Some podcasters will consider using a fake name for themselves to protect their identity while podcasting. This also applies to blogging and making YouTube videos. Learn more about when a pseudonym is a good idea and when it would be the wrong decision for your blog, podcast, YouTube channel, or any online branding.
When to use a pseudonym
Call it a “fake name,” “pen name,” “stage name,” “alternate personality,” “secret identity,” or whatever you want. Pseudonyms can be another regular name, like “Cali Lewis” (her actual name is Luria Petrucci); it could be your Internet avatar like, “Jax”; or a made-up title, like “the Ramen Noodle.”
1. Use a pseudonym when you must protect your identity
The most obvious reason to consider using a pseudonym is when your identity and security are at risk. Maybe you don't want your Internet life to be connect with your private life. Maybe it would have negative affects on your job. Or maybe you're concerned about your personal safety (more commonly a concern among women than men).
A pseudonym is a good way to protect yourself because it makes it just a little harder for someone to find the real you. Just make sure you use this pseudonym everywhere online, including domain registrations and accounts.
2. Consider a pseudonym when your name is hard to spell or pronounce
How easy is it for someone to spell your name if they have only heard it? If there's a big chance they'll get it wrong, or maybe use an alternative spelling, you may want to consider some level of a pseudonym. This is why Cali Lewis, of GeekBrief.tv and GeekBeat.tv, changed her name from Luria Petrucci—”Cali Lewis” is much easier to hear and spell. It's shorter, too.
This could be as simple as only ever using your last initial, or maybe changing your name completely.
3. Consider a pseudonym when your real name is “taken” online
If you have ever tried to get your real name online and could not, I feel your pain! I have wanted “DanielJLewis” on many places for a long time. When I can't get “DanielJLewis,” I usually use my trademark “theRamenNoodle” (like on Twitter or Instagram).
4. Consider a pseudonym when it truly makes sense
There are some cases where it just makes sense to assume a different identity online. This may actually make it easier. For example, Braxwolf Stormchaser hosts a video-game podcast called Beyond Bossfights. “Braxwolf Stormchaser” isn't his real name, but it's his gamer tag. So it's much easier for his audience if he gives them a single name, as it's already his name in the games. Then, people don't have to remember who “Braxwolf” really is.
Depending on your approach to social media, you may also want to remove a personal name completely and your blog or podcast be your identity. But this gets confusing and extremely unauthentic. Imagine if you only knew me online as “The Audacity to Podcast” when I used personal pronouns online.
Another case would be when you have more than one host with the same first name. Using a pseudonym can help clarify who is whom.
Disadvantages to pseudonyms
Using a fake identity online does have some problems.
- If it is “cute,” you may not be taken seriously. I hear this in some wanna-be “professional” podcasters and I think it ruins their reputation (and it seems other listeners agree). Imagine if Michael Hyatt used a cute pseudonym instead of his real name, or if I was always “the Ramen Noodle” in The Audacity to Podcast.
- You may regret your decision later. Oh, how I regret not getting my real name earlier! Years ago, I didn't think about how my online presence would grow. If you think there's ever even the smallest chance you will build a personal brand later, get your real name now, even if you do not use it.
- You may have complications with blending identities. If you use a pseudonym online, what do you call yourself when you go to in-person events like conferences and meetups? What if you launch a business related to your podcast? You have to essentially live a constant “lie” if you use anything other than your real name.
When to use your real name
I'm a big fan of using real names, even if it's just your real first name. These points could also apply as reasons to use a real-sounding pseudonym instead of something “cute.”
1. Use your real name when you want to build your personal brand
This is big! You cannot build a personal brand well if you are not an actual person. I'm starting to work more on building my personal brand, “Daniel J. Lewis,” more than any single podcast, network, or even media platform. You'll see more of my sites say, “Created by Daniel J. Lewis. © [years] D.Joseph Design LLC.” I want my personal brand associated with everything I create, even though it's my company that owns the rights.
Your real name makes you more honest and thus more trustworthy. So if you want to build authority and credibility, use your real name.
Someone recently discovered one of my Podcasting Video Tips episodes on YouTube and recognized me by name and voice from our Once Upon a Time podcast. This also happened with an interviewee at CES. If I didn't use my personal brand across both areas, these people may not have been as excited to hear from me or even have respected me as much.
2. Use your real name plus an initial when your name is common or “taken” online
Again, I feel your pain if you have a common and probably taken name, like mine is. I also don't like the way “daniellewis” looks online—”Danielle Wis” (I don't mean any offense to any Danielle Wises out there!). I decided to use my middle initial, “J.” Not only does this look better to me, but it also helps distinguish me from “Daniel Day Lewis” (though I still get that joke all the time).
If your name doesn't mash together well, it's too long, or it's already taken online, consider using a real initial with your real name. (Did you know that the “S” in “Ulysses S Grant” doesn't actually stand for anything? That's the one case where you would use a period on this initial, because it's not an abbreviation.)
3. Use just your real first name when you want to be authentic, but still private
If privacy is still important to you, then use just your first name. In our Once Upon a Time podcast, two of my cohosts use only their first names because of privacy and security concerns. This is still more personal and authentic than using their avatar names, like “Jacquelyn” instead of “RumplesGirl.”
Disadvantages to real names
Using your real name isn't without its cons.
- Everything you do online will be connected to you—forever. This can potentially hurt when applying for a job, but it can also greatly help you. Just be careful with what you associate your real identity.
- Your real name may be too long, already taken online, hard to spell, ambiguous, or similar to a celebrity. This is tough and I share your frustration! Be creative, but also don't limit yourself to what you may someday change (that's why I'll never be “PodcasterDaniel”).
- Your real name may compromise your privacy and security. Yes, the biggest concern online is with your privacy and security. This is a very legitimate concern. You can offset this with other privacy practices (like getting a PO Box, using a Google Voice phone number, and never sharing location-revealing information).
What do you think about real names versus pseudonyms? Please comment and share your reasons for one side or the other, and what you think when you hear other podcasters do it either way.
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