The Pro Shop: Is Your Name Holding You Back?

| December 20, 2014

“What’s in a name?” protested Shakespeare’s Juliet. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Inarguably, Norma Egstrom, Asa Hesselson, Antonio Dominic Benedetto and Vito Farinola would have made you stop and listen no matter what their names, but they clearly thought they’d do better professionally as Peggy Lee, Al Jolson, Tony Bennett and Vic Damone. Eric Stevens agrees, and spells out his own thoughts on the matter, below.

Is Your Name Holding You back?

by Harry Jeavons a.k.a Eric Stevens for Cabaret Scenes

Eric-Stevens-Cabaret-Scenes-Magazine_212Is your name an asset, merely satisfactory, or a drawback? Take this advice from a guy who’s been there, done that. As a former teacher, I am painfully aware that spelling and oral reading are huge problems for many.

Reginald Dwight, Richard Starkey, and Carlos Irwin Estevez saw their names holding them back and did something about it. They became Elton John, Ringo Starr and Charlie Sheen! Even President Gerald Ford did not use his real name.

Many of us in show biz have improved our names via spelling, initials, nicknames, or a total change.

Most are reluctant to change a family name. Some are insulted at the mere suggestion. To see how stubborn some are by refusing to change, Google “EMBARRASSING NAMES.”

Let’s start with my name: Harry Jeavons. Harry is passable, but lacks glamor. Hal or Hank is friendlier. Jeavons is awful. I’ll bet you 9-1 that you mispronounce it. If I tell you how to pronounce it, 9-1 you misspell it. If you try to remember it, look out. When I first sang professionally, I would write this note to the emcee: “Rhymes with HEAVENS,” or simplify it to Jev-inz.   No matter what I tried, they’d announce me as Harvey Jones, Harold Jarvis, even Hymie Jacobson…or whatever.

Emerging from the Army gave me a new start. Stevens is the closest corruption of Jeavons. But the Washington phone book had several Harry Stevenses. My newborn nephew was Eric Jeavons, but was to be called Rick. Hence, Eric Stevens. But now that we have computers, I recently learned that there are some 1,850 Eric Stevenses in the USA. One of them, 3000 miles away, even had the same nickname as my band of 1971-2003: ERIC STEVENS & the IN CROWD. A local DJ assumed my name locally, and became far more well-known than I am. He refused to change; a lawyer said that if I sued, I’d have to PROVE he did it primarily to benefit from what modest local fame I had, which would be virtually impossible. I’d get midnight calls saying, “This is Paula. Call me.” I didn’t know a Paula!

I should have recalled that, years before, I bought a year of costly Yellow Pages ads in Nassau County, a New York suburb. Letter S (Stevens) was so far down the alphabet that not one person called! Therefore, you should consider a last name as close to A as possible. It won’t hurt for the first name as well.

The shorter the name, the easier it is; if it’s an existing word, all the better. If it’s an alliteration, all the easier to remember. Ethnic names and/or pronunciations can limit your appeal unless you are targeting a specific group. Of the USA’s top ten FULL names, four are Maria. Hispanics might also be careful choosing if their last names are Garcia, Rodriquez, Hernandez or Martinez. Some people find hyphenated names annoying. If your name is Mary, Maria or Smith, some adjustment is urgent! If this bothers you, don’t blame me; I’m trying to help.

Hence, if I were starting over, I’d call myself ACE ADAMS. Short, alliterative, top of the alphabet, two existing words, the first name a nice compliment, like Champ or King; or a word associated with you (my favorite name for a musical lady is Allegra). Clever spellings can make you harder to find (Bobi, etc.).

Don’t make excuses by citing exceptions. Wesla Whitfield made it on talent, despite the two Ws. Even the imaginary Zoe Zimmer MIGHT make it, but the name works against her.

The last name is more important than the first. VITAL: in picking a name, consult Google’s lists of most common LAST NAMES, BOYS’ NAMES and GIRLS’ NAMES. If your first name is in the top ten, or your last name in the top twenty, you’ll serve yourself well if you change it. When you arrive at a possible stage name, test it for a while.

Don’t go overboard, with a name like Madonna Presley, or Ella Sinatra . Take your time. Don’t ask friends, who might take you for having a star complex; there’s nothing wrong with a healthy self-image, but Earth People aren’t like artists, and can be quick to condemn. Ask several sensible professionals whose names will not cause a fuss.

What’s in a name? For you and me, hopefully MORE FAME and MONEY!

Songwriter Eric Stevens has been a contributing writer for Cabaret Scenes since 2009. After singing in New York throughout the 1960s and often playing bass, he moved back home to Virginia, where he has penned 500 songs since 2002. You can find Eric at www.ericstevensmusic.webs.com.

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Category: Cabaret Features, Regional, The Pro Shop

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  1. MAYOR DI BLASIO’s real last name is Wilhelm. When his father left, he took his mother’s maiden name, and visited Italy.

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