Style/Artist/With multiple names
|Status: This is an official style guideline.|
Some musicians perform using an "alias" (not to be confused with the MusicBrainz term, "artist alias") which is different from their "real-life" name. The reasons for that vary - usually marketing, or to hide their actual identity (as to workaround legal issues when they signed exclusive contracts), etc...
Style for persons
So, what name should I use for a musician: performance or legal name?
The simple answer is: performance name - when entering a new release into the database, you should just use whatever name is credited as the artist.
In some cases obviously (if the artist is also performing under other performance names which already exist in the database), that indeed means creating a new distinct artist entry for the same person.
I just added a new (performance name) artist to the database. Should I go ahead and create another entry for the legal name as well?
Usually, no - you can just add that information to the artist as a legal name alias.
What to do if a musician uses multiple different performance names on various different releases?
You should create one artist entry for each different performance name - though, please read the section below about cases when it doesn't make sense to create such new entries.
Should I also create artist entries for "other" nicknames?
MusicBrainz focuses mainly on documenting releases: if the nickname in question is not used on any release (but only by the artist relatives for example), then this is not relevant and you shouldn't create an artist entry for it (though you may add the detail to the artist annotation).
Various different performance names for a given artist may be related using a performance name relationship. As to avoid making circular relations and other linking nightmare (see Don't make relationship clusters), we relate all performance names to the artist legal name, instead of linking each performance name to each other.
Specifically, this is where legal names are useful, and you may now create a new artist entry using the artist legal name as a name, then relate all the artist's performance names to this new entry.
But, what if the musician had multiple different legal names?
The concept of legal name itself is a quite debated one, and this was the subject of many discussions and various suggestions. Our policy at that time is simple: use only one legal name for the artist (pick the birth name, usually found on birth certificates). If no one knows for sure, just pick the most probable one, and write an annotation mentioning all that.
But still, what if a musician changes their legal name, and performs under that new name?
This new name by all means is also a performance name, and should be related like a performance name to the artist legal name already holding the other performance name relationships (eg: the birth name in most cases).
Remember that MusicBrainz doesn't try to qualify, or pass judgment, on the (possibly political, or very personal) reasons that may lead a person to change their name. We are focused on recording accurately the artist names as advertised on musical releases (eg: performance names), and the introduction of a legal name is only a convenient way to describe relations between the various monikers an artist may use during his life (whatever the reason).
Does it always make sense to create distinct entries?
No. In a lot of cases, the name variation (either between different performance names, or between the legal name and a given performance name) is minor enough to make the splitting not worth the effort. In such cases, you should not create distinct entries (you may still use the artist annotation to provide additional details, and possibly use artist alias to enhance search results).
A few examples of when there is little benefit in creating distinct artist entries:
- common use abbreviations for first names (Robert Marley vs Bob Marley)
- first names shortened to initials (Katie Tunstall vs K.T. Tunstall)
- middle names added/omitted (Elvin Ray Jones vs Elvin Jones)
- additional nicknames just used once or twice ("Baron" Charles Mingus vs Charles Mingus)
- nicknames used most of the time (Johnny Watson vs Johnny "Guitar" Watson)
Remember, though, that artist intent may come into play - and some artists may put a lot of meaning into a minor name variation. Ultimately, reasonable judgment, common sense and knowledge about the artist production should prevail in choosing which name differences are significant or not.
Should I duplicate the artist birth and death dates between the legal and performance names?
Yes, you may add birth and death dates to both the legal and performance names.
What about personal relationships? Should I duplicate them as well?
No, personal association relationships should not be duplicated, and you should favor using the legal name to hold them.
- Declan Patrick MacManus is the legal name of Elvis Costello.
- Abbey Lincoln is a performance name for the person Anna Marie Wooldridge (who later changed her legal name to Animata Moseka). Though, as she only performs as Abbey Lincoln, only this entry was created in the database.
- Aphex Twin, AFX and Caustic Window are all performance names of Richard David James.
Style for groups
Note that neither performance names nor legal names apply to groups, the relationship between two groups is indicated by their common membership - although any relevant details can still be added to their annotations.
If a group goes by different names to cover different projects, they should be separate entries in the database.
If a group goes by different names at the same time, using the names in an interchangeable manner, it depends on the extent of the changes. Minor variations or localised names should usually be one entry, the artist credit can be used to handle the variation, and each variation can also be added as an alias. For larger variations, it may be better to consider them separate entries. What counts as a minor change varies from artist to artist, some artists may put a lot of meaning into what would normally be considered very minor changes.
- The Prodigy have some releases credited to "Prodigy".
- 少年ナイフ are credited as "Shonen Knife" on their American releases.
If a group changes its name and then continues to use that name, as above, this depends mainly on the extent of the change. If it is only a fairly minor change, it is fine to simply update the current entry and use aliases and artist credits for the variations. If it is a larger change, it is usually considered a new group. Again, what counts as a minor change varies from artist to artist.
- Panic! at the Disco were known as "Panic at the Disco" for a period of time.
- La Ruda were originally known as "La Ruda Salska".
- t.A.T.u. were originally known as "Тату" in Russia. They now use "t.A.T.u." everywhere.
If a group is forced to change its name for legal reasons (trademark issues, in most cases), it should usually be a single entry. The name used depends whether the group changed their name completely or only for certain countries:
- If the group changes their name completely, the group's name should be their new name with the old name as an alias. Releases prior to the change have the old name in the artist credit.
- If the group only change their name for certain countries, the old name should be kept and the new name added as an alias. Releases in those countries should have the new name in the artist credit.
- superzwei had to change their name from "nimmzwei" to "superzwei" in 2003.
- Karat had to use "K...!" from 2006 to 2007.
- Yazoo are known as "Yaz" in the USA after a lawsuit from another American artist called Yazoo.
- Suede are known as "The London Suede" in the USA after a lawsuit from another American artist called Suede.