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The Green Room: How do you choose a professional stage name?

Left: Benedict Cumberbatch, who chose not to change his name. Right: Diana Dors, who changed her name from Diana Fluck. Photos: Victoria Erdelevskaya/Flickr\Kate Gabrielle

Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…​​​​


Albert Parker is 60 and has appeared as a regular in soaps, two BAFTA award winning sitcoms, theatre and TV

Beryl Phoenix is in her 40s. She has played leading roles at the RSC, worked on numerous new plays, and toured both national and internationally

Velma Lee is a 32-year-old actor, comic and improvisor

John Pepper is 31, and for the past 10 years has worked extensively as an actor in various regional theatres, the National Theatre and in radio, television and feature film

Keith Simpson is in his early 20s and since graduating from drama school in 2016 has worked on national tours and in rep

Peter Quince, 72, works in theatre and television

Jenny Talbot is 39 and has nearly 20 years of experience in West End and touring musical theatre with forays into TV, film and plays


JonThis question arose from a conversation I had with a drama student who is worried her real name is too long, but doesn’t want to work under a name totally different from her own.

Jenny Choose something you like that means something to you. Stick with your own name if you can. If you need to change it, it is best to choose it like you’re choosing a baby name.

JonOh, I like the baby name analogy.

Jenny Something you like, that you can remember and something you can live with. You might meet your future partner on a job and you’ll be called that name for the rest of your life.

Peter Well, if you call yourself Benedict Cumberbatch you’ll be remembered.

JonI suspected he might come up… In his case of course it is his real name, although his father was an actor and chose, or was advised, not to use Cumberbatch. Times change.

Peter I use my real name so it’s not been a problem – although people do tend to spell it incorrectly.

John But Peter Quince is easy? Oh, wait a minute…

Peter Try not to have a name that’s similar to someone else. I always have to pause and think between Aidan Gillen and Aden Gillet.

Keith If it isn’t already taken, you should keep your own name. People will eventually learn how to pronounce it if they hear it enough, and the more unique it is the better.

JonThat’s interesting, Keith – without giving too much away, your real name is a tad more unusual than Keith Simpson. Were you pressured to change it at any point?

Keith No, luckily I never have been. In fact, all I have ever had is positive feedback about it. Don’t get me wrong, when I was younger I got flak, but as I got older, people seemed to admire the uniqueness. And I never got confused with anyone else.

Velma My name is relatively unusual too and I was conflicted on this – some people advised me to use the option that was more ethnically indicative, then there was a time where I seriously considered Anglicising my name as that seemed to open more doors.

JonAnd how do you feel about the decision you made?

Velma Now I’m glad I didn’t change it, and I think the main thing is to do what makes you happy with how you represent yourself.

Beryl Yes, it’s best to choose something close to your own, nothing outlandish. That’s just personal taste though – why should someone called Mistress Bestactress not be taken seriously?

Peter Some people swear by names early in the alphabet – in case of alphabetical billing.

John Is there an Adam Aardvark in the business?

JonEarly in the alphabet has always struck me as the Edinburgh Fringe approach to name choice. There are always a few shows called ‘Aaaaaaaaaaargh’ or something similar. But I’m not sure it really helps in Edinburgh either, I’m not sure that people read the brochure cover to cover and choose the show they read about first.

John Alphabetical order was probably more important when people were using the Spotlight books more than they do now.

Peter I watched a programme about Cary Grant recently. Archie Leach would never have been seen as suave and sophisticated.

Albert I thought Les Clack was brave to stick with his real name. I always wondered about Brown Derby who advertised in the back of The Stage for years.

Peter There was a very posh shop in Leeds called Brown Muff.

JonThis is a good time for the Diana Dors story – anyone know it?

Albert Tell us…

JonI’m sure it’s apocryphal, but it’s a hell of a story. The way I heard it, she was coming back to Swindon for some local event. She was a local girl and the dignitary introducing her wanted to stress that, so he thought he’d introduce her by her real name Diana Fluck. Terrified of getting it wrong, he came up with a mnemonic to help him remember and ended up saying: “The world knows her as Diana Dors, but to us in Swindon she’ll always be Diana Clunt.”

John That’s amazing.

Keith Hilarious.

JonWhat I love is how you can see the logic behind it, and how something that should have been a private thought ended up being so publicly exposed…

Albert There is also the story of Laurence Olivier repeating the name Edward Woodward aloud several times. Then after a pause he pronounced: “Sounds like a fart in the bath.”

Peter Rip Torn and Red Buttons were my favourite names.

JonEven if it’s your own name, it’s worth saying it a few times aloud to see how it trips off the tongue. A good name is about rhythm, maybe? Even my own ridiculous compromise of a professional name at least has a decent rhythm to it.

Jenny People I know with stage names rarely get called by their real names by anyone except old friends and family members. It’s your new persona. You have to live with it and be happy with it.

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