The Born Freelancer on Using an Alias

This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? Your input is welcome in bornfreel2the comments. 


• If you work simultaneously in a number of different genres and need to separate and differentiate career strands; 


• If you simply want to help build a more focused, memorable brand; 

you may want to consider using an alias.

I think the first time I used an alias professionally was when I got my first on air job in radio. My program director had a thing about changing the names of his on air staff to names that sounded better. It also had added advantages which I was to learn about as time went by. 

Today I choose to use the name at the top of this column in order to write these posts with maximum freedom about all aspects of my freelancing life and to have these words judged solely on their merit rather than on any reputation (good or bad) I’ve acquired elsewhere. 

So I’m a big advocate of using different names for different kinds of projects.


Your name is your most important brand.

To get maximum impact your brand needs to be focused, consistent and promoted. Let me explain how using various aliases may help achieve these goals.

Advantages of using an alias 

• Avoiding confusion

Let’s assume your objective is to get so well known that your name will be welcomed in any reader’s mind.

Today there is overwhelming competition for an audience’s attention. If they recognize your name it is like recognizing a friend. They will bring to that recognition certain expectations and you don’t want to disappoint or confuse. So a different name for concurrent work in different genres may be the answer. It can help keep your brands focused and “pure”.

I am thinking about an exceptionally talented European writer who began in one genre. I will forever associate them with it. But then they switched genres and have made a name for themselves in a totally different one. The problem for many of us is that we will forever associate them with their first line of work. And so while I applaud their versatility, indeed admire it, whenever I see their name I still immediately expect to see something in that earlier genre. I am always disappointed. And if I see something of theirs more recent in their new genre, I just can’t get into it.

If it had been me, I’d have written the two genres under different names so there would be no confusion as to what to expect when readers saw my name. I’d also have the added advantage of being able to keep two mutually inconsistent careers strands going side by side instead of having to give up one for the other.

Of course, if you get truly famous you can work in as many genres as you like without fear of public confusion. People will just think of you as unique. Fame trumps genre.

• Promotion

The use of aliases can streamline forms of promotion.

When I first started out, working in multiple genres, I put everything on my business cards and in bios. It looked impressive but I discovered it only confused potential employers. What was I doing applying for work in their area with all this experience in others?

So I learned to create different bios and promotional material for different jobs. Serious jobs required a serious resume. Jobs requiring a lighter touch were acquired more efficiently using humour. It was a short step to using different names, often just variations on my own, in order to further differentiate my work.

When I got an email to a specific name or a phone call asking for another I knew right away exactly what was being asked of me and how to respond.

Today using different aliases for different kinds of work keeps my various career strands intact and minimizes potential online confusion.

• Security/Privacy

An alias affords another layer of security/privacy. If you write controversial topics or engage in work likely to incite passionate responses, an alias can help keep your real life and work worlds separate.

I mentioned I used an alias at my first on air job. It turned into a great decision given a couple listeners with no lives who liked to stalk the on air staff. Those who insisted upon using their real names were easy prey; those with an alias were much harder to find.

If you also have a non-writing job or profession in your life you may wish to consider using an alias to keep your creative life completely separate from it.

So what kind of alias is best?

An obviously made up alias such as “The Prairie Scuba Diver” or yes, even “The Born Freelancer” has the added benefits of instantly identifying exactly who and what you are, what you will deal with and from what POV. Could you ask for a more focused, memorable moniker?

In some other circumstances I have just used a variation on my real name. That way it was easy for me to remember. When security was an issue, such as at that first radio job, a distinctly different name was more appropriate. 

It would be fair to say the greater the difference in the genres you work, and the more you want separation of the two worlds, the greater you want the difference in names.

I once knew a very serious journalist who also had a thriving career as a very funny stand up comic.

Obviously, these two worlds appeared inconsistent to the public and potential employers so they used two very different names. That way there was little chance of their two worlds inadvertently colliding. For all I know they still use both names and maintain two successful careers to this day with employers and audiences for each completely unaware of the other.

When does an alias not make sense?

The use of an alias is not for everyone.

If you work predominantly in a single genre an alias makes less sense.

You will want to acquire maximum brand recognition and the use of a single name will focus attention more effectively. In fact, multiple aliases can only dilute that awareness.

Of course, some single genre writers still prefer to use an alias for privacy issues, to keep their creative and real life worlds separate. Or they may use a slightly different variation of their name professionally because it looks better on a page or when spoken aloud. There are other reasons too. J. K. Rowling (it is said) used her initials so readers would not know her gender precluding any reader prejudice based on it.  

The takeaway

The use of an alias has numerous advantages for writers and creative artists working in multiple genres and/or wishing to create a focused, memorable brand.

Primarily they enable seemingly inconsistent career strands to thrive independently without confusing audiences or potential employers.

Using an alias can be a most useful tool worth consideration by all aspiring or working freelancers.


Posted on March 16, 2016 at 9:00 am by editor · · Tagged with: , ,

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