Love your name


Dear Artist,

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.

Best regards,


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


“All the Blue Moons at the Wallace Hotel”
by Phoebe Stone

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.

There is 1 comment for Scent of a rose by Phoebe Stone

From: Michelle R. Gray — Jul 12, 2008

I am a new artist, and have toyed with my name as M.R. Gray and Michelle Gray and Michelle R. Gray and Michelle Roberts Gray, Roberts being my maiden name, and Gray my married name for over 22 years. M.R. Gray seemed too much like ‘Mr. Gray’, and being female, I did not like that connotation, even though it fit nicely on smaller paintings. I wanted to include my maiden name, for many of the reasons already written about here. I have settled on Michelle R. Gray; it includes my maiden name initial, but also is my complete name. M. Roberts Gray is still under consideration. I paint very bold colorful paintings, and one of my friends suggested I should be a color. I already was! I have begun painting Michelle R. Gray in any shade of gray that blends or accents the painting. It gives me a personal ownership and identity with my name, and also works my signature into the painting.


Name change
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


“Just not a morning person”
colored pencil, 10 x 8 inches
by Dava Dahlgran

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


charcoal drawing
by Kelli Maier

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.




Identity crisis
by Peggy Guichu, Phoenix, AZ, USA


oil painting, 40 x 30 inches
by Peggy Guichu

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.


Pronunciation problems
by Joao de Brito


“New Life Number One”
original painting
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


“What is down there”
acrylic painting, 33 x 41 inches
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.”






Stage names
by Marcie Harris Alburn Nye, Headland, AL, USA


Liz Taylor

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


“Run the Light”
oil painting, 20 x 20 inches
by Larry Moore

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


original painting
by Rick Rotante

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


“Bear Sculpture”
wood carving
by Luann Udell

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
by Tia


original painting
by Tia

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.

There is 1 comment for Strive for quality by Dave Ames

From: Sandra Bos — Jul 04, 2008

Ah, yes! so wonderfully said!

recently, I’ve been thinking back to those naive years as a student,when I fell madly in Love with painting. I’m still in love, but once one start’s making a living at it, it is easy to lose site of the “WHY DO WE DO IT?” I am so grateful that I can do what I love.

Thank you.


Appalling act of cruelty
by Shawn Byles


photo 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.

There are 4 comments for Appalling act of cruelty by Shawn Byles

From: Jane F — Jul 04, 2008
From: Linda Mallery — Jul 04, 2008

I think that if each of us who find this kind of “art” morally repugnant, sign the petition and let those countries government know we will no longer travel there, it may have an impact on their tourist dollars. If not their conscience.

From: Melissa Evangeline Keyes — Jul 05, 2008

Perhaps the exhibit of the dog is aimed at raising consciousness and conscience in poor countries where animals are horribly mistreated. What about this puppy’s littermates? I bet they starved, also. As well as all the other starving puppies that died unknown.

Hopefully some of the people in this and other poor countries will make better life for their animals.

From: Anonymous — Jul 06, 2008

This starving of a dog is terribly sad. Why doesn’t someone tie the “artist” up in a gallery and see how long he lasts?



Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Love your name



From: Zichi Lorentz — Jun 30, 2008
From: Cindy in Irvine, CA — Jun 30, 2008

What a wonderful column. It’s like a gift. Although I don’t think of myself as self confident, I do love my name. So maybe I have more self esteem than I think I do. Thank you!

From: John F. Johnson — Jun 30, 2008
From: Lyndsey Michaels — Jul 01, 2008

When my divorce came through, I was unwilling to return to my ‘maiden’ name. Aside from the fact that I didn’t really like it, I felt that to return to my previous name was almost like trying to delete everything that had happened since I got married – an attempt to erase that bit of my history, which I did not want to do regardless of good or bad memories.

I changed my surname, using my father’s first name to keep a family link. I also changed my first name, from Lynne to Lyndsey. I’m quite short and slightly built and in lieu of shortening it to create a nickname or casual and friendly way of addressing me, I’d find people would refer to me as ‘little Lynnie’ – I can’t tell you how much I hated THAT moniker!

I love my name now, I feel it suits my personality far better than either my maiden or married name and I have the added advantage of it being ‘rare’ enough to consistently rank high in Google searches (yes, I did check this out when deciding on spelling!), vital for me as I am freelance and self-employed.

Incidentally, my friends have now shortened my new first name, as people tend to do, dropping the ‘Lyn’ part completely and I am now known to most people simply as ‘Z’! Lyndsey ‘Zee’ Michaels

From: Consuelo — Jul 01, 2008

Thanks for the heads up Robert, I think I’ll change my name to Vincent Chagall Renoir and sign my paintings – VCR.

