During the last while there have been a few emails from artists with concerns about their names. Some don’t like their names at all, others are worried about the ranking of their names on Google.
Recent research has shed some light on the connection between self-esteem and name. Jochen Gebauer of Cardiff University in Wales has authored a study on the relationship between people’s names and their image of themselves. “People with high self-esteem tend to like their names more,” he says. It’s called the “mere-ownership effect.” It means that we tend to like things that are ours. Apparently, people with low self-esteem tend to like and even covet other people’s things.
It follows that artists who like their name tend to like their work. While it’s not necessary to be overly gung-ho about your stuff, it helps to feel good about it at least some of the time.
When an artist’s name is perceived by the artist to be inappropriate, hard to explain, or ugly, the quality of work may suffer. Healthy artists are comfortable with their names. They enjoy seeing their name on their work, as well as on cheques, incoming and outgoing. They are okay with hearing their name said, both in public and quietly in their ear.
Of concern to many is the commonplace nature of their names. While there are plenty of Smiths who thrive in the arts, lots of Joe Smiths wonder if they would do better with something else. Changing to Joe Limburger Smith would ensure a higher search ranking. Further, the olfactory connection, while cheesy, would certainly make it more memorable. The Internet is stealthily encouraging three name monikers. Distinctive two-namers need not worry.
Women are the most frequent complainers of name. Some women, through divorce, retain the names of a former husband, often for the sake of the kids. Not liking the ex very much, they may feel a tinge of remorse every time they sign his name. Here, a perceived lack of secure identity may influence quality and the imperative to put oneself forward. While there is something to be said for sticking to a name, some women, particularly younger ones, might think about reinventing themselves in a name they can love.
PS: “If you have high self-esteem, everything is good. You have fewer social problems, you’re less aggressive, you feel better about yourself, you have more friends and people like you more.” (Jochen Gebauer)
Esoterica: While a state of general well-being is considered by some to be a negative in the production of great art, I disagree. One has to think of deriving and giving the maximum good in every human life in the here and now. Artists give in a unique way — and their better efforts become treasured and move down through the generations. As a believer in social progress, getting all your ducks in a row is part of the process. Stage names and aliases are commonplace in other professions. It’s possible you would be better off as someone else.
Scent of a rose
by Phoebe Stone, Middlebury, VT, USA
Our names are deeply and intrinsically part of who we are. Our name infuses every molecule of our being. I believe we are shaped by our names. Haven’t you ever run into a dentist named Jim Gum or a guy who sells real estate named John Houseman? Changing your name is no light matter. It would mean transforming your entire identity, the way you see yourself and the way the world sees you. My children’s novel, All the Blue Moons at the Wallace Hotel deals with this subject. The younger girl in the story is named Wallace and she hates her name and spends much of time her trying to decide on a new one. By the end of the book, after learning a few things along the way, she decides to keep her name. I recommend sticking by your name. After all, David Smith did it, as did Patti Smith. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but it wouldn’t be a rose anymore.
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by Anne Copeland, Calimesa, CA, USA
I was born with one name given me by my mother; apparently my mom and dad didn’t agree on the name but that was what I was stuck with. It was a name that didn’t fit me right, like a bad pair of jeans.
When I was in my 30s, I had the opportunity to change my name legally and I gave myself the name my dad had often called me. It was a spiritual and simple name; it was who I am.
Children should get temporary names at birth, and then be able to pick their own names when they are old enough to know clearly who they are. We get to select everything else about ourselves when we grow up; why not something as important as our names? Would any of us feel that someone else should name our art pieces?
Pros and cons of unusual name
by Dava Dahlgran, Idaho Falls, ID, USA
My first name is dava (I use lower case only because I don’t find a big bulging capital D very graceful). With an unusual name like mine people remember it fairly well — though pronouncing it seems to have its problems. I have become quite comfortable over the years answering to anything that starts with a ‘d’ followed by an amazing variety of sounds. As a child I was not so happy with an unusual name but it has served me well as an adult artist.
Names and heritage
by Kelli Maier, Westerville, OH, USA
I never liked my name and like it less as I age — it seems so perky. Nor does it reflect my Mexican heritage. As for my last name… while I will always love my late husband, I do not wish to share this name with his sibling and son — very bad associations.
