I had a perfectly good name. I could write it, with some letters backwards and almost legibly, when I was 3. I wrote it a lot, perhaps because it was one of the longest words I could write back then. I believe I tried to write my name at 2, too, but my handwriting from that time is illegible to even me.
I knew that my name was common, but I had thought I would keep it. Unfortunately, a Canadian musician and composer whose genre does not frequently overlap but whose other elements— languages, instruments, specializations, etc.— do, became semi-famous with my name. She wrote a theme for a Chinese television show and I began disappointing her fans. I have been approached twice in person excitedly about this wonderful television show and its theme only to disappoint with my cluelessness about what the other person was talking about.
Given the annoyance of having to change my name once, I opted for a name which I believe to be rare so that changing my name ideally will not have to happen again. Many people take their mother’s maiden name when going for an alias, so I looked there.
For downsides, I had to start my reputation from a blank. Sophie Sauveterre is not listed on the program from my one (and only one) performance at Carnegie Hall nor in the handful of voice-over credits I had. Sophie Sauveterre had not graduated with a 4.0 in her major, which I admit to being perhaps a little too pleased about sometimes. Sophie Sauveterre had no performing credits at all!
On the upside, I have not been asked about the television show theme I composed since, because I didn’t.
The decision goes like this:
How common is your name?
In my case, fairly.
That alone is fine in many cases, though. I think it is when you can get reasonably confused for someone else that there is a problem.
Can you be confused for someone else?
If you can get confused with someone else, and particularly if someone has your name and is in the same industry, you may wish to change it. For example, you might get commissioned by someone who thinks they love your work and style when they actually mean that they love the very different work and style of the other person.
Would a stage name better fit your self-image?
I knew a classical conductor who changed his name from “Gary” to “Gareth”. He thought it seemed more dignified for one involved in classical music, or so I heard. Some of my fellow orchestra members were vocal about how ridiculous they thought it was, but I did sort of see why one might feel more classical than the other.
Also, there are studies about how employers will look at two candidates, one with a Caucasian name and one with an ‘ethnic’ name, but otherwise identical on paper, and tend to favour one over the other. It is not so far-fetched to believe a perceived difference in the formality of a name could also affect perception.
It depends. Also, if you need a stage name, I want to note that stage names, by nature of being for performers unlike a pen name for authors (nom de plume, if we want to borrow words), should likely be short or simple enough to remember, be suitable for your work, and/or unique. You really are doing yourself a disservice otherwise.