Advice on Choosing an Equity name

Posted on July 22, 2010


As you are probably aware,  no two people in the Actors’ union Equity can share the same name.  It works on a first come, first served basis so if you apply to Equity and someone already has your name registered, you have to choose another name.  The form also tells you, helpfully, that you can’t have a name that is too similar to anyone else either.  It gives the example of someone choosing Judy M Dench as their stage name.  It is essentially to avoid confusion. Your new name will have no legal basis, you can keep your real name for anything other than your professional acting work, but many actors choose to change their name by deed poll as well, for simplicity.

Harold Leek (Howard Keel)

So, Maurice Micklewhite became Michael Caine, David McDonald became David Tennant (after Neil Tennant from the Pet Shop Boys) Francis Ethel Gumm became Judy Garland, Norma Jeane Baker became Marilyn Monroe and (perhaps my favourite) plain old Archibald Leach became the deliciously sophisticated Cary Grant. Oddly, names become free again once an actor dies, so presumably I could legitimately call myself Laurence Olivier, should I wish it (I don’t).

Tony Beke

Anyhow, let’s get to the point.  A student recently asked me for some advice when choosing a stage name.  These are the points I came up with.

1. Don’t change your name unless you really have to for Equity reasons.

2. Always change your surname rather than your first name, if possible. Your mind is hardwired to respond to the combination of sounds that make up your first name. Changing it will mean a period of readjustment and slow reactions to the new name.

3. When changing your surname, try to pick something related to you in some way. A middle name or a mother’s maiden name. You’ll feel more connected to it rather than it being this alien word attached to your first name all of a sudden.

4. “Cool” sounding names quickly lose their shine and become embarrassing.  They can date quickly as well.  Try to choose a timeless name.  Ask colleagues and tutors for their opinions if in doubt.  I know quite a few people who have chosen peculiar exotic names like Foxy Banjo and changed them quickly the following year.  However, even once you’ve changed it, you still have to suffer a byline under your new name reading “formerly known as…” for a few years.  So, don’t take the decision lightly.  Think about it.  A name helps to define you.  Along with your headshot, it is the first thing most directors, agents and casting directors will learn about you.  Don’t make a damaging first impression with an (unhelpfully) peculiar name.

Posted in: Uncategorized