What’s in a name?


Dear Artist,

It has recently been discovered that the works of William Shakespeare were actually written by another person with the same name. And lately, around this studio, there’ve been a few anonymous letters like this one: “If I look for my name on the Internet, up comes an artist with my exact name and spelling who is not me. Even worse, the subject matter this person deals in is nothing with which I want to be associated. I’m considering using another name and maybe even one with the other gender. I’m thinking of continuing to use my real name as well but only for paintings that would go to people in my area. What do you think?”

Thanks, Anonymous. Seeing as we are now actors on a worldwide stage, you’re touching on a sensitive problem. Artists are well aware of the google-ization of our small world. Sometimes just putting in a middle initial will do the trick. For folks with commonplace names I recommend dragging up a historical or family name and inserting it. You’ll begin to see more and more three-name names in the 21st Century. These days people may not even take your card or your number. They just google you. Incidentally, I don’t recommend changing your gender. It’s been done. I’m told that it smarts. Be proud of the gender you have been given.

If you accept my current dictum for success in the art game — “get good, get unique, get noticed” — a name like Richard Brown, pleasant as it is, might not cut it. Recently we made the ultimate boo-boo by publishing one of Richard Brown’s letters and illustrating it with the work of another Richard Brown. Andrew fixed the problem quickly when the Browns in question arose in amused confusion.

But more than anything there’s the value of a unique identity. While we are all part of a great human family — with only a few degrees of separation–we owe it to ourselves to sign our names uniquely. A name is an entity on which a career hangs. Never underestimate the value of ego. Do whatever it takes to find and hold the person that you are and can become. The Kabalarians may be on to something. This identity, this brand, becomes the true you. You are the one you need to be comfortable with. As Sammy Davis Jr. said, “I gotta be me.” A name may seem a small thing, certainly not greater than the work attached to it, but a name is part of the package. “For a man to achieve all that is demanded of him he must regard himself as greater than he is.” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

Best regards,


PS: “I’m beginning to consider myself stronger than all those around me, and the good opinion I have of myself has only been reached after mature consideration.” (Paul Cezanne, to his mother)

Esoterica: I was surprised to notice another Robert Genn in a British telephone directory. I rang him up and found out he was a retired Secret Service spy. Next thing I knew I was staying with him down in Dittisham, Dartmouth, Devon. Turned out Robert Genn collected art so we had lots to talk about. We went to his “local” where his buddies were amazed to lay their eyes on his strange colonial namesake. Bob and I became great friends. Later, he and Betty visited us in Canada. When Bob recently passed away it was like a part of me had been torn away.


Shakespeare is Shakespeare
by Norma Laming, UK

It has not recently been discovered that Shakespeare’s works were written by someone else. There are always theories about who wrote the works and yet another one has been put forward in the last few weeks. Shakespeare was an educated man who retired from playwriting to enjoy the latter part of his life amongst the wealth and status he had earned. It would be more interesting to look at why it is that people cannot accept that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare’s plays.

(RG note) Thanks, Norma. William (Bill) Shakespeare should not be confused with William (Willie) Shakespeare who were married to the same woman at the same time and (curiously) happened to be buried in the same grave on the same day.


Unfortunate popularity
by Stella Violano, Thousand Oaks, CA, USA


“The Time Keeper”
oil painting
by Stella Violano

When I first began selling my artwork I was shy and decided I was more comfortable using just my first initials with my last name. On the launch of my website I found myself to be very popular — unfortunately these were not art collectors — my initials are SM…

Suddenly I was no longer bashful about using my full name!





More on initials
by Priscilla Westesen, Bozeman, MT, USA

I’m the only one in the world with this name, me thinks. But when I have to sign my name on a completed oil painting I wish I was Ann Hope. How appropriate are initials? My full name is: Priscilla Cameron Westesen.

(RG note) Thanks, Priscilla. Appropriate for some would be Annie Hope? The question mark might disturb Google but would at least invite interaction from others. Initials are useful unless they convey unwanted information as in Ann N. O. Hope.


by Alice Saltiel-Marshall, Canmore, AB, Canada


“Vermillon Lakes Road”
oil painting
by Alice Saltiel-Marshall

As luck would have it, and thanks to my Father, I was born with a beautiful, unusual surname. It is my most prized possession. From the time I was an art student I have proudly signed all my artwork with just one name — Saltiel. There are so few Saltiels that to find another who is an artist is uncommon.