From: Judith HeartSong — Jul 01, 2008

I spent the first twenty years of my life with a birth name, and my childhood was ugly and scarred by physical and sexual abuse. I spent the next twenty years with a married name and an abusive husband, and right before my 40th birthday I left with a suitcase. My ex-husband stole all my belongings and I have started completely over again in the last 6 years, and in that process I chose a new last name that would not reflect any of that history.

I asked the universe for a new name and for signs of the name that I should choose. At a rest stop on the way to Philadelphia a particular cassette tape caught my eye, and then some lovely scented bath salts some time later, and then a very special family member suggested a name connection that linked with the first two. My new last name, HeartSong, was chosen.

It was one of the best decisions I have ever made. The name is clean and pure and not loaded down with any baggage from a history that was challenging, and as so many people say, the name totally fits me. My heart now sings!

From: Gregory Melle — Jul 01, 2008
From: Bruce C. Meyer — Jul 01, 2008

The self-esteem secret of success has been pretty well debunked in the educational literature, just in time for a whole generation to say, oops, my bad. The common sense contradiction of self-esteem yields a good artist and good art would be the painter named Adolf Hitler, who thought the world of himself. (Oops, the Hitler fallacy here. My bad.) I hear he made a name for himself in politics or somethings.

Don’t confuse causes and effects, that’s what ma would say, sorta. I’m going to go listen to my favorite rock band, Chagall Guevara.

From: Melissa Evangeline Keyes — Jul 01, 2008
From: Randy Emmons — Jul 01, 2008

Since the subject is names, I have had comment on name placement in the painting. I usually try to place my name in my paintings so it flows with the area it is in and in a color analogous to the paintings colors. Because of this, my name isn’t always in the lower corner of the art. I had a patron at a gallery say they wouldn’t buy my art because the name wasn’t in the lower right corner. Is there a right or wrong way to sign a painting?

From: Maria Luisa — Jul 01, 2008

I like my name both for its sound and meaning. The former part “Maria ” means “Loved by God”, the latter “Winner in the Battles.” As regards my surname it sounds like your first name and it means “Shining of Glory”. When I am asked my name I enjoy to pronounce it and to listen to the music of its sound. To ask a person his or her name is a matter of esteem and sometimes of feeling. To stick to the point, in my opinion it means: I feel well with you can I share with you your name.

Bye, Bye Robert ( Shining of Glory ) I believe you are a humble but great man. I enjoy your writing. They are deep, intelligent and very interesting.

From: Donna Pierce-Clark — Jul 01, 2008

My given name is Donna Marie (Pierce) Clark, Clark by marriage, Pierce by birth. Several years ago, when I was creating a “brand” I spoke with a well known painter and he suggested I incorporate my maiden name because both the name “Donna” and the name “Clark” are very common names. I love all of my names. My father (who just passed away in 2007, on my wedding anniversary actually — “he gave me away twice”), as well as my husband (had) have unconditional love for me and have always been amazingly supportive of my artwork. I am loved. My self-esteem is intact, by whatever name I call myself.

From: Win Dinn — Jul 01, 2008

Aren’t we a funny bouquet of human beans? Having grown up with the moniker ‘Winnie”‘ (i.e. The Pooh, Pooh Bear, poo-head, and worse), I went with Win, as my family called me, when I left home. What a relief to shed that old-fashioned name and start to vibrate to a winner! Then I started seeing John Dinn, and immediately told him we could never marry because of his surname. Never say never! Now when I speak to people on the phone or via email an immediate assumption is made that I’m Asian, and it’s so much fun to meet them in person and explain. I’ve had many laughs over the last 9 years, and enjoyed the reaction to introductions far more than most people can say.

What’s in a name? Laughter, amusement, power, attitude and, sometimes, pure joy! Thanks, Robert, for a most enjoyable letter, as always.

From: Lynda Diamond — Jul 01, 2008
From: Antonija Mitt — Jul 01, 2008

I grew up as Antonija NMI Ostrovskis. The “NMI” indicates no middle initial. My 5th grade teacher honestly thought I was a Communist since I had NMI. But, really. What would you put in between Antonija and Ostrovskis? School was just the satr of name problems for me….

I married a man with a short name, and lived with that for a while. But when we divorced 17 years later, I kept the name (it was short!) and started painting. I could not bring myself to use his name in my signature, as I was finding my own identity. So I signed my work, “It’s me, Toni”. That stuck. I even used that as a corporate name when I opened a coffee house years ago.

I am, once again, married to a man with a short name and I love it! Although, I still answer the phone saying, “it’s me, Toni”. Always will.

