Many of you will know me for many years or maybe even more than half of a decade as “MichaelJay” since I joined iStockphoto and quickly became active in the community and also on outside forums like MicrostockGroup. On the other hand, if we met personally you will also know that this is not my real name – and this fact is now also publicly visible at my Stocksy portfolio page. So it’s not a marketing thing nor am I hiding anything by using an alter ego for my stock imagery.
If you ever wondered where “Michael Jay” is coming from: When I was about 15, I enjoyed spending some vacation weeks along with fellow teenagers in England – as I wasn’t blessed with language skills (or actually I was too lazy to learn vocabulary and grammar while I knew my talent for maths and sciences would bring me through grades easily) my parents decided to spend some money on extra courses. We were taught English for half a day and had lots of spare time to spend in the city of Weymouth and trips to London in these vacations. Part of the program was to stay with guest families. This is when I first realized it is virtually impossible to teach any native English speaker to spell or pronounce my last name.
Many years later I studied business administration in Switzerland and got in touch with the internet for the first time – some of you will know the times when the internet was just some white text on blue screen (or green text on black screens), no images unless you downloaded some of the amazing 50 kB files from space that NASA provided for free. As I was fascinated by the possibilities to connect with people around the world, I also discovered a community of people playing the board game “Diplomacy” online. Diplomacy is a strategy board game and one of the very few games not relying on dices or any kind of luck element. On the other hand, the full game needs seven players and can easily take 10-15 hours to finish if being played live. And some of the players might lose out early in the game, so it’s not really a practical game for live playing. As a board game it is a total fail but it had developed a community of players exchanging communication and moves by mail (PBM – played by mail), and by mail I mean the original meaning of sending letters and post cards as we used to know in our youth.
It was obvious that once put online it was possible to communicate (“negotiate”) through email and have your next move sent to a server which would process the moves at a given time. Each move would take 12 hours, two days or a week, depending on the game settings, so a game could last for weeks or months. Part of the game is to negotiate moves with other players, close contracts and break them to finally dominate the board. And it could be played anonymously, so people wouldn’t be able to draw conclusions from prior games they have played against you.
For all of this I invented an alter ego that wouldn’t disclose my true identity and that I could use to disguise my game moves – and I wanted that identity to look a bit more American rather than German or Swiss. I found out that it was quite common to use middle initials for Americans, rather unusual in Europe. Though many of us have a second name, and mine is Jens. So instead of Michael Jens Zwahlen or Michael J. Zwahlen I just dropped my last name and turned the middle initial into the full name Jay as you would pronounce it.
So, that’s the story: The “artist name” I kept using for the last decade was originally born to hide my true identity for the sake of avoiding disadvantages in an online gaming community. I’d be interested to hear where your artist names are derived from. Feel free to share them here as comments or on my Facebook page if you like, I think it’s going to be fun. 🙂