I’m sure you are aware that most nude models don’t pose under their “real” name. The reasons why are obvious enough: models don’t want their legal name attached to a bunch of naked pictures on the internet for their mom, nosy neighbor, or potential future employer to see.
If you were not aware of this convention, then spoiler alert: my legal last name is not Gee. My full first name isn’t Katja either, although it is a real-life nickname. However, I usually just shorten my name to Kat.
Models aren’t the only people that assume monikers. Actors and musicians have stage names, writers have pen names, hackers and even gamers have handles. Super heroes, spies, revolutionaries, and criminal masterminds use code names. Anyone can have a fake name, but it’s particularly common when you want to do something that challenges social norms.
We start out with these pseudonyms as a kind of shield between ourselves and the world, but there’s a subtle psychological change that happens too. They aren’t just protection anymore. They become their own person—or at least their own persona. Katja has different preferences than Kat does. She has different beliefs, different body language, different mannerisms, even different patterns of speech. Katja lives to be in front of the camera. Kat can’t even stand snapshots.
I didn’t expect this when I first assumed my modeling name, but I suppose these changes in personality make a certain sort of sense. Most of us behave differently when working in a different context (such as in a professional environment versus close friends), and we’ve all heard of actors affected by the roles that they’re playing, or authors that get stuck in their character’s point of view. But what truly surprised me is that the differences are not just in personality; they also extend into capability.
For example, my bandmate “Warrior Bob” (real name Dave) is the king of fake names. As of my last count, he has operated under eight different pseudonyms, at least that I’m aware of. His latest is for a secret project, which he’s just been calling “Secret Project.” I can’t tell you what his new name or the project is—after all, it’s a secret! But he wanted it to fail or succeed on its own merits rather than through association with his previous work, so he created a new persona that fit this particular undertaking.
I’m privy to some of the details, and it looks like Secret Project so far has been a resounding success. I’ve seen Dave accomplish things I never knew him to be capable of, master new skill sets completely outside his previous realm of expertise, and create art that genuinely resonates with people. The thing is, as much respect as I have for him, I don’t think he could have done it on his own. Something about his new persona made it possible.
It’s the same with Katja. The things that woman has done astonish me! She’s forged a successful freelance career in the arts, is brave enough to go nude in front of hundreds of people, writes, travels the world, and creates things I think are beautiful. I’m truly not trying to humble-brag. If you asked me, Kat, if I could do any of these things, I’d honestly say no. It’s difficult to reconcile that with the fact that “I” actually did them. Katja can do these things, and she drags me along for the ride.
For one reason or another, we’ve often trained ourselves into self-doubt. We constantly question or flat-out disbelieve our own capabilities, even when we praise others. But perhaps when your work isn’t “yours,” you stop putting roadblocks in your own way. When possible failures won’t follow you home, it’s certainly easier to take big risks.
Now when I want to set a big, audacious goal, I think about who can do it. And I recommend the same to anyone else who wants to do something big, but doesn’t know how or is too scared to start. Make up your own superhero name. Develop your own persona who dares to challenge the status quo. Create someone else who can.