By Mae Ross | Posted Nov. 19, 2014, 3 p.m.
Not all actors need or use stage names, but for some, it’s the right way to go. Some actors choose to legally change their names in court, but many can use and register stage names without ever having to legally change it. In fact, some actors choose to simultaneously use their real names and stage names to keep their work and personal lives separate. So how do you discern whether or not to use a stage name?
1. If you need to avoid union confusion. To avoid confusion, SAG-AFTRA does not allow working actors to use identical screen names. If an actor’s name is already being utilized, the new union member must choose a new name. Sometimes that change is as simple as adding or removing a middle initial (like Michael Fox versus Michael J. Fox), but sometimes the name change is more significant and involved. For instance, Michael Keaton was born Michael Douglas, but his career was preceded by Michael Douglas, who beat him to the union registry.
2. If you have a very popular or common name. Union rules aside, actors take stage names for a number of other reasons. If your name is a common one, there are most likely other people with your same name. Actors with particularly common last names (Smith, Johnson, etc.) are likely to change their names. Maybe that’s why Caryn Elaine Johnson became Whoopi Goldberg.
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