How to choose your professional name for Equity and Spotlight
One of the most important decisions you take in your performing career is what your professional name will be. Most performers keep their own name, but you need to ensure this is unique and isn’t easily confused with other performers.
This is an issue both Equity and casting directory Spotlight get plenty of questions about from new members. We asked Equity’s Head of Membership Matt Hood for his advice on picking your performing name.
For performers choosing a unique, professional name is key to establishing yourself in a highly competitive industry. Whether by word of mouth, in theatre programmes, television credits or social media exposure, your name is your brand - the means by which you will be identified.
But what makes a good professional name? The easiest place to start is your legal name, which if distinct enough is a ready-made brand – think Benedict Cumberbatch or Keira Knightley.
But if not – if you’re Steve Smith or David Jones – then you will need to consider changing your name to make yourself more identifiable. I call this the Google test – if you search for you own name and you’re not the only search result or aren’t in the top results then your brand is not strong enough.
The next step is the creative part, and only you can decide what name you feel most comfortable with.
Perhaps you’ll keep your first name (it’s what most people call you) and change your surname – a mother’s maiden name or a double-barrelled name is common. Or maybe you’re sick of being Boris, and now you can be the Jamie you always wanted.
You also need to be aware of the global nature of the industry. Checking on IMDB is a must, and a good way to ensure that you are not the tenth person to try to establish a career in your name. You don’t really want people thinking that this is your first job since a TV pilot in the 90s, nor do you want to be confused with an ‘adult’ performer.
When you apply to join Equity or Spotlight you will not be allowed membership if your professional name is already in use. Although most actors will be members of both, there will be some who are not, so you need to check with us both.
You also need to bear in mind that Equity covers a wider range of performers – singers, models, dancers – and the creative personnel like theatre directors and designers. Not all Equity members choose to advertise on our website, so it is best to check with us over the phone regarding a name’s availability.
Neither Equity nor Spotlight will allow initials, middle names, misspellings or abbreviations to distinguish between members – so that’s no Judi P Dench, no Emma Louise Watson, no Thandy Neuton and no Mike Caine. But if you’ve done the simple steps above, you won’t have to worry about that.
If you’ve any questions about your name in Spotlight, you can email them on firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their name advice page. At Equity once you have completed an application form we will get directly in touch with you if there is another member with the name that you have put down as your first choice.