Help! Someone is trying to change my name!

Bon, I don’t really know who to go to to seek advice on this matter. There’s a reputable manager that is interested in me, however, she thinks I can go out for Mexican roles and therefore should change my name to something more generic and Caucasian. I am TORN at this moment because I LOVE my name and feel that I will be successful using it. She thinks it sounds too Asian and will only limit me to Asian roles.

To be honest, I don’t think I look Mexican and I don’t know that I could play Mexican anyway, simply because the culture is just too far away from ME. I’m worried that if I stick up for my name and tell her that I won’t change it, she won’t represent me (and I feel like I need her right now in my career). Do you have any idea what I should do? Thanks so much for your help! I really need it!

Such a predicament! First, let me address the “I’m worried that if I stick up for my name… she won’t represent me” part of your email.

Get over that. If you’re looking to hire a manager, you need to set off on the right foot. If you are open to making changes that go against your very core beliefs just to get on that manager’s roster, what does that tell her about how willing you will be to bend to her will on issues such as working off the card, doing nudity, shaving your head, working as a local hire five states away, etc.? I’m not saying this manager would ever ask you to do any of those things (nor am I saying, outright, that every time a manager requests a name change that it’s a bad idea). What I am saying is that you are setting the tone for the relationship right now. And to lead off with, “You mold me however you wish, even if it goes against everything I believe in,” is to give away an awful lot of power just to hire someone who is hoping to work for YOU.

See my point? It’s a way slippery slope. Tread with caution.

Now, let’s get to the issue of a name change (specifically when ethnicity is a factor in the original recommendation to make a change). First, let’s keep in mind that all a last name tells me is what your father’s father’s father’s father’s ethnicity was. Face it, we’re all a bunch of mutts for the most part and I really think fewer assumptions are being placed on what our last names say about OUR ethnicity every day.

IF you are an actor who can reasonably play several ethnicities and you have the chops to do so convincingly (meaning, you don’t just look the part, but you’ve also worked on dialects and studied the cultural differences), I think getting yourself out of a narrowly-focused range by changing your name can be a good idea. That said, your potential manager’s suggestion that you go for a more generic/Caucasian name in order to be able to play Mexican, Caucasian, and Asian seems ludicrous. A more generic name is going to make you more, well, generic. Right now, you have a very obviously Asian name and your look is multi-ethnic, which is soooooo castable! No one who sees you is going to think you’re 100% Asian or 100% Latina or 100% Caucasian, no matter what name you went by. The fact that your Asian name tips us off to the fact that you are of Asian heritage actually helps with specific casting. And we may look at you and say, “Hmm. Y’know, she could also play Brazilian.” (Of course, that’s the ethnicity of the role I called you in for last year.)

But to “go generic” or Caucasian with your name is to “bland you out.” It takes away any idea we might have about your actual ethnicity (not that your actual ethnicity is any of our business; much like your actual age, since it’s all about what you can play, not what you are) and makes it more likely you’ll be dismissed from the list, since we will have to WORK to find out what you might reasonably be able to play (like, clicking past your thumbnail and having to scour your Special Skills to see if you do any dialects or have any particular language fluency we need to know about), rather than having more information about you, just because of your name.

Remember, this is all happening at a lightning-fast pace and we’re always looking for reasons to exclude actors from the massive number of submissions we receive. If you, with a new “generic” name, have been submitted on a Latina role, you’re forcing us to “do more” in order to find out whether you actually speak Spanish, since your name doesn’t help us get to know you better. Yes, your current name would probably get you dismissed from a Latina role too, but it sounds to me that you don’t really connect with — nor have the desire to go out for — such roles.

Now, here’s an example of a name change being a great idea. A lovely Jewish girl with Irish looks had the last name of Hernandez. And she couldn’t speak a word of Spanish beyond “taco.” But because of her name, she repeatedly got called in on Latina roles, much to the frustration of the casting people and herself! So, a name change was in order to help the industry see her as she is most castable.

How are you most castable? If you are truly castable in the Latina roles your potential manager sees you as right for, maybe it’s worth a shot to see what happens. But if you’ve got no track record for such roles (heck, even the role I called you in on was a non-speaking role, so it was all about the look, which means your name and/or actual heritage had nothing to do with our decision-making process — much like commercial casting), why divorce yourself from a name with which you feel very connected?

I’d recommend that you let this manager know you’re interested in working with her, but would like to start out with your real name, to see where that takes the two of you (as a team). Absolutely, a manager’s input is incredibly valuable when it comes to crafting your image, but until you’ve seen — together — that what’s already in place isn’t working, making such a drastic change could be hard to come back from.


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/000712.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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