From: Bunny Griffeth — Jul 01, 2008

I wish I had an epiphany like Judith Heartsong and changed my name after my ugly childhood and marriage, which was very similar to hers….

This is an interesting concept…I always felt ashamed of my name growing up. My maiden name was Berenice Parrott. My nick name from birth was Bunny, which everyone called me, so I had the name Bunny Parrott growing up! lol I used to be so embarrassed when my mother, spelling her name for someone, would say, “Like the bird!”. And I would think to myself…and Bunny, ‘Like the rabbit”.

So, when I married and then divorced I gladly kept the name Griffeth. Nobody knows how to pronounce Berenice, and everyone knows me as Bunny, so I sign my work with that name. That is, after all the scrapes and bumps on the way, who I am.

From: Rick Rotante — Jul 01, 2008

I’m not sure Mr.Gabauer’s theory holds up. Let’s say you were born with the first name of “Dummy” (parents can be cruel sometime) and you are an artist and for obvious reasons hate your name and your work never sells. Then you change your name to “Beauty”. There is no guarantee your work will improve and/or sell, though you may now have a higher sense of self-esteem with your new name. Shakespeare (now there’s a name for you) said,

” a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet”.

I do think others make judgments based on a name. Whatever prejudices you have pertaining to a name will carry over to the person with that name. Only after getting to know the person will your ideas of that name probably change.

If your name were truly unpronounceable, it would cause others problems repeating it, but would not necessarily cause you to be unhappy or maladjusted.

Today there is this tendency to spell ordinary names in unusual ways to have them stand out. I see it two ways. One, it can be a weight around your neck having to explain the spelling every time you tell someone your name, or it can be a benefit by causing you to seem unique. No like names have your spelling.

Many more complex social issues other than an unlikable name determine self-esteem or happiness or sadness

From: Moiya Wright — Jul 01, 2008

Robert – I do enjoy your letters, thank you. I do love my name. It has started many interesting conversations with “how do you spell it? and “where does it come from?” I have found only a few people with the same name. At the moment, I use water and a pallet knife to spread my paint on paper and board. Even after I lay down the pallet knife the magic continues. The result is obtained by three things, my idea, the paint and the water. I leave enough space around the painting to compliment it. I am not shy but I lightly write my signature – Moiya – in a colour and a space which will again compliment the painting. I want the observer to first see the painting and then the signature. After all is the painting not a better portrait of the painter than even the signature?

From: James Licker — Jul 01, 2008

I am so ashamed of my name. And putting it on my paintings is impossible. People laugh. I am thinking of changing it to Ralph Licker. Do you think that is more appropriate?

From: Doris Raecke — Jul 01, 2008

During our first week at university (journalism), we were advised to use our maiden names so our diplomas would always carry our name (in case of divorce, widowhood…). Our names are part of our professional asset, more so for an artist or a writer, and is linked to a reputation that takes years to build. Professional women should not have to change names in the middle of their career.

From: Pamela J Bell — Jul 02, 2008

Interesting article. I love my name no matter how it is presented, Pamela J Bell, Pam Bell, PJ Bell, pb etc. I am always happy to sign and date a painting or drawing but I do prefer to sign on the back. I like to keep the piece complete in its own entity. (p.s. J is for Janet)

From: Joyce — Jul 02, 2008

When I was born, my father registered me as Elizabeth Helen after both grandmothers. My mother just called me “Joyce.” There was no problem until I started obtaining passports and such. I have used every combination of my names, but I really like Joyce. I have devised a signature for my work that reads from all directions, including upside down and mirrored. Makes my husband livid!

From: Tinker Bachant — Jul 02, 2008

Tinker is a fairly common name so I recently started adding my last, Bachant, which is not so common, and have no problems getting recognition.

From: LuAnn Sims — Jul 02, 2008

I have so enjoyed everyone’s comments! It’s amazing how much our names affect us. When I was a child I hated my first name because there was no cute way to shorten it, everyone around me had “-y” names, Cindy Susie Julie Teri, etc. “Louie” to me was some hood from Brooklyn. I never was cute, I guess. But in high school everyone started calling me Louie, and those friends still do. It’s special because only my oldest friends call me that. When my sister was a baby, she called me Wann and still does. I guess I feel like I’m different things to different people and I like that they have given me different names.

I found out from my mom that she had named me after a singer from the late 50’s, which was kind of cool.

About the time I was getting divorced and had to decide on whether to keep my married name, my cousin had done research on our family tree and traced us all the way back to a soldier (William Sims) in the Revolutionary war. It made me really proud of my family name and was the deciding factor in going back to my maiden name. I really like my name now, it’s unique enough for me.