Fifteen years ago, on a trip to the Rockies, a stranger with the same name as me, sought me out. Coming via Vancouver he found a Saltiel there who told him to be sure to look for the artist Saltiel when he got to Banff. Both thought I was a man. That happens when you don’t sign with a given name. Moshe Shaltiel’s passion for researching our family genealogy has become his profession. It has resulted in ongoing international family reunions. Travelling family members, such as myself and Bill, now visit “cousins” around the globe. Moshe has written an account of our family’s journey through history, tracing us to King David. My portrait of him is on the back of the dust cover. It’s all truly amazing. Check The Shealtiel Family Worldwide for more details.


Journey of a name
by John Ferrie, Vancouver, BC, Canada

When I was a young boy, I was not given a nickname. Having the last name Ferrie was all I seemed to need. I was teased mercilessly. I can remember asking my parents if we could change our name. Apparently the name goes back to the Spanish Armada and in Scotland the name Ferrier (which the name was originally) is the Blacksmith. To this day Ferrier School is what Blacksmiths call their teachings. About 200 years ago some idiot took the last “r” off my name and I was branded Ferrie. Now, when I was a teenager, I just did not have the self-esteem I have today. I was a sensitive kid and with all the taunting and hazing I turned into myself and my sketch book.

These days having the name Ferrie rules! Everyone remembers my name. I brand all my paintings with a solid red and gold signature and spell out my name with precision. I had no problem getting my website address JohnFerrie.com. I even had a client who was marketing her new pizza (that I did the logo for) with the catch phrase “put a Ferrie in your freezer!” It is all part of a journey.


Backward goes forward
by Carol Lyons, Irvington, NY, USA


“Sunrise, Sunset”
watercolor painting
by Carol Lyons

Many years ago, after returning from a gallery tour of NYC, I mentioned to my husband that many artists have long ethnic names. My name and the one I signed all my art with was a name shared by many. “You have another name” he said, “GREBLEZNIK, your maiden name backwards.” I decided to use that name for my more abstract art. It was unique and denoted my Russian heritage. When using GREBLEZNIK I took on a different persona and worked with a special abandon. I was pleased to have my art published in art magazines with the name GREBLEZNIK and when two of those works were acquired for the Collections of Hermitage Museum, Russia, there was a special sense of accomplishment.


No other on the planet
by Julie Rodriguez Jones, Spanish Springs, NV, USA

In the past I experimented with using a different name for my art as I thought Jones was just way too common. I tried using my first and middle names, Julie Rodriguez, but then when I signed checks for entry fees and then used a different name on the registration slip, it was almost always way too confusing and I ended up being listed with a jumbled name with hyphens, misspellings and filed under both ‘J’ and ‘R’. (And most forms don’t ask for your “Art Name.”) This is especially true for those who might choose to use a family name or maiden as a surname just for art purposes. I settled on my full married name which includes my maiden name as my middle name, Julie Rodriguez (no hyphen) Jones. It works. There is no other on the planet from what I can tell.


Architect of a name
by Barbara Elizabeth Mercer, Toronto, ON, Canada


“Marsh Marigolds”
acrylic painting
by Barbara Elizabeth Mercer

For years I used my first and last name leaving out my middle name which was my mother’s first name. I then decided, after meeting another artist with my name, and after the bank cashed a cheque on my account, which belonged to another Barbara Mercer, that I must use my full name: Barbara Elizabeth Mercer. It has given me strength. It is my personal molding ground, to build whatever I wish to build. I am the architect.




Proud of namesake
by Carl Purcell, Ephraim, UT, USA


“Highland Loch”
watercolor painting
by Carl Purcell

A number of years ago I was leafing through a photography magazine and was struck by some very beautiful travel photos from India. The compositions were superb. I was so taken by the photos I thumbed to the front of the magazine to find out who had taken them. To my amazement the photographer was Carl Purcell. I couldn’t remember even having been to India. I was glad to see that someone with my name was doing such great work. It has never bothered me. I would like to meet him some day.


