough!

  • Wow! Cool post. You make a nice post. It will help us a lot. I want to say thank you very much 🙂

  • Who was the European artist “Kaufman” that used several pseudonyms in 19 C ? Where was he from and what were some of his pseudonyms?

    • Hi Henry,

      Karl Kauffman was an Austrian artist. He used a number of pseudonyms, namely – Byon, H. Carnier, W. Carnier, F. Gilbert, O. Halm, C.Charpentier, J. Holmstedt, Charles Marchand, R. Merkner, B. Lambert, E. Leutner, M. Heger, Hobart, L. van Howe / van Hove, R. Jäger, Laarsen, Lundberg, F. Marchant, J. Marchant, C. Poul, F. Rodek, J. Rollin, Taupiac, L. Voigt or R. Benda

  • What pseudonym can I use for Adedayo Oluwadunsin Olusola Ojo

    • Yo. D. Ojo
      Adedayo Ojo – maybe not – too popular
      A.O.O.Ojo
      Adayo Ojo –
      You have many many possibilities. Start typing or writing them out. Write your name backwards. Or forget your name, and rewrite it! Dont forget to google the name(s) you come up with.

  • What happens with copyright of artwork using a pseudonym? I have produced very dark art in the past and want to move onto other art now and leave that behind and I think the only way is to use another name. So, will all work I produce still have the same copyright rules applied using a pseudonym? Thanks.

    • Hi Scott!

      Yes, the normal copyright laws would apply to all of your works even if you use a pseudonym. You can find more information here. That is applicable to people in The United States though, if you belong to another country, we advise you to check you local copyright laws.

      Hope this helped!

  • What Pseudonym can I use for Patricia Anne Silva David… can’t really think of one.. Thanks.

    • I think Patt Ann/Anne would work just fine

    • I think using your initials “P.S.” sounds interesting. You could try variations on that, such as P.S. David, P.S. Davi, P.S. Anne, P.S. Davinne… Keep experimenting and use whatever you like best.

  • I already know of the pseudonym I want to use. How does that work when it comes to art sales and such? Like if someone writes a check to my pseudonym, do I need to open a bank account under that name? Do I need some kind of legal document saying I’m “Doing Business As…?” Thanks for the help.

    JYW

  • I currently work at a national museum. Each year we have an exhibit for up and coming artists. Since I started working there I’ve have thought about entering a few pieces in the show but I want to get in on my own merit, not just because I work there; additionally I don’t want the fact that I work there to give them reason to not consider me. I’ve hinted around, and I don’t think the latter is an issue. I’m also an extremely private and somewhat introverted person. So keeping my anonymity is kind of important to me. I’d actually rather people not know who I am. My question is how do I submit work under a different name for consideration to the show? If selected after jury, when do I reveal my true identity to be paid if the piece is sold, or even reclaim it if it doesn’t?

  • Me ha resultado muy interesante todo lo que he leído de su galería y personal que la dirige. Buena información. Me gustaría seguir recibiendo noticias de ustedes. Muchas gracias

  • I’ve taken this route myself. For me it was partially about privacy and partially because in due course I will have both a “retail art” identity and a contemporary art identity. Under my Perriman name I produce fairly straightforwards landscapes but the big project I have been working on since autumn will be released under a different name to avoid alienating my existing collectors.

    I have questions of etiquette. When introducing yourself to galleries, what is the best way to bring the pseudonym up and when should this be done? When dealing direct with clients, I currently don’t mention it until it’s time for them to pay – is there a better way?

    • Dear Alan,

      Clients should know artists by the name they give – so depending on which project they are buying, the artist should introduce themselves as that from the start to avoid confusion about the identity. When the check is written, they can say “my birth name…” so it can be deposited and taxed, etc.

      Approaching galleries is the same. Artists should say their pen name. If they sign a contract, then they tell them their birth name for legal reasons. Of course, they need to always be honest with their gallerists, since those relationships are based on mutual trust. The gallerist should be aware right from the start that they also have a separate body of work by a different name. Some gallerists may love this and be excited to represent “two artists” under one person.

      Hope this helps, Alan!

  • my name artist is juan manuel quagliato,quagliato is family name of my mother……

    im a artist argentinian .i was born in junin,pcia de buenos aires in 1972

    my artist godfather is the painter argentinian mariano sapia

    i dedicated for painting from 2003