Do You Have to Change Your Name to Become a Model?

Spectators watching fashion models on catwalk
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When you first start out as a model, you’ll be faced with plenty of changes. You’ll have a new modeling career, of course, but your agency might also suggest some image-boosting changes as well, like a new haircut, a new walk, or a new way of posing. But what about your name? Will a new name help or hinder your modeling career?

Well, that depends. There’s a long list of successful models who have changed their names, like Coco Rocha (Mikhaila Rocha), Erin Heatherton (Erin Heather Bubley), Natasha Poly (Natalya Sergeyevna Polevshchikova), Elle MacPherson (Eleanor Nancy Gow), Irina Shayk (Irina Shaykhlislamova), Stam (Jessica Stam) and perhaps the biggest mouthful of them all, Gabriella Wilde (Gabriella Zanna Vanessa Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpe). Just because these models have chosen stage names over birth names doesn’t mean it’s the best decision for you (or that it’ll guarantee you the same level of tremendous success).

If it’s something you’re considering, though, you need to know a few things. First, the ground rules:

  1. Only change your name if your agency suggests it: Your agency knows what’s best for you and your modeling career. It’s what they’re paid to do. Feel free to bring up the idea of a name change, but if they’re perfectly happy with your current moniker, then go along with their grand plan and stick with it.
  2. Don’t be overly creative: Your stage name needs to be professional, not wacky. If your creation makes you giggle or makes clients raise their eyebrows, then you need to choose something else. The best aliases are variations of your real name, like your first and middle name, a diminutive form of your first name, or your first name with a new last name.
  3. Google it: Once you’ve found a name that makes everyone happy, Google it to make sure it doesn’t bring up any undesirable results. The internet contains all sorts of interesting surprises and you need to make sure your name isn’t already taken, and that it doesn’t bring up anything offensive and career damaging.

Does It Have to Be a Legal Name Change?

No, definitely not. Your stage name is simply how you identify yourself in the modeling world. It’s your model persona. You’ll still use your legal name when you sign binding documents like model release forms and agency contracts.

Main Reasons for a Name Change

Agencies suggest name changes for a ton of reasons. Some of the most common situations are:

  1. Your name is too common: Laura Hollins changed her name to Agyness Deyn after her agency told her there are too many Lauras in the modeling industry. The rest of the name-change story is a bit complicated—it involves her grandmother, her mother, a famous British name analyst, and 3,000-year-old Chinese technique to create a more "positive" name—but just remember that most models don’t put quite as much effort into picking their new name. 
  2. Your name is unpronounceable for 99.9% of the world: Ever heard of Katarzyna Strusińska, Natalya Sergeyevna Polevshchikova, or Vera Gräfin von Lehndorff-Steinort? What about Kasia Struss, Natasha Poly, and Veruschka? Same models, different names. These superstars wisely changed their names to ones the world could not only pronounce, but actually remember! Keep in mind that even short and simple names can be difficult to pronounce. Erin Heatherton, born Erin Heather Bubley, dropped her deceivingly tricky last name when she signed to the Marilyn modeling agency in 2006.
  3. Your name is holding you back: One prime example is Kendall Jenner. Kendall needed some independence from her family, and the only way to break free was to drop her famous last name. Now, she’s making a name for herself on her own!