Changing names
by Helen Zapata, Phoenix, AZ, USA


“White Tulips”
oil painting
by Helen Zapata

There are paintings from my youth when I signed with my maiden name, then my married name, then my maiden name again, and finally now with my current married name. It confuses me and I’m sure it would confuse any collectors. I finally decided to stick with my married name of Zapata. But then one day a “Marketing Expert” was at my studio assessing my work. He said that I needed to get rid of the Zapata. He told me that it conjured up visions of the old bullfighter paintings on black velvet. He also said that I needed to switch to a male name.

In the end I couldn’t do it. I love my last name and I’m proud of it. This is who I am. As for changing my gender, that would only be giving in to any lingering prejudice geared against female artists. Women artists will only be fully accepted and appreciated as artists as long as we are willing to step up and show our work as ourselves.


Becoming a name
by Ion Vincent Danu, Sherbrooke, QC, Canada


original painting
by Ion Vincent Danu

The Japanese — I mean the Hokusai Japanese — seem to have changed names at every important change in their artistic careers. Hokusai himself has numerous names, the last one being the translation of “the old man crazy about drawing” if I’m not mistaken.

My elder son, a filmmaker, has the same name as myself (and he doesn’t like his middle name). So he is using my “civil” name, Dan Iordache, and myself I found a new one, Ion Vincent Danu, the name I sign my paintings and drawings. It has for me a very deep emotional charge: Ion is my middle name (also the name of my father and the middle name of my second son, a simple but very ancient and good “sounding” first name), Vincent is my due to Vincent Van Gogh, my “mentor” and Danu is a nick name, a diminutive for Dan, given to me by my mother, wife and mother-in-law. In Romanian, my native language, it means: Yes-No (like the Yin-Yang of the Chinese symbol, a unity of the contraries). I feel myself becoming each day more and more Ion Vincent Danu and less and less my civil name.


Distinguishing element
by Melinda Morrison, Denver, CO, USA


“A Girl’s Gotta Be a Girl”
oil painting
by Melinda Morrison

Much to my surprise when I got into a gallery in Sante Fe, I found through Google there was another namesake already showing there. She is more of an abstract painter but needless to say, I wanted my own identity as an artist. Figuring she was there before me, I made a slight adjustment to my name and have used it every since.

Amusingly, I used to always be frustrated that my parents named me Ellen Melinda Morrison but called me by my second name. Growing up, I would go through the drudgery of every school year convincing my teachers that I went by my second name instead of my first. What was a headache has become a gift. I now sign every painting E. Melinda and go by E Melinda Morrison as my professional name. I have become proud of my parents for giving me a distinguishing element I can use to identify myself as an artist.


Reduced to three letter name
by Len Sodenkamp, Boise, ID, USA

I have often thought my name was not an artist sounding name. You can imagine how it has been butchered by most who try to pronounce it. During my school years I had many nick names, like soda cracker or soda pop to mention only two. I hated my name as a kid. Sodenkamp is Amsterdam Dutch. Now at age 56 I am proud of the name. A few months ago via the Internet I was united to family I new not living in Holland. They found me from my website.

Having a unique way to sign your work is very important. This of course will distinguish you from another with the same name so far as someone who knows your work or collects your work. But then again maybe not. Obviously the problem is the Internet and being associated or confused with same names. I agree that adding a third aspect like a middle name would be my choice. Or at least add an initial. Fredrick Remington also used a bug on his paintings — it was a buffalo skull. My grandfather was a painter also. He passed away when I was nine. I have 12 of his original paintings. My prize possessions. I was named after him, Leonard Francis Sodenkamp. On a 9″x 12″ you could not get it all on. No joke! He signed his work L.F. Sodenkamp. I sign mine Len (only). I used to put the letter ‘S’ behind it. I dropped the ‘S’ years ago. Now I need to go out and see what comes up when I enter Len. Thanks for the brain food.


Internet fallacies
by Treza Bordinat Ager, Olivenhain, CA, USA

“A name is an entity on which a career hangs” — I can certainly sympathize with “Anonymous”! There is a larger problem here.

After making the wrenching decisions involved in literally calling a halt to my flourishing career as an architect and interior designer to pursue my great love — kiln cast art glass — and devoting my life to your theory of “Get good, Get unique, Get noticed” — I find that some crazy consumer advocate has used my name in a totally inaccurate and debasing article that comes up every time someone “googles” me. How humiliating! How immoral and unfair!

