Friday, April 3, 2015

Art Business: Change Your Name, Change Your Game?

West Fork Reflections, 9x12 oil
Should I sign it as "Michael Chesley Johnson" or "Mac Braxton"?

I plan to change my name for plein air painting events, starting in 2016.  After reading the below, please feel free to share your opinion.  Is it a good idea, or isn't it?  Why or why not?

There are 30,192 men with the name "Michael Johnson" in the United States.  (My wife's name, on the other hand, is shared by only 18 women.)  Such a common name as mine has caused a number of problems over the years.  Back when I was writing fiction, my byline was sometimes erroneously given as "Michael Jordan" or "Michael Jackson."  As a painter, I found that sometimes people did get the name right, but got the wrong Michael Johnson.

One day, the BBC called me up asking if I would give permission to use one of my paintings in a film they were shooting over in the UK.  When they described it to me—a western with horses and cowboys, subjects which I've never painted—I sadly realized it wasn't mine.  But it had my name signed to it:  "Michael Johnson."  Over the years, galleries, collectors and yard sale browsers have asked me to value other cowboy art painted by that Michael Johnson, thinking the work was mine.  (I assume it's the same person, anyway; but who really knows, with the name being so common?) I finally found out a little about him in old newspaper article on an old website, but I couldn't find out much more.

My wife suggested that I make my name less common by using my middle name.  So, I became "Michael Chesley Johnson".  Even so, the middle name has been misspelled as "Chelsey," among other variants.  Another problem is that the name is long—21 letters, not including spaces.  This causes problems for plein air painting event organizers. Often, because my name is the longest of all the invited artists, they want to shorten it for advertising.  I've seen "Michael C. Johnson" and "M.C. Johnson."  They seem to have a hard time understanding that "Michael Chesley Johnson" is my brand.  Also, Twitter and other social media platforms don't allow such lengths for user names.

I'm beginning to think that many of these problems could be solved with a shorter, less common name.  Digging into my family tree, I've come up with one that fits the bill.

Meet Mac Braxton.  I've already started signing studio paintings with this name.  Starting in 2016, anywhere I appear as an artist, such as at plein air painting events, I'm planning to be Mac.  (I'm delaying on this because some festivals have already started advertising with my old name.)  I think the name is snappier, easy to remember, and according to my research, there aren't any other Mac Braxtons in the U.S.

Of course, there is work ahead of me to replace the old Michael Chesley Johnson.  You can imagine the issues:  websites and advertising need changing, plein air festival organizers need to be told, professional organizations need to be notified, signature memberships changed, and so on.  But, in the long run, I think it'll be worth it.  And I'll probably wish I'd done it 20 years ago.

But before I go down this path, I'm curious to know your thoughts.  Will changing my name change my game?

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