Having a fake actor name -- typically called a stage name or professional name -- has a number of advantages. It allows an actor to maintain a more private life outside work, protecting her identity when she goes to apply for credit cards, mortgages or a gym membership. If she has a given name that is hard to spell or pronounce, choosing a stage name means fans might have an easier time remembering it. If you're considering choosing a stage name for your acting career, follow a few basic steps to ensure you're choosing well.
Brainstorm a list of possible name choices. Write down a list of possible names that are easy to pronounce and spell, while at the same time sounding unique enough to stand out. Some actors choose to use their middle name or mother's maiden name in lieu of their legal last name. You may also consider adding an initial, such as "John Q. Smith" to your name, or to change the spelling of your name to make it easier to pronounce.
Perform an online search of the names you're considering. A basic online search is a good way to find out whether there are any noteworthy people who are using the names you are considering, which may make it impossible to use that name without a stigma being attached to it. For example, you wouldn't want to use the name of another well-known actor; nor would you want to share a name with a notorious criminal, politician or author. In the future, your fans may also do an online search of your name and you want to be the only one with it.
Narrow down your list based on what you've found, doing that basic online search. Some names may be totally out of the question, though you may still have a list of several possibilities.
Consult with IMDb, the Internet Movie Database, as well as your agent or performer's union, such as Actors Equity, if you have one, before you choose a name. The Screen Actor's Guild generally does not allow people to join the union with a name that is already in use by another actor, so it's worth doing this extra step before you finalize a name. Otherwise, you may end up having to change your name when you're considering admittance to a union. Use the IMDB "Advanced Name Search" or the SAG-AFTRA "How to Join SAG-AFTRA" web pages to search for the name you want.
Use your real name on employment paperwork, such as W-2's. Since screen names are so common in the industry, it won't be awkward to let human resources managers know that you go by a stage name for your work, but that you'll continue to use your real name for legal documentation. On the flip side, use your stage name on your resume, headshots and all application materials.
When you've chosen a name, another step to consider is reserving the domain name on the Internet, so that you'll be able to create a website using your stage name.