From: Nancy Marshall — Jul 02, 2008

My brother once suggested I use the name Francesca Frescobaldi, but I worried that I would only be able to create horizontal paintings, in order to fit my new moniker. My real name is just fine with me.

From: Margo Goodwill — Jul 02, 2008

Loved this letter. I got a good name. I am working on even better versions of it. MmmmmmmmmGood. M.Good

From: Suzanne Ste. Therese — Jul 02, 2008

Years ago, when I was going through some personal crises and very religious, I appealed to St. Teresa of Avila and Ste. Therese of Lisieux for guidance. In gratitude for what I believed to be their assistance during my sadness, I changed my name. I made up the spelling and pronounce it with a simple, anglicized pronunciation. Spelling for others can be difficult and confusing but I have received much positive response. I would say that names are mutable and are rightly acknowledged as connected with self-esteem. I also think they are powerful. My life changed dramatically when I legally changed my personal moniker – for the better. I just believed I could be more and do more because I was helped by some cool spiritual women. Now, not so religious, but grateful for the decision I made twenty-five years ago!

From: Yaroslaw — Jul 02, 2008

Discussing question is very ancient. And it is ancient Russian saying: “Not man’s name embellishes him, but man himself embellishes his name”.

From: Rick — Jul 03, 2008

After reading your post and being thoroughly disgusted at what is going on in Honduras, in the name of art, I believe I have a solution. It has always been my contention that what you do to (others) animals should be done to you. An eye for an eye is beginning to sound good to me.

Mr. Habacuc and the gallery owner should be shackled together, in a gallery, and allowed to starve to death to illustrate all those who are allowed to die the same fate around the world. This to me would be just punishment. As the world becomes less caring of the plight of others’ misery, so too should they be punished.

I understand there is suffering in the world, but this kind of demonstration only shows how insensitive we have become to the sight of misery. Mr. Habacuc would have better served his community by opening a shelter for all the wandering animals in his city. Death comes to us all, but cruelty serves no one.

From: John Ferrie — Jul 03, 2008

I am chuckling as I read this letter as once again I feel you are speaking to me. My name is John Ferrie and as an artist, the name RULES! Ferrie is originally FERRIER (Pronounced Far-rier) and is the person who shoes horses in Scotland. Today, when a person becomes a Blacksmith they actually attend Ferrier school. It was traumatizing as a boy to have that name and I certainly didn’t have the self esteem I have now. Imagine 1979 attending High School in a city like Calgary, being a young gay man and having the last name Ferrie.

As my career began and I started to build my brand I found people would often say “now there is a last name I will never forget”. Having the last name Ferrie became my brand and my signature was synonymous with my style of paintings. My self esteem came along with the momentum my career took and I found I was not bothered by my last name, but proud of who I was. I now announce my exhibitions with my name over the titles of my latest work. Ultimately I want people to want a piece of me and have a “John Ferrie”. Then again, in 100 years we will all be dead and none of this will matter…

From: Jen Elliott — Jul 03, 2008

Thank you for your thought-provoking letter about loving our names. I recently got hitched in April, opting to take my husband’s last name which is Elliott. Although no kids are in the picture, I figured I was thinking ahead with having the same last name as my possible offspring.

Here’s the rub. I liked my previous last name, Sparacino and so did everyone else, including my husband. As an ‘aspiring’ artist with no real recognition yet, I figured no one would ever suspect I wasn’t always an “Elliott” if fame should come knocking. As if possessed by some old-fashion, gurdle-wearing entity, at the last minute I decided on changing my last name thinking I was doing the right thing.

Old school chums and faculty from college (both good networking resources) only know me as Jennifer Sparacino. With such a common first name, I always liked having a last name that wasn’t. I’ve been thinking lately about using Sparacino to sign my paintings, and refer to that as my last name in the art-world. However, when it comes to writing and cashing cheques, driver’s licence, etc. I’m Mrs. Elliott.

Being that I’m still relatively young both in biological age and as an artist, I could always create a new identity as Jennifer Elliott, I suppose it comes down to which name feels best to say, write, and identify with. In a way I was excited to get a new name, thinking that might magically create a ‘new and improved’ me, where I would paint prolifically and always have high-self esteem and I could leave the old, sometimes-insecure and artistically suppress self in the past for good.

If Shakespeare was right, then it should not matter what name I use in this lifetime, but the kind of life lived that the name stands for. In the final analysis, I want to be recognized for what I’ve achieved and contributed to the world as an artist, a woman, a wife, a daughter, a friend and all other ‘veunes’ one can offer love, light, laughter and inspiration. I am witnessing that the more I ‘think’ my life, the less I live it.

Using every breath to do what I love and staying as present as possible in the process, I believe, will yield the greatest achievements and the highest level of self esteem…regardless of my name.

