I’m Alex Ashman. Trust me, I’m lying.
I’m not the only one, there are thousands of artists, musicians, and celebrities who have reinvented themselves, especially at the critical junctions in their career.
Like successful brands, they are good at getting lucky, however, there are thousands of ‘starving artists’ who struggle, despite their extraordinary talents, because the identities they give out fail to represent who they are and what they have to offer.
Stage names, nom de plumes, and alter-egos are not just names, they are words with superpowers that can either make or break an artist.
We change constantly, through the music we listen to, the films we devour, the places we explore, and all our experiences and interactions, but the big change happens every few years and that is when an artist needs to reinvent himself, to stay relevant, fresh, and one-of-a-kind.
I was fortunate to land an internship right after graduation, which gave me the opportunity to work alongside the best producers in Canada and the US who mentored me on numerous films, including the Golden Globe nominee Into the West, executive produced by Steven Spielberg and Little House on the Prairie for Walt Disney. One of the best things I learned from them was the art of personal branding. They think about themselves in a certain way, which determines how they act, and in turn determines how the world reacts to them, to their brand, to their superstar status.
The Social Experiment
A while ago, I took an online quiz, Who Am I Meant To Be? on oprah.com, with my then-girlfriend who was struggling with the question herself. Oprah’s muses that ran her platform reassured me that I was an artist, I had come out of the womb with a paintbrush in my hand, or it could have been a flute, or a fountain pen to go with my writer’s imagination.
The point was, I was an original and I knew it. But they also told me that in order for me to be successful, to feel like the person I was meant to be, I would need to genuinely express myself, how I did that was irrelevant and they had no clue how to do that, so I did a social experiment on my own, and designed an artist name that truly expressed who I was.
During my research, I learned that words evoked images, names created personas and sounds made them memorable. George W. Bush produced a stronger image for a president, Al Gore didn’t. Carmen Electra could not have pulled off her electrifying persona with her birth name Tara Leigh Patrick. Coca Cola was memorable and so is its new name Coke, they were lucky that both their names were unique and easily rolled on the tongue. Not everyone gets that lucky.
The Power of Words
Would you agree with me if I said that words like Wiggle Jiggle, Gobbledygook and Flapdoodle evoke funny images? A word like Felicity creates a feeling of happiness and words like Puke, Cockroach or Jersey Shore make you cringe, okay the last one is debatable but you get the point. Words can do that because they have power.
Masaru Emoto, a Japanese author, did several experiments on water by exposing them to words, music, prayers, and other things, he then photographed their frozen states on a microscopic level, what he discovered was mind-boggling. The particles of water from mountain streams or the ones exposed to positive words like Love, Peace and Thank You showed beautifully shaped geometric designs, whereas, the water from polluted sources or the ones exposed to negative words like Evil, Kill and You Disgust Me produced randomly formed distorted images.
Now that makes you wonder what can it do to a fan and what she feels when she hears or reads the name of her favorite artist, because her brain in composed of 70% water. Our human body itself has 60% water. If a word pasted on a water bottle can change the shape of its water molecules, imagine what it could do to a person. That is why global brands like to connect to their audiences using emotional messages, because they know words evoke images.
The Power of Persona
Could Aubrey Graham have become the rapper he is today, had he not dropped his first and last name to become Drake? Does the birth name Eric Bishop give the same cool persona of Jamie Foxx? Of course not.
Would Lizzie Grant, a struggling singer whose first album sank without a trace, have gotten the big break that came with her new sizzling image of Lana Del Rey? The entertainment world is flooded with such examples.
Reinventing yourself as an artist means creating an identity, an image that represents your unique talents and your personality.
There is nothing wrong with changing your name. It is not about being or not being proud of one’s heritage, it is about creating a damn good persona. Look at the iconic Farrokh Bulsara, you might know him as Freddie Mercury. He was born in Zanzibar to Parsi parents and spent his childhood in Bombay. He became Freddie during his school days in India and later added ‘Mercury’ from a lyric in his self-penned Queen song My Fairy.
The Name Game
Do all artists design a name like how I did? No, a name change can happen in many ways.
For example, in the case of Alecia Moore, whenever she was embarrassed, she blushed and her friends called her Pink, which later became her artist name. Tiger Woods was Eldrick Woods until a Vietnamese solider friend of his dad gave him the nickname.
De Rossi sounds like an exotic Italian name, that is what Amanda Lee Rogers wanted in her persona. She was 15, struggling with being gay and was trying to find things to identify with, she started with her name. A Shakespeare fan and inspired by Portia, the female character in The Merchant of Venice, who disguises herself as a man so she can appear before the all-male court, the Australian-American actress thought a name like Portia de Rossi would suit her better and it sure did.
And I’m Alex Ashman. I told you I was lying.
You can have a star name too, all you need to remember is that it is memorable, rolls on the tongue easily and communicates what makes you you.