I worked under my maiden and middle name for years and when I married began using my first name and married name. It was beyond confusion to others — so I will just deal with it, try to learn to accept it.
by Peggy Guichu, Phoenix, AZ, USA
I’ve had my share of names in this life time. When I started painting I was Weisel. Weisel quickly turned into Weisel-Keisser then just Keisser. Then I moved on to Keisser-Jirik which became Jirik. I took a break from painting, but not name changing. I was glad to skip that next name and go directly into Jirik-Guichu. Alas I have settled permanently on Guichu. My husband is real happy about that, too. There was a time between Jirik and Guichu when I seriously considered changing to O’Malley. I hadn’t ever met an O’Malley so I thought it would be safe – thankfully I didn’t. I would have ended up with Jirik-O’Malley-Guichu, or maybe Weisel-Keisser-Jirik-O’Malley-Guichu. Talk about an identity crisis. My advise to all female painters is to pick a name and stick with it. Collectors will take you more seriously and your personal life won’t be plastered all over your artwork.
by Joao de Brito
I had a different problem with my name, as immigrant to North America from Portugal at the age of ten, I had to learn a new language, new customs etc, even my name was changed or translated from Joao pronounced (Zh-wa-ou) to John. These new folks had problems pronouncing my name, I lived with the change of my name as a way to fit into my adopted new home and a new identity.
Years later, I start to paint and friends and family started to acquire my works all of the sudden my problem became of how do I sign the works? Most people know me by John.
My awakening, since I never stopped being Joao inside and since my art was personal to these friends and family my decision was it wasn’t an issue of how I signed; Joao de Brito became the signature.
All was well, soon after I started to do public exhibits including galleries, the dealers would always have to ask several times how to pronounce my name and what was the funny little mark over the “ã”? I found that it could be difficult for them to say Joao, yet once they got it, they never forgot the name and neither did my new clients. I realized that since my works say a lot about who I am as person, that the pronunciation of my name would not be an obstacle to selling but instead an advantage.
I have found that people can be interested in your work but until they ask the price, they are not that interested or in my case, how to pronounce my name. If people care for your work, they will invest some energy in their minds to remember your name regardless if it’s Jones, Smith or João.
Proud to sign name
by Marianna Molgard
I have earlier had some problems with my long name. Tried to think of a synonym/alias but I did not find a name that I liked. Nowadays, I’m very proud to sign my paintings with M Molgard, I think it’s very beautiful. It’s my way to say to myself, “You have really done a great work of art.”
by Marcie Harris Alburn Nye, Headland, AL, USA
I love my first name… but between my maiden name, a divorce, and now being a middle aged widow, my work has so many different names on it, it is like I am three different artists. I regret that I did not continue to sign my maiden name to my work throughout my life so there would be some continuity. With each name change, I have had to reinvent my signature to find a way of signing my work that I found aesthetically pleasing. Anyway, it is something for younger female artists to think about as they go through their own life stages: try to find a way of keeping your artistic identity stable. After all, Liz Taylor’s stage name has always been Liz Taylor, regardless of how many times she has been married!
Going for oaky undertones
by Larry Moore, Orlando, FL, USA
Some people have a legitimate reason to not love their name. Mine for example, Larry Moore, is about as milquetoast as you get; it’s not exotic at all. I could go the three-name route, Lawrence Bruce Moore, which would sound better if I were knighted. Or adapt to the place of my origin, Lawrence of Cocoa Beach, but it’s still not powerful and confident sounding, it’s no Lawrence of Arabia. I could go the one-name approach, paintings by Lawrence — but really that sounds more like a florist. I started signing my name L. Moore and some lady mistook the period for an “e” and thought I was French which got me to thinking about those great exotic one-name Pinot and Royo. So after some research and thought I’m going with Merlo, sounds dark and smooth with oaky undertones.
Nom de plume
by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA
My nationality is Italian. When I was a boy I didn’t like the stereotype image given to Italians, I was ashamed of my heritage. That image anyway. I never told anyone I was Italian. As I grew older and gained more confidence and didn’t dress or act like a stereotype, I grew into my skin. I constantly played with a new name to use in my professional career; some of my choices were Rick Best, Justin Case. Ultimately, I never changed my last name, though I did shorten my first name from Richard to Rick, not so much due to ethnicity but more because I didn’t see myself as a Richard. The problem that plagued me for years was that I could not find a “clever” way to sign my work. Finally after years of trying I settled on the signature I use today. As fate would have it, many people now tell me that my nom de plume is so unique and aren’t I lucky to have such a name.