From: Lyn — Jul 03, 2008

I am one of those double barreled women referred to in your letter. I don’t care who likes or doesn’t like their name but I don’t want to see that name written in large letters on paintings. Vincent was the only one I know of who could get away with that. As a teenager I was told by a then very old Canadian painter (Jock Macdonald) “write your name in small letters, be humble. If any one wants to find it, they will.”

From: Linda Kukulski — Jul 03, 2008

It has been extremely challenging for me to ‘Love’ my name. I am one of those divorced women who kept her married name for the benefit of her children. That seemed fine at the time. It became a problem when I decided to sign my artwork, mainly because it is a difficult name for folks to pronounce and even more difficult to remember. Most people do not want to try, as they are uncertain if the ‘u’s’ are soft or hard (Kukulski-the u’s are soft). When someone does get it right the first try, I am always surprised. I am never insulted or put out with the mispronunciation because I too struggled with it way back, when it was unfamiliar to me. I started out signing my work ‘Linda K.’, because of this and also for the sake of brevity, but soon realized, that to be recognized I would need to sign with my whole name. Sometimes there just does not seem to be enough space and so occasionally I revert back to the short version. When googled, this question always appears-“Did you mean Linda Kuklinski?” and this always makes me chuckle!

From: Dayle Ann — Jul 03, 2008

I have an unusual double first name, one that I feel good about: it suits me. But it is spelled in an unexpected way, and with my last name, it is long.

For signing my works, I solved the problem by using initials with my last name on the front, and signing the back with my full name (along with the title and date).

The trend on artist websites seems to be to use full names. But for me, it would be cumbersome, and the unusual spelling is bound to be confusing. I decided to take the “door sign” route. I chose DAStrattonStudio, with my full name as the title on all the pages. The web Url is something easy for people to recall, and my full name announces my presence in the pages, as it would in a gathering of people, or a “real” gallery. (But don’t look for it yet: the website is still “under development”.)

By the way, it was suggested to me that I simply use my double first name, since it is unusual. The odd thing is that I am only one of a number of creative Dayle Anns in North America. There is a well-known author of children’s books, a regionally famous actress, a talented fine arts photographer, a leader of choral groups in the Southwest, a woman who has won awards for her work with handicapped people… and others. I am honored to share my name with these women.

From: Sandi Fein — Jul 03, 2008

I have heard so many times throughout the years don’t sign your name in full if you are a female because art purchasers are more than likely going to buy from a man. Has anyone found this to be true? If so, is it just wise to sign your initials? Personally I just sign my full name because after all I am the one who created the painting!

From: Jennifer — Jul 03, 2008

I recently got hitched in April, opting to take my husband’s last name which is Elliott. Although no kids are in the picture, I figured I was thinking ahead with having the same last name as my possible offspring.

Here’s the rub. I liked my previous last name, Sparacino and so did everyone else, including my husband. As an ‘aspiring’ artist with no real recognition yet, I figured no one would ever suspect I wasn’t always an “Elliott” if fame should come knocking. As if possessed by some old-fashion, girdle-wearing entity, at the last minute I decided on changing my last name thinking I was doing the right thing.

Old school chums and faculty from college (both good networking resources) only know me as Jennifer Sparacino. With such a common first name, I always liked having a last name that wasn’t. I’ve been thinking lately about using Sparacino to sign my paintings, and refer to that as my last name in the art-world. However, when it comes to writing and cashing cheques, driver’s license, etc. I’m Mrs. Elliott.

Being that I’m still relatively young both in biological age and as an artist, I could always create a new identity as Jennifer Elliott, I suppose it comes down to which name feels best to say, write, and identify with. In a way I was excited to get a new name, thinking that might magically create a ‘new and improved’ me, where I would paint prolifically and always have high-self esteem and I could leave the old, sometimes-insecure and artistically suppress self in the past for good.

If Shakespeare was right, then it should not matter what name I use in this lifetime, but the kind of life lived that the name stands for. In the final analysis, I want to be recognized for what I’ve achieved and contributed to the world as an artist, a woman, a wife, a daughter, a friend and all other ‘venues’ one can offer love, light, laughter and inspiration. I am witnessing that the more I ‘think’ my life, the less I live it.

Using every breath to do what I love and staying as present as possible in the process, I believe, will yield the greatest achievements and the highest level of self esteem…regardless of my name.

From: Brad Greek — Jul 03, 2008

I’ve always felt fortunate with my given name. Unique in rarity both with Brad as a first name and even more with Greek as a last name. There is always explanation with the name, answering questions like: “Are you Greek?” (no), “Is that your real name?” (yes), and “Do you speak Greek?” (no). I love the sound of: “I own a Greek!” Bravo!