Here we have what should be the greatest invention of the century, the Internet, giving us worldwide distribution for our art, for our names, for our sales, and yet we can actually maintain no control whatsoever as to what fallacies may be attributed to us. To our own names. Google will not make any corrections, even with legal intervention. I know. I too have spent years on this. One can appeal only to the nutcase involved in publishing the web site. Readers can all imagine that success rate!

So, for years I used only my insufficient ‘Art Name,’ “Treza,” and I can assure Anonymous that, even that way, nothing can be done to correct the situation. It is rather hard to “tough it out” and hope the day will come when it will all be buried under your artistic acclaim, if no one will even answer your calls after they’ve “googled” such nonsense with your identity!


No cause to worry
by Brian Reifer, Velez Malaga, Spain


“Breton Church”
oil painting
by Brian Reifer

Thanks for the latest amusing twist in the ‘Find the Real Shakespeare’ gag. They turn up from time to time from so-called verifiable sources and eventually die the death like all before.

Your comments on identical names and confusion reigning is valid. Where you draw the line at the end of the day is hard to gauge. Once it gets to the silly stage of a string of half a dozen names, folk will probably start including numbers or other symbols. At the end of the day, if someone likes your work on the Internet, he has an instant contact address. If he buys through a gallery then he may meet you personally or certainly get the relevant details from the gallery. I really do not think we have too much cause to worry. If someone likes your work enough to want it they will beat a path to your door one way or another. How many Robert Genns are there that look like you, paint as well as you in your style and write informatively, constructively and entertainingly as you?





To Go and To Come

oil painting
by Rodolfo Cuesta, Burgos, Spain


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 105 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2005.

That includes Jan Ross of Kennesaw, GA who wrote, “Imagine my surprise to see ‘my name,’ including the same middle initial, listed in the local Obituaries! Obviously, reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated. There’s also another artist in my area with my name, but she works in oils, while I work predominately in watercolor. All we can do is ‘grin and bear it.’ ”

Also Michael Chesley Johnson who wrote, “As a writer, that’s what I used to use for my byline. However, I’d had my byline scrambled by editors so that my articles were written by people like Michael Jordan (the basketball player) and Michael Jackson (the entertainer.) Frustrating, to say the least! So, on my wife’s suggestion, I started using my middle name, and now I go professionally (as writer and painter) as Michael Chesley Johnson. There’s been no confusion since.”

And also Sarah who wrote, “I don’t have a problem with my name but I was wondering if the signature must always be in the same media as the painting.”

(RG note) Thanks, Sarah. Using the same medium as the art itself is considered proper form. Hasty artists sometimes use various forms of jiffy markers. Don’t cave in to this bad habit. These signatures can fly away with a bit of sunlight.

And also Philip Koch who wrote, “I always thought Janet Fish had the greatest artist name — it is just hard to forget, but it is also easy to visualize and to spell.”

And also Maria Scaringi who wrote, “A name is simply a name. A person, however, is not just a person but a unique individual with identifiable traits, gifts, attributes, character… A name can be duplicated but not a person.”

And also Robert Cook who wrote, “The name is one aspect of the persona which can bring success entirely outside of any artistic ability. If you don’t believe that, you’ve got to be able to explain why Thomas Kincaid and/or Leroy Nieman are not working in doughnut shops.”

And also Brad Greek, Mary Esther, FL who wrote, “A Google search of my name puts me in the company of Brad Pitt and Greek Mythology mostly – along with numerous websites that I may be found on, so I’m content. Even with the unique name that I have, there isn’t anything unique about my work, so I took an old cliche and put a play on words: ‘Art, It’s all Greek to Me!’ ”

And also Cathrine Morton who wrote, “I have had the dilemma all my life of having to spell my name for everyone. I have been eternally frustrated at my parents from coming up with a less than common spelling. Now I am enjoying it. Google my name and you come up firstly with a letter I wrote to you.”

And also Marvin Petal who wrote, “I think I will change my name to Pablo R. Picasso. Or do you think Pablo G. Picasso has a greater resonance? Or maybe Jerry Rembrandt? Schlomo Tintoretto? Help me out here.”




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