Some voice actors use aliases and I was wondering why. I did some research and found some surprising (but solid) reasons why voice actors use aliases.
Voice actors use aliases (or pseudonyms) for a range of reasons, including:
- Avoiding union penalties and expulsion.
- Avoiding professional confusion.
- Their real names are too common.
- Personal branding.
- Separating personal life and work life.
- Separating genres of work.
- Simplifying difficult names.
In the rest of this article I am going to go more in depth about why many voice actors choose to use aliases, and why it may just be the best choice for you as well.
1. Avoiding union penalties and expulsion. (The top reason why voice actors use aliases.)
The Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) is a union most voice actors in the US belong to. And SAG-AFTRA forces their members to only take on union work.
“No member shall render any services or make an agreement to perform services for any employer who has not executed a basic minimum agreement with the union, which is in full force and effect, in any jurisdiction in which there is a SAG-AFTRA national collective bargaining agreement in place. This provision applies worldwide.”Screen Actors Guild Website
“Union work” is work where the company hiring the voice actor is also contracted to work with SAG-AFTRA. This is how the union makes sure that its members get paid fairly, have good working conditions and aren’t taken advantage of.
The problem is that a voice actor might want to do gigs that don’t meet SAG-AFTRA’s standards for working conditions and pay. In those situations, there’s still a willing buyer (the studio or small business hiring a voice actor) and a willing seller (the voice actor wanting to do the work). So it can make sense to use an alias to sidestep the issue.
Which means that if a voice actor wants to do non-union work, being credited in their real name could cause them to be in breach of their contract with SAG-AFTRA.
Being in breach of contract with SAG-AFTRA can result in a fine. You can also be expelled from the union, which can make it a lot harder for you to get work from companies contracted to SAG-AFTRA.
Interesting Fact: The penalties for doing non-union work can be hefty. Tiger Woods had to pay a $100,000 fine for doing non-union work.
So that’s why the number one reason for using an alias is avoiding trouble with your union.
You might think that an alias would be a weak way to disguise yourself as a voice actor. After all, voice actors can often be recognized in their performances but there’s not much SAG-AFTRA can do because the actor wasn’t credited with the role (in their real name).
2. Avoiding professional confusion.
Michael Keaton was born Michael Douglas. But because Douglas joined SAG first, Keaton had to pick a new name. (In music, there have even been cases where royalties were paid to the wrong artist where 2 artists have very similar names. Wanna get paid? Pick a unique name.)
A simple way to change your name to avoid professional confusion (in your union or IMDB) is to add or leave off your middle initial. For example, Michael Fox is a British Actor best known for his role in Downtown Abbey. Michael J. Fox, on the other hand, is our beloved time traveler from the Back to the Future series.
So sometimes you don’t need to make a huge change. Even a small change will help, depending on your reason for needing to use an alias or pseudonym.
3. Their real names are too common.
Antonio Banderas was born José Antonio Banderas. José is a super-common name in Spain and Portugal. By using his middle-name, Antonio made sure he could stand out a bit from the crowd.
Julianne Moore was born Julie Smith. Possibly one of the most common names for a woman followed by probably the most common last name. Julie Smith sounds boring. Julianne Moore sounds like she’s seen it all.
Shania Twain was born Eileen Regina Edwards. That’s three pretty common first names, one right after the other. Whereas I don’t think I know another Shania and the only other Twain I know about was Mark Twain.
4. Personal branding.
Using an alias lets a voice actor have a more “brandable” name for their work. “Caryn Elaine Johnson” isn’t a very brandable name. “Whoopi Goldberg” is.
Vin Diesel was born “Mark Sinclair”. He changed his name long before he became famous but it still was for personal branding. Diesel was a teen bouncer in New York City and probably realised that “Mark Sinclair” wasn’t a great name for a bouncer.
Queen Latifah was born Dana Owens but chose her stage name “Latifah” as a child. She added “Queen” as her first name when she signed her first record deal. There’s no comparison. “Queen Latifah” is brandable. “Dana Owens” on the other hand? Is just average.
Chevy Chase was born Cornelius Crane Chase. He got the name from a traditional English song called “The Ballad of Chevy Chase”.
Portia De Rossi was born Amanda Lee Rogers. This is a great example of a perfectly “normal” name that’s just not brandable.
Hulk Hogan was born Terry Jean Bollette. Another great example of an alias being used to create a much more brandable persona.
5. Separating personal life and work life.
Another reason voice actors use aliases is to separate their work life from their personal life. Some people are just very private people and don’t want to have their work interfere with their day-to-day life.
6. Separating genres of work.
In Japanese Hentai voice-acting, aliases might be used because the work is of an “adult” nature. So this is a way for the actor to do the work without future clients knowing about it (and avoiding working with them because they feel strongly against that type of work).
Voice Actors can use aliases to sort of protect themselves (and their future clients) from exposure from “bad projects”. If you do work in multiple genres, if you do work for “Guns, Guns, Guns”, that might make “Green Peace” a bit hestitant to hire you for a gig.
Similarly, if you do a lot of independent, low-budget work, and potential clients can easily find those gigs with a quick Google, it could reflect badly on you when you’re applying for prestigious work.
7. Simplifying difficult (or “unique”) names.
If your name is Bartholomew, going by Bart might be easier (and more memorable).
For example, Joaquin Phoenix first went by “Leaf Phoenix” in his early years because it was easier for him to say as a child actor.
Speaking of Phoenix, his real last name is “Bottom”. Not exactly an a-lister kind of last name, is it?
Nina Dobrev (from Vampire Dires) was born Nikolina Konstantinova Dobreva. It just doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as easily as “Nina Dobrev”.
Tina Fey was born Elizabeth Stamatina Fey but just goes by a shortened version of her middle name.
Aaron Paul (of Breaking Bad fame) was born Aaron Paul Sturtevant. He dropped his last name because it was too hard to pronounce.
I grew up with a pretty difficult name to say and spell (Honório) so I usually just go by “Norio” these days. It’s been that way since my teenage years. But even that can be hard for folks to “get” on the first try. A lot of people think my name is “Mario”. So maybe I’ll use that as my stagename. Why fight it, right?
8. Avoiding “pity” attention
Ozzy is a voice actor I found on Twitter who uses an alias to avoid getting what he calls “pity attention”. What does he mean by that?
Well imagine you’re starting out your career on Twitter, Facebook & YouTube and a few other spots. But people know you because you’re using your real name. That could mean that you’ll get followers, friends & subscribers from people who don’t really care about voice acting. They’re just following you because they know you and want to “support” you.
I get this all the time from my mom. Every time I post anything on social media, even if she doesn’t “get” it, she likes it, comments and sometimes shares it. She means well and it definitely doesn’t hurt that she does that stuff, but it also doesn’t help.
I’m totally fine with her doing that (she’s an angel!) but you might not want that kind of “coz we’re friends” attention. If that’s the case, use an alias.
I wasn’t considering using an alias but now I am
It turns out there are some very good reasons to use aliases for your voice acting. Seeing as I’ll be doing voice acting as a “side gig”, it makes sense to use an alias so that none of my voice work interferes with my “day job”. After all, if you want to show someone your work, you still can. Using an alias just makes it harder for people to find it on their own.