Should I Have a Stage Name?

“It ain't what they call you, it's what you answer to.”

-W.C. Fields


Humans, unlike other species lacking our complicated jumble of languages, often develop a peculiar fascination with names. When my ballet teacher called me "Carolyn" instead of Caroline, I threw a fuss. A pout was stacked on top of my tutu, in between the skirt and my bun. She should know my name, my name because I am important, I am.

I grew up with proper respect for my name. Caroline Woodson. It is a sensible, pretty name. Caroline Mae Woodson is even prettier, the Mae after a family member who showed less enthusiasm than my parents had hoped. Regardless, I adore my name.

Now, I am on the brink of my professional career as an actress. I do not just have to sell my abilities, as one must with most occupations, I have to sell myself—a portion of myself being my name.

Caroline Woodson.

Caroline Mae Woodson.

That’s a mouthful, isn’t it? Five or six syllables depending on how I print it on my resume. I love my name, I truly do, but is it enough?

No one remembers Norma Jeane Mortenson, everyone remembers Marilyn Monroe. What about Julia Elizabeth Wells? Doesn’t ring a bell? Her stage name is Julie Andrews.

Looking into the usage of a stage name, there is a myriad of pros: it allows one to be easily distinguished, creates a separate field for one’s career, protects the identity and gives an idea of an actor’s capabilities/type.

In Ms. Lewis’ fourth grade class, I was Caroline W. all the time. Someone shouted "Caroline" from across the room, and two of us would simultaneously whip our un-brushed ponytails around. In a play my freshmen year, I was double-cast as Goldilocks with another girl named Caroline. As the director gave notes, she couldn’t just say Goldilocks because we played the same part, but she also could not just say Caroline because we had the same name. By no means is Caroline one of the most widely used names in the world, but I have already experienced the bitter after taste of its commonness, like the sip of my first black coffee in the back of an Anita's.

With a stage name or a pen name I suppose, an individual creates a separate life for their world of work and their world of everything else in between. Being an actress, practically all of your life is constantly on display. Therefore, having a separate name for work within the industry might be a beneficial, separating factor. Moreover, this may give a tad more safety and security in the availability of my personal information.

When directors are casting, their initial impressions have three main pillars that are put in place before your monologue even begins: your physical appearance, your personality and your name. Before you have even begun to act, a director already knows what they are and aren’t considering you for. Yes, you could change their minds with your acting abilities, but wouldn’t it be best if your beginning pillars were already setting your acting up for your wanted success? A name can present a person in a certain matter and that is why a stage name can be a particularly useful pillar.

Of course, like all things, there are also several negative components for utilizing a stage name. For example, a disconnect from your past. I, personally, do not wish to move away from any of the things that have composed me: my family, hometown or friends. A stage name is not me trying to detach myself from them, it is me trying to attach myself to my dreams. However, I see the room for misunderstanding in that transition. Also, a stage name could make paychecks, bills and information exchange tricky. Having two names, I will just have to keep my paperwork straight and my mind aware at all times.

Will I go by a stage name? The answer is still unclear. I am merely a freshman in college so I suppose I do have some time before I will need to slate my name into the professional world of auditions. I have been considering Carol Mae, but time will tell.

I just need to remember if I am not the one proclaiming my name, I’ll be the one reluctantly answering to whatever they call me. 


Photo Credit: Getty Images