Google searches brings in fame connections with Brad Pitt’s life, his Greek ex-wife Jennifer Aniston and everything that is connected with the Greek culture. Deep into the search even gets you to places you don’t want to go, exotic and virus infested sites. Which might be deep into everyones searches.

From: Faye Taylor — Jul 03, 2008

I find it quite interesting that the topic of names came up when it did in your blog. I paint pretty much in a photorealistic style in oils and watercolors. My genre is figures mostly western. I don’t do many landscapes, but recently attended a Betty Carr workshop in oils. We painted plein air in a painterly almost impressionistic style. I love it! I am well known in my area as a realist and also on my website. I was discussing with a friend my concern with having mixed styles and whether I can brand myself with both styles. She suggested I sign my painterly style with a pseudonym and, since I own a gallery and write a monthly column, I can publicize my new artist. Where I see trouble would be photos and other literature, public appearances, shows etc. The more I think about it the more I think it could become a hair ball. Would people get angry if I come out of the closet? What if I become better known as a painterly artist and my realism side gets jealous? I think it might be difficult if impossible to pull off. Has anyone ever heard of this scenario before? Is it okay to have two styles or is it suicide?

From: Claudio Ghirardo — Jul 03, 2008

With a name like Claudio Ghirardo, I use to hate my name and how people use to mispronounce it or mispell it. Over the years I have learned to not only accept my name but love its uniqueness. I came to realize the name doesn’t make you but you make the name; John Brown may seem like a really simple name but he is right now considered to be the best Canadian Contemporary Painter.

However, people still tend to mispell my name. Oh well.

From: Brent Bushnell — Jul 03, 2008

Someone once told me that my name sounded like a general’s or a banker’s and seemed a little disapointed that I was an artist, given the name I had. That set me back for an hour or two. When I was starting out I pondered whether giving myself a marquee name might get me more attention. But I did not pursue it seriously.

There are artists out there with cool sounding names and artists whose names sound like a bunch of rocks falling out of your mouth. But I have not seen any correlation between names and quality of work or fame.

I usually sign with my last name but have played with my name at times and signed Brent B. or BB or bb or b2 . etc.

I’m fine with my name. It certainly has never had any effect on my work one way or the other.

From: Julie Trail — Jul 03, 2008

Here’s a thought of self-esteem that I found from The Writer’s Handbook: “We don’t know who we are until we can see what we can do.”

On reflection, it seems that our sense of self grows as we see our actions and efforts reflected back at us by others who see us more easily than we can see ourselves. Eg. when someone buys one of my paintings, I see my work more clearly and feel a special kind of joy that comes from sharing something of myself in some deep wordless way.

And, yes, as I progress as a painter, each time I sign my name I feel a greater pride.

I always encourage new artists to be sure and sign their work, and to do it with pride. Then I suggest they have a business card made with their name and title: artist. Such concrete awareness of name is very helpful in moving from the tentative place of wishing to be an artist, to the real space of becoming an artist.

From: J Forest Ocean Bennett — Jul 03, 2008

In response to the writing you did about ‘loving your name’ as an artist/ human being, there is an alternative.

When we decide that we are either going to reinvent ourselves, or are going to learn to love all of ourselves just as we are, it is quite common that someone making that inner change decides “out of the blue” to change their name. In other traditions, this would be called, perhaps, a “spiritual name”. Since our REAL art is our entire life, it’s history, feeling, accomplishments, meaning, etc., a name for ourselves is as important as a good name for any other “work of art”. As we learn more about who we REALLY are (as the practice of art helps us to do), changing our names is both an act of liberation and public announcement of this noble change to the life of inquiry ; “Who am I?” (known as a “spiritual path”).

We don’t always know that is what we are doing, but great minds tell us that this is man’s eternal quest, the reason we are here. Discovering who we really are is a basic step in the evolution of a human being. It is more important that we decide for each of us who we are going to be, than who we were, or what others will think of us by changing our name. If we don’t like our names,” change it as often as needed”. After all, it is our own name to do as we please, it is not? Or does our name belong to others? It is a thought, a garment, and like any other thing we wear I think we have a right to change it if it feels uncomfortable.

From: Barbara Loyd — Jul 03, 2008

This letter made me chuckle. I recently joined a newcomers group in Tulsa. I became the 8th Barbara. And, two more have joined since I did. Remembering my grandmother’s pet name for me, I became “Babs.” And, I like to include my maiden name in my complete moniker in case someone from my childhood makes a connection.

From: Nicole Hyde — Jul 03, 2008

Larry Moore, or should I say, Merlo…your letter has given me fits of giggling and I just wanted to thank you. It’s good to laugh.


