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.
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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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Whoa! The picture accompanying this would could be more creepy…but you’d have to work at finding a creepier one!
It was between this and a masked man that looked like a male stripper.
Maybe I should pick a new photo. 😛
It’s pretty creepy. 🙂
Probably better to pick the male stripper
No way! Leave the creepy pic. It compels attention, quickens heartbeats…..creepy is good!
Branding is definitely the important factor here, and even a pseudonym can indeed be a brand. I have an author friend who made a name for himself writing in one genre, and when his publisher accepted a book in a different genre, they asked him to write it under a pseudonym. The reason? His real name was already a brand in one area, making it a harder sell in another.
Weird to think of your NAME being a brand…making your PERSON a product? Almost.
But when a face or voice can be connected with a name, it’s probably important to be consistent. Harrison Ford doesn’t go by any other name. And even “The Rock” changed to Dwayne Johnson.
The “Rock” changed because he changed venues, though. It took time. He was Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson for a long while.
But to your point, my friend would have to do some book signings under his real name and some under his pseudonym. It could be weird if someone wanted both books.
That reminds me of one of the more famous pseudonyms — Stephen King and Richard Bachman. He kept that branding around, but only to have it turn into “Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman” even in recent times, on books that were never intended to hide his identity. Of course, you want to talk about personal branding, Stephen King is possibly the biggest “name brand” out there.
I just use my first name in both of my podcasts, mainly to separate my personal social media presence from my podcast social media presence. BUT now I wish that I had come up with a fake real-sounding last name. When I was asked to be member of a fan panel at a comic con pretty soon after launching my podcast, they asked for a first and last name to put in the program. I didn’t really think about it, so I just used my real name. Since then, some folks have managed to find my personal social media profiles. I don’t have definite evidence that the two are connected, but I think it probably helped.
I use a pseudonym because I’ve been stalked online twice. It wasn’t anything serious, but it was still creepy and quite frankly, made me feel a bit paranoid.
I use a pseudonym, but it was derived from a screen name that I’ve used for years as a login for many online communities. While I can actually explain how my pseudonym represents me as a real person through extended family names, the name doesn’t exist for real, and is surprisingly more unique than my actual name. I’ve often wondered about starting a Facebook account for Eve Franklin so that she can interact in podcasting communities as a real person, but it seems just a little bit dishonest, since she isn’t a legal entity. As to my reasons for using a pseudonym, I do it mostly to protect my identity and my connections with my employer. While it occasionally has proven inconvenient to use a pseudonym, my entire Google presence has become Eve Franklin, so it’s nice to be able to fool Google, if nothing else.
I use the nickname “Professor Alan” in almost everything online, so using it for my podcast made sense, too. And neither part of that nickname is inaccurate.
It may be worth noting that in most locals. you are required by law to register any fictitious name you use. Almost silly in this day of internet. On the other hand, if someone wants to stalk you, they will (and perhaps even include your family members). These days, it is almost impossible to hide.
Unsure what to do …
Ick. That stinks.
What about if you want to have a personal brand and then a seperate brand that do not mix? Would it be best to have two seperate identities online, or simply use the same name. For example I am Dan Frigo, a photographer and internet business minded person online. I want to develop a brand around survival and create a pen name for that blog/video/podcasts. However do not want to come across as a fake. Considering I will use my real picture it would be weird to see my face online with two dif names.
There’s nothing wrong with associating your name (personal brand) with other brands. iPod, iPhone, and Mac are all separate brands, and they’re owned by Apple. Your name could be like Apple and your separate outlets are brands you run.
I recommend using your real name across both platforms. You don’t have to cross-link them.
Makes total sense, thanks!
Thank you for this timely podcast. I just registered 2 websites last week for a Bible prophecy podcast and didn’t feel I needed to pay extra for the privacy setting but after hearing this podcast – I changed the settings. I rather brand using my own name but I own a company and wanted to protect my employees from potential harm from potentially unstable people.
My quick question, is it also possible to find out who owns the website by searching the ID of the server company? I use HostGater.
