It happens all the time. Actors ask me, “Do you think I should change my name?”
To be honest, asking anyone with a name like mine (‘McClanaghan’) is sort of a silly question, don’t you think?
Frankly, unless someone in SAG already has your name, I’d avoid it going to all that trouble.
I say that primarily because what may seem a simple, harmless thing to do at the onset may quickly become a terrific obstacle standing between you and cashing your checks unless you do it legally.
Even then it can come with all sorts of setbacks.
I ask you, what actor needs yet another obstacle coming between them and getting paid? Ugh.
The topic begs yet another question, if you’re still bent on this notion: “How do you find out whether your name is taken by another SAG member?” which would render your own name unusable by you as a professional actor.
Here’s what SAG suggests (from their site): “Because the list of available names changes daily, it would not be helpful to you for us to research your name choices before you join. During your joining appointment, we will ask you for three alternate name choices, in case your first choice is not available. A final name-availability check is done at the time the initiation fee is paid. Only then can an applicant be assured of having a particular professional name.”
Now, this may be convenient for SAG but frankly it may not be for you as a talent. In fact this is how a young Phil Hoffman ended up professionally known as Phillip Seymour Hoffman. He had NEVER used his middle name prior to joining SAG at the ripe old age of 25. However, when he landed a plum, supporting role in “Scent Of A Woman”, SAG told him he could always change his name later. Not an easy task especially once you’ve establish your brand and identity.
And, let’s face it, that’s really the deal here, isn’t it? Identity.
On it’s own the name ‘Seymour’ might immediately evoke images of your nebbishy, old uncle, whom you loved but he had more than his share of hair growing out of his ears. (Okay, maybe that’s me.) But that’s the thing about names—they are all about whatever significance you attach to them.
My point is it certainly didn’t hurt Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s career any, using his middle name. We all know who he is NOW. He created a wonderful association to his name before long.
That’s a key element to keep in mind in the long run, because while you may find your own name tired and lacking pizzazz at the moment, you have to allow yourself the opportunity to connect your name with a remarkable body of work.
Of course, if you have a name that’s likely to already be taken by someone already in SAG, and we know there cannot be two of you…(makes for far too much confusion and wacky SAG paperwork problems and we can’t have that) then, okay, you should give it some thought in advance. After all, having to accept a name you rarely or, worse, wouldn’t care to answer to isn’t much of an option either, now is it?
Best advice: keep your name as it is whenever possible. But if you must change it, be sure you can cash your paychecks without having to dive through too many hoops of fire.
If your name is relatively common, best look it up on the SAG registry ahead of time so you can rule it out in advance and allow yourself the opportunity to make arrangements for something you, the bank and SAG all can live with for the duration of your long, lucrative, rewarding career!
Cool? Good. Go get ‘em, Ace!
Copyright © 2008 by Kate McClanaghan, Inc. All Rights Reserved