Studio name outgrown
by Luann Udell, Keene, NH, USA
When I first started out, I thought a studio name would make me sound more professional. I picked one with special meaning for me (Durable Goods) and used it everywhere. Within a few years, my confidence in my work had grown, but I began to outgrow my studio name. Gallery owners said that studio names didn’t sound like individual artists, but like small companies, defeating my purpose. And my cute name was confusing to the general public. And so I took back my name — Luann Udell. I look back now and see that the studio name was sort of like “training wheels” for my new biz — helping me find my balance at the time but not necessary anymore. The final proof I’d made the right decision was overhearing two customers in a store talking about my work. One of them said, “I think this is that artist, she lives in Keene, and she does those horses. She has a lot of ‘U’s in her name.” I had arrived!
A wonderful life
I have re-invented myself. Pulling from the past, the family nick name that covered me like a comforting blanket, taken as I enter yet another phase of my life. I feel I have survived the grief of losing my wonderful man, and the loss of an excellent marriage. But now through art, I have pulled myself up, I have grown, I have reached out to others and accepted their helping hand. I have become a more confident woman, with a free and brave spirit. I have been tempered by the times and strengthened by trials. I have bonded with many friends and in a continuous journey gathering the good, and discarding the unneeded from my life. I tend to give more of myself now, as that is a way of gaining and growing. I am a woman with a wonderful life, I am an artist tending my talents and longing to bring forth many seasons of work. I am — Tia.
Strive for quality
by Dave Ames, Bradenton, FL, USA
Self-esteem is that oft discussed but little understood term that means, “I hope you like me as well as I like myself.” Should we instead strive for quality in all things pursued, then perhaps the praise we seek but seldom get would flow to us in buckets. Trash and treasure are two sides of the same coin. Low self-esteem produces one, and public adulation the other.
Want applause, seek the stage. Art is the silent pursuit of the inner self communicated to others via public view. Collection of the artist is the saddest refrain.
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Appalling act of cruelty
by Shawn Byles
I have been a silent reader of your letter for years and, normally reticent, this is my first posting. I recently received a very disturbing email depicting the work of a Costa Rican “artist” by the name of Guillermo Vargas Habacuc. It features a video of a starving dog, captured from the streets of Managua and tied by a very short rope where he’s left to starve to death in an art gallery, as viewers walk by doing nothing. I know nothing of this “artist” and his motivation behind this appalling act of cruelty. While I support artistic freedom as a noble human endeavor, this is just downright repugnant. Shockingly, he’s been invited for a repeat showing at the Bienal Centroamericana Honduras 2008! Am I missing something?!? Have you heard of this man? If so, any comment or enlightenment would be appreciated. I have signed the petition against the repeat showing and I hope you can encourage your readers to do the same — it’s available on multiple sites when his name is googled.
(RG note) Thanks, Shawn. Many of our subscribers have written in protest of this now to be repeated disgusting event. We have referred all to the several protest sites. This sort of thing gives an insight into the kind of depravity and stupidity rampant in the world today, and gives all art a bad name. I’m recommending that people stop travelling to Costa Rica and now also Honduras. This is too bad because both of these countries have previously been fine destinations for both eco-travelers and artists.
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Enjoy the past comments below for Love your name…
Soft memories and Tea
acrylic painting, 24 x 36 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Michelle Basic Hendry who wrote,”My problem with my name is not that I don’t like it, but, that it is so long. I have yet to figure out the best way to sign a painting and be consistent when there are 19 letters. It doesn’t quite work on an 8×10!”
And also Earthwinds who wrote, “I Am Earthwinds.”
And also Michael Young of Glen Williams, ON, Canada who wrote, “No middle name at all: I just love MY name. I also have the curious condition of having all the vowels, including the neo-vowel ‘Y’, appearing just once. I also have people who love MY stone sculptures.”
And also Barry Williamson of Coleraine, Ireland who wrote, “My parents resisted the pressure from a section of the family to call me Batty! Now that would have been a step too far. I believe that I would never have become the person I am today if they had succumbed to that pressure.”
And also Rick Rogers of St. Albert, AB, Canada who wrote, “Rick Rogers, I like my name, but Robert Genn sounds cooler.”
And also Cheryl Ann of San Antonio, TX, USA who wrote, “No two artists are alike, no two personalities are alike, no two styles are alike — similar perhaps but never the same. So feel the pride of your accomplishment, sign your name.”