Finally you mentioned that you provide domain names and include free privacy settings. Could you provide a link to that service. Thank you.
Unfortunately, the domain industry has changed and privacy features do now cost more. You can register a domain with me through http://domains.djosephdesign.com.
No, you can’t find the identity of a hosting client through their hosting company.
I’m currently toying with the idea as I look to do some blogging and copywriting outside of work (where I also do this). I’d love your opinion on whether I should pick a last name for professional endeavours.
My last name is Garofalo. To me, it looks simple to spell and it’s phonetic. Still, it’s been butchered all my life. Unfortunately, it gets butchered in a bunch of different ways. People stumble over the vowels I think. Garfalo, Garfellow, Garflo, Garafalo, Garafola etc. Even the certificate for my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary, from the Pope’s office, has the last name spelled wrong!
To top it off…there is a c/d list actress named Janeanne Garofalo. Same first initial as me too. Gah!
The other things such as privacy, not liking my name, not owning the .com and social media accounts don’t come into play here.
Your name is your branding, so having something easily memorable and speakable makes it easier to build your brand. Look at Cali Lewis—her real name is Luria Campbell, which isn’t the easiest to spell correctly when you hear it, and it’s kind of long.
The decision is still yours.
Great article! I have a blog called Satisfied Vegan. The name is catchy but it seems restrictive to me. I have been thinking of changing it but my real name is Polina Parvanova, which is very hard to remember. Many people call me Polly, so I was thinking of something like pollyparr.com It’s not far from my real name, but I am not quite sure. What do you think? I need advice 🙂 Will I be taken seriously?
I suggest you keep the blog branded to its purpose. That sounds like it might be Satisfied Vegan.
This podcast episode of mine is really about your personal branding as it ties into a podcast.
Appreciate the well written article! I’ve got a question as I perform photography, filming, and vlogging, and was wondering whether or not to use my real name ‘Tom Sanderson’ or my online/stage name ‘Cole St Clair’ when filming and vlogging. ‘Tom Sanderson’ is taken on most parts and incredibly generic, and I’ve always had the association with ‘Cole St Clair’ in the past. I was wondering whether the authenticity of being known as ‘Cole St Clair’ could be a problem, specifically interfering with my private life whereas most people would know me as Cole, and not Tom.
Do you think I can still earn the same respect as Cole, and that it won’t interfere with friends and family in a negative way? Or is it too much of a hassle to constantly be switching between identities, and the integrity of my personality could be lost?
I think the episode audio gave plenty of points for you to consider and make your decision.
Hello! Thank you for this article! I have a blog that I’ve been writing anonymously for some time and I would like to “come out”. The problem is that my blog is personal and I’m talking about quite controversial topics (even though I stand by every word I’ve said). I’m worried that revealing my name could harm me professionally (I’m an architect and a designer, freelancing). Using only my first name wouldn’t work as it’s very rare and I live in a small country in Europe. What would you do?
This podcast episode and article really explains my thoughts.
In your case, you have to decide whether it’s worth the risk. Or, you may wish to remove your previous posts. They won’t disappear completely, but at least they won’t be as accessible.
I am very late to the comments here, but am hoping that you may still check in. The question about my last name for you is whether is is easily understood by Americans. I am Canadian, so to us, du Maurier is very comprehensible. Would Americans easily get the french name or would it cause issues? especially written as dumaurier as part of a .com. Or perhaps Daphne du Maurier is enough of a household name that it will be commonplace in the entire English speaking world. I’m just not sure. I would love to hear your opinion on this!
I’m thinking that’s probably not going to be easy to spell for most Americans. Maybe you could abbreviate it in some way.
Thanks for this article!
I want to start a youtube channel and not sure if I should use my real name or a fake name.
My real last name is “Dipold” and I am wondering how it sounds for native english speakers. the first part might sound like the english word “die” which would be a bad association 😀
What do you think?
Hi, I’m definitely connecting Natural products with my podcast. However, my subject matter is very personal and I want to feel safe. I also want my listeners to have a safe place to express themselves and their struggles. What do you suggest?