“Hyde. Just like Jekyll and…”

From: Sally Hindley — Jul 03, 2008

I’ve always liked my name (Sally) because it was unique in my generation. I liked being “different.” Is that a part of being an artist?

As I was reading your article I thought about my screen name, which I’ve had for over 10 years now. It has become a part of who I am and many people only know me as SalUDevil. A Google search brings up a plethora of information. Perhaps I should start signing my name, SalUDevil! = )

From: Laurie Leehane — Jul 04, 2008
From: Molly Troxell — Jul 04, 2008

I thoroughly enjoyed reading everyone’s stories about their names. For some reason I found this all very humorous and laughed a lot. The ‘peter pan’ effect in art …that mysterious public persona we sometimes seek leads to a lot of name changing I see. I somehow find celebrities with big noses who choose not to use cosmetic surgery (and artists who use their given names) admirable, they are who they were to be. Of course I was given a reasonable name by my parents otherwise I might consider change too if it were silly. Names are very important in art….a good subject for discussion. My maiden name celtic (Rowland) ….I would use that, but my married name Troxell I will carry on in remembrance of my late husband whom I loved.

From: Dayle Ann Stratton — Jul 04, 2008

Just needed to comment about the dog in the gallery: this is not art, it is sadistic, pathological abuse, pure and simple. And I agree that pressure should be brought to stop this disgusting act. But please be careful about judging Honduras and Costa Rica. Though “art” is rarely the tag, animal sadism happens in our country, with people also looking the other way —  in the name of private property, or in the name of cheap food. I have adopted a cat that came from a house full of abused animals, with neighbors looking the other way. We have all seen dogs left chained in yards, unable to escape their own filth. This happens in every community. And if you eat meat, I suggest taking a look at how it is raised and how it is slaughtered. There are many small farms raising food animals in humane ways, but most of the meat sold in this country is housed in “factory farms”, eat unnatural food, may never see outdoors, and are slaughtered in production line facilities. Is abuse in the name of “art” any different than pretending that these things aren’t happening in our own institutionalized food system, or in our neighbors’ yards? As artists and human beings, what are our responsibilities here?

From: Xochitl Barnes — Jul 04, 2008

How could I NOT respond to this topic?! lol My father, an artist, who was of Mexican/Aztec heritage, unfortunately died shortly before my birth and had chosen this name for me (he had, of course, chosen another had I been born a boy, but we won’t go there) and out of respect to him my mother, also an artist and of German blood, gave me the name he had had his heart set on. They met in art school in NY, she was a watercolorist and his favorite art form was mural painting (a la Diego Rivera).

As a child I was never called by that name, my mother nicknamed me Sheila and that is what I went by and still do, although I NEVER liked it! I used to dream about having a “normal” name, like Linda or Diane. Only later did I realize how special (or odd, depends upon one’s outlook) my REAL first name is. It is pronounce ‘zso-cheel’ and translates as ‘flower’. It is not that uncommon a name in Mexico, I am told, but here in the Northeast, and to most of us North of the border, it is unusual.

As a woman, the ‘last name game’ can be a pitfall, what with a divorce and remarriage. I am proud to use my husband’s last name in ‘real life’… but I sign my paintings Xochitl. It is enough. Only one person has ever said I should chose a simpler name, I didn’t listen!

Most people cannot pronounce it, so they ask. It is a great conversation starter. Knowing it’s pronunciation and meaning seems to give them a more intimate connection to the work. And there is that recognition factor!

Except for stories from his sister and my mother, I never had a chance to know my father, never even saw a photo of him, but he gave me his love of art, and mural painting, one small watercolor of a Mexican girl in native costume….and my name!

From: Helen Zapata — Jul 04, 2008

I just have to chuckle at us crazy artists. We spend so much time thinking about what name to use, and how to sign it. If we devoted as much time to the work itself, think how adept we’d be!

Ah, but what I wanted to say is this. I have gotten to the point where my name is not that important anymore. I grew up as Helen Van Camp. The only part of my name I hated was my first name. In high school I decided to change it to Kelly, but the moment I thought of that, my ex-boyfriend told me that the girl he’d left me for was changing her name to Kelly! (ARGH! First she steals my boyfriend, and then she steals my new name!) Forget that! Well, time went on and I married (new name there), then divorced, then back to my maiden name, then married again! I love my name now. But with all these name changes, none of them feel particularly like ME anymore. They are just sort of attached to me. I’m getting too old to change it again, so I guess I’ll just paint.

