Woo! Got LOTS of email, Twitter action, and follow-up convo at the SMFA Facebook Group about last week’s column on stage names. Here’s just a wee bit of what came through:

I hear you. But my survival job is with kids. My acting career has involved (and will continue to involve) tasteful nudity. My stage name is not about my identity but instead about projecting my survival job until my acting career fully pays the bills (something it grows closer to doing each year, thankfully). So, what do I do?

Definitely, you’re in the market for a stage name that shields the participants of your “real life” from the choices you’re making as an artist. But be clear: Almost no one is capable of fully hiding their on-camera or on-stage persona from the rest of their lives. It’s the nature of the beast! You’ve chosen a profession that requires public attention in order to thrive… and you’re hoping to keep it under wraps that it’s you. Just on a universal, energetic scale, it’s gonna bubble up.

So, while you may find temporary relief from your reviews as an actor by using a different name in your survival job life, it won’t take long for the truth to come out. Your photo will be in the paper, a review will include a cast portrait, you’ll be on the red carpet facing an interviewer’s mic… and someone will say, “Mommy! That’s Ms. Smith!” and it’ll all come crashing down. Instantly.

Only if your pursuit of acting is taking place at the hobby level — which, by virtue of the fact that you speak about it someday (soon) paying the bills, I assume it’s not — can you be sure you have protection from the truth (and even then, not entirely sure, long-term).

Your column inspired me to get real about how I deal with my name. I love my name, and I love that it’s pronounced differently. What I DON’T love is having to explain the pronunciation or clarify it, because it is always a stumbling block for me. When I was waiting tables, I would actually avoid telling people my name just so that I could do my job faster and take their order. If someone asked my name, following their double-take, it would seriously cost me (at minimum) five minutes to pronounce my name (multiple times), explain why it’s pronounced that way, where it comes from, etc., etc., when I all I wanted was to take their order and move on.

In auditions, I always say my name loud and proud, but inevitably, someone asks about the weird pronunciation and I again, stumble over how to say it, where it comes from, etc., etc. That is, until NOW.

Because OF COURSE it should be tied into my brand: name, pronunciation, explanation of pronunciation, and all. Talk about a lightbulb moment. I sat with my name for about an hour and figured out something close to what I want to use in the future, and I already feel incredibly more confident. I’m almost embarrassed for not figuring this out sooner.

Now I know it usually takes people multiple times to get it right, and that’s totally fine with me. In 28 years, I’ve gotten used to it. It doesn’t make me mad. My only source of discomfort about my name was my own floundering with how to help it make sense to other people. But now I think I’m closer to finding an explanation that both helps with the pronunciation, AND reinforces my brand.

I freakin’ love love love this! LOVE it! Oh, man, I love it! If this is the result of my awesome column last week, I am over the moon *thrilled* in so many ways! Yes! Yesssssssss! It is all about getting down with HOW we handle the game of “Oh, really? That’s an unusual name. What’s the story?” that we *know* is gonna start up, every time we introduce ourselves.

This reminds me of one of my favorite SMFA student pitches, in which a tattooed, pierced, mohawk-wearing badass says, “Yes, they’re real. Yes, they hurt. And no, I don’t have a troubled relationship with my parents” (or something to that effect; I’m remembering back a few years). Right there, before anyone else can ask the question, she answers it. All of it. On-brand!

This *also* reminds me of Tom Wilson’s brilliant The Question Song about the only thing anyone ever wants to know when they meet him. Watch the brilliant vid here. Talk about getting ninja with the inevitable!

Thank you for this email and hooray for the ever-evolving brand-tie-in line you’ll deliver when asked about your name. I cannot wait to hear it!

Bonjour Bon,

When I was 19, my mother was going through her second divorce and changed her name back to her maidenhood. She urged me to do the same, but K — — Johnson just didn’t have enough of a ring to it. There was also a K — — Johnson in the NBA at the time, and I had already had enough of more than one head turning when my first name was called. When my name is called, I want there to be no doubt who’s responding. I’ve always seen my name in lights, so I figured changing it was a grand idea since my father had rarely been around — why give him any credit on the marquee (I shared his middle and last name) when I did all the work?

At first, because I was an absolute Star Wars nerd, I ruminated on names like K — — Chewbacca Vader, K — — Han Fett, etc. But back then I still went by my mother’s approval so those were, of course, eye-rolling no-gos. So finally I decided to take on the names of the men who had been most like a father to me; I took my middle name after the biggest badass to ever play a whip-slinging archaeologist and rebellious space pirate who defined for me what it was to be a man, Harrison Ford, and my surname from the man who had directed my first roles and shared cafeteria lunches every day in his classroom, my high school drama teacher Charlie Sweeney.

So I gathered the funds to change my birth certificate, driver’s license, Social Security, passport, and have the process published in the local paper four consecutive weeks. One month and $500-ish later, I walked out of my home town’s courthouse officially as K — — Harrison Sweeney. As soon as I started up my car, the first song on the radio eerily heralded my choice (this happens to me more and more in life) as America crooned, “You know I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name… it felt good to get out of the rain….”

It was as if the universe had chosen this moment to speak up for the first time; “Way to take the first step into a much larger world. We’ve got our eye on you. Keep it up, and there’ll be booty.”

As it turned out, my father moved back to Worland from San Diego on the fourth week of publishing. But all was, in theory, said and done.

Now, 17 years later — two years shy of being K. Harrison Sweeney as long as my given name — I have a much closer relationship with my father, a retired master chief on submarines for the US Navy, than my mother who brought me up to hate and despise being anything like him. More and more, I think of giving him what he wants most from me so that we may continue growing together. I actually just brought this up to my girlfriend yesterday, as much as it has been on my mind. Would it change my love for Wes Anderson’s canon of estranged father films?!?

I have tossed around naming my first son after him (of course, I’ll nickname him Chewie or Lando…) to continue his line, but I’m rather certain the right thing to do is to show him that amended birth certificate and go through the minor loops to keep my stage name registered with SAG-AFTRA.

To this day, only one man has ever stood at the screen tests when K. Harrison Sweeney is called up to the slate. Here’s to making sure that happens at the Dolby Theater.

Merci,
K. Harrison Sweeney

What else is there to say? I freakin’ love it! The best names are those that inspire. And yours definitely does that, sir! Huzzah!

I have a resource for your readers: It’s How to Change Your Name. A name change doesn’t have to cost a lot. There are quite a few different ways to do it in California. You don’t actually have to even go through the courts. A friend of mine used this book, and did it all that way. You can expect to spend $150 on up to $1000 to do it, depending on where and how you make it happen (whether you want a lawyer involved or not, etc.). Also remember you can do a DBA if you really love your name but want to use a different one for stage purposes only.

Ninja share! Thank you! 🙂

Thank you all. It’s been a blast hearing from so many of you who’ve gone through using different names over the years, or who have considered it. Let’s enjoy what we’re called… always! 🙂


Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!


Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/001825.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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