Considering podcasting under a pen name?
Some podcasters opt to use a different name to podcast (the host of Swindled, for example). But, how do you know if a pseudonym is the right choice for you?
Deciding what name to podcast under is a big deal. While you can always change it later on, chances are it’ll end up being a hassle. Not only will you have to make administrative changes, but you’ll have built a rapport with your audience. A name change can be a big thing to get used to. However, it offers benefits, such as privacy and brand memorability.
So, let’s take a little dive into the benefits of drawbacks of podcasting under a pen name.
What is a pen name?
You might be thinking to yourself, “isn’t a pen name for authors?” And you’d be right.
But “pen name” is simply another word for pseudonym. You might also hear other terms to describe the same concept. Maybe you've heard fake name, stage name, secret identity, or even radio personality.
Simply put, podcasting under a pen name means that you’re podcasting under a name that's different from your own.
Why might you use a pen name?
There are plenty of reasons why someone might want to podcast under a pen name. To make things simpler, let’s focus in on three of the most common reasons:
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1. You want to separate your podcast
If you’re anything like me, you’ve got a lot of projects on the go. Not all of them fit together. Let's say you’re running a business already under your name, and you want to add an entertainment podcast. It’s possible you want to add a simple but effective layer of separation between the two. That’s where a pen name comes in.
Using a name other than your own can help you separate your podcast from your personal life. Does mom really need to hear about your date last Friday on your tell all podcast?. It can also compartmentalize your professional life. It’s OK if you don’t want your boss to know about your secret true crime obsession).
If you run more than one podcast, this can also help differentiate them.
2. You want to protect your identity
Podcasting has the potential to throw you (and your name) out into the public eye. If you’re trying to lay low (for any reason at all), it might be worth considering podcasting under a pen name. It may give you an extra step of privacy to help protect your personal information and identity. If done right, a simple Google search of your name shouldn’t bring up your podcast and vice-versa.
Note that simply because you’re using a pseudonym, there's no guarantee that you’ll be able to stay anonymous. While it’s a great step towards it, there is always the possibility that someone could find out your real identity.
3. Your real name is already taken
If you have a more common name, it’s possible that someone might already be podcasting with it. This is a case where it makes sense to podcast under a pen name, especially if your name is a significant factor in the podcast name or overall brand.
Likewise, some of us have more complex names that we’d prefer to simplify or change when podcasting. This is not to say that if you have a complex name you should use a pseudonym to simplify it, in fact, having a unique name can make you and your show more memorable. But if you want to, it’s definitely an option.
Why might you not use a pen name?
With the positives out of the way, let’s talk about a few specific reasons that you might want to avoid using a pen name:
1. Could indicate a lack of professionalism
Not using your real name could mean people don’t take you seriously.
This is, of course, assuming that it’s obvious you’re using a pseudonym—like if you’re podcasting under code-name “Bunny Ears” or using the moniker “Girl in the Window.” If you’re simply using Fred Jones and your name is Jason Semigel, chances are this is less of a problem.
But simply using a fake name, even one that’s on the more unique side, doesn’t mean that someone will automatically not take you seriously. There are plenty of people who do work under a different name than their own—for instance, I know for a fact that it’s not, first name “Lady” last name “Gaga.”
This is where good brand building techniques come into play. You can leverage the name you’re using to host your podcast into an overarching brand that goes beyond simply a name—think “the Captain” from True Crime Garage who co-hosts somewhat-anonymously but whose name carries much more sentimental value to those that listen.
2. You could have a blending-identity crisis
The Criminal Minds episode “Parasite” features a con man who goes by so many different names and runs so many different schemes that he starts to self-destruct when things get a little too complex. He can’t remember if he’s supposed to be Henry Moffat, Grant Dale or Hunter Portland, so when he makes a mistake he starts to kill his hustle victims.
This might be an obscure reference unless you're a Criminal Minds super-fan (guilty) nor do I think if you use a pseudonym you’ll be at risk to start murdering podcast listeners, but it does demonstrate the complexity of internally managing more than one identity.
Being yourself in your everyday life is hard enough as it is, when you add a second identity—your podcasting pen name—you need to start compartmentalizing the two different identities.
This gets more complex when your podcast life bleeds into your personal life. Who do you introduce yourself at networking events? What happens if you run a business associated with it that legally falls under your real name? It can feel like a lie to use a pseudonym, especially if there’s no rhyme or reason for it.
3. You’re not guaranteed to stay anonymous
Many people use pseudonyms to keep themselves anonymous when they’re working on a project they don’t want to be personally associated with, or they simply don’t want everyone to know about the project (or just certain people).
But podcasting under a pen name doesn’t guarantee your identity will stay hidden. It’s actually a lot of work to stay completely anonymous, and there’s really no way to guarantee that no one will find out who you are.
So, while there are definitely situations where podcasting under a pen name makes sense—like when there’s a safety concern—simply changing what you're called doesn’t necessarily mean it will stay hidden.
What about a nickname instead?
If your drive to podcast under a pen name is more related to branding than security, consider using a nickname. It surprises many to know that Tae isn’t the name on my birth certificate. It’s not far off, but I use it for a specific reason.
Growing up, almost everyone thought I was a dude before I met them due to my unisex name. To cut down on confusion, when I started a business I changed my name to something a little more feminine. Nowadays, that’s really the only name I go by.
There are many reasons why you might want a slight name change for podcasting, but you don’t necessarily have to make a big change to accomplish that. Nicknames tend to be a little more casual. People that use them tend to not be too worried about our real identity being spilled, if it happens.
Whether or not you podcast under your own name is completely up to you. Dfcto on Reddit said it better than I ever could. “The great thing about podcasts is that you can do whatever you want.”
If you’re ready to start podcasting and you know what name you want to use, check out The Podcast Host Academy. There, you can learn pretty much everything you need to know about getting started and growing your show. Plus, with our all-in-one podcasting tool, Alitu, you can start a polished podcast in no time flat!