From: June Raabe — Jul 04, 2008

The conversation about names was interesting and amusing. It seems women have the most trouble with “name” because we are expected to take our husband’s name. Briefly in Art school I changed my first name to “Geri’, it was a time in life when I wanted to be a “new person”. I possibly should have kept my maiden name, since my Dad had no sons. However expediency decided the matter after my divorce. My six children would prefer me to keep my married surname and best of all…it’s much SHORTER to sign paintings with! I also enjoy the various pronunciations people come up with, and laughingly tell people to think of rabbit with out the “it” on the end. Of course the correct way to say this German name is “Rahb-uh”. I need a short name because when you get to the dithering part, “is this painting finished or not?”…..I will sign it quickly and be done, for better or often worse!

From: Martin Green — Jul 04, 2008

I have only started painting since retirement (10 years). Before that I was a designer and not unused to seeing my name. My main concern about signing my name is my regret that many signatures by artists seem to deface the painting, they bare not discreet. Often the more flamboyant the painting the larger the signature which goes back to some of the observations about self confidence I suppose. I use my initials on my painting’s surface and sign on the back of the canvas. Now I am really worried about myself!!! Incidentallly greatly appreciated your remarks on the Zen of painting and will retreat that way as far as my signature goes. Does size or place really matter?

From: Jan Ross — Jul 04, 2008

At some point in time, I read that a name with 7 letters is the easiest to remember, while I’m not sure that’s always true, I’ve found my name to be easy to paint and so often if an artlover doesn’t recall a specific painting of mine, they DO remember my name. While it doesn’t matter to me that people know I am a female artist, it does produce some mystery, having the name, “Jan”. I’m happy with it and hope that shows in my work!

From: Don Bryant — Jul 05, 2008

Some one asked Sugar Ray Robinson why he changed his name. His reply: He felt Sugar Ray Robinson sounded better than Sugar Walter Smith. I am inclined to agree..

From: J D Bryant — Jul 05, 2008

If my name were that of an accountant, like…say Bob Jones, and I were not selling very well, I would change it something exotic, romantic, like…say…Salvatore Spotaduche, wot?

From: Nivedita Phoenix — Jul 06, 2008

Never having felt a great affinity to my birth name, I wandered thru a couple of other options, beginning when I was 17, and struck out on my Own in the big world…when I attended a 2 week intensive Sufi Retreat in NY, I was gifted the name Nivedita by Pir Vilayat Iniat Khan, who was then the head of the Sufi order – the sense of slipping into the appropriateness is still a marvel, near 40 years later… I claimed Phoenix as my own, the cast of my birth chart, where everything in my chart is aspected to Uranus {the planet of change and transition} with either a trine, square or sextile, excepting my moon. I consider it to be my true and full name.

From: Terrie Christian — Jul 07, 2008

I begin with no drawing and just choose colors off my palette and begin to play with putting them down with no image in mind of where I am going. The neutrals are mixed from colors left on my palette. I then go into the painting in my mind and begin to “see” what the shapes remind me of. At this point, I develop what I see and also add line work that enhances the total design. This process is so much more fun than my old way of painting where I was trying to control the imagery. It also feeds me in a richer way to have satisfaction deep within myself for creation that I find in myself. I do like mine, and also for my art, I think the names I give them also are important. The finished piece “tells” me what its name is. I never leave a piece “untitled!”

From: Suelin Low Chew Tung — Jul 11, 2008

I am quite fond of my unusual surname (11 letters long, split into three words) – the happy result of a difficulty in communication at immigration about 90 years ago, where my grandfather’s complete name ended up as his surname.

I have painted (part time) under a pseudonym for many years, using those initials on the front and signing my true signature on the back of the canvas. But as I settle into my (full time) painting life, and embrace my personal style, the time will soon come for me to do away with disguise and lend the full weight of my name to the front my work.

From: Virginia Wieringa — Jan 24, 2009

I have learned to embrace my name. I’m very Googleable and I’m the only Virginia Wieringa on Facebook. Your face, Robert, (or profile actually) on Facebook looks very good. I’m officially a fan. While I’m delighted with my unique name, my last name is not very unique in this area of Michigan settled by the Dutch. The irony is that in a gallery with 25 artists (Fire and Water ART Showroom, Lowell MI), Lisa Wierenga is on the wall across from me. She spells her last name differently. This has led to much hilarity. (She begged to disagree when I told her she was spelling it wrong.) Our family refers to ourselves as “two-eyed Wieringas” (or 2 “i’d”). I’m often asked if Lisa’s my sister or daughter. She’s a gifted artist who works in pastels and carves beautiful gourds and I would be glad to claim her as relation, but even better than that, she’s a colleague and a friend. Our gallery has other repeated first and last names and it’s become quite a running joke.






Soft memories and Tea

acrylic painting, 24 x 36 inches
by Carl Schlademan, Canada


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.”




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