In the wake of Marti Gras, and seeing those poor, unwanted bedazzled plastic masks in the bargain bin last night at the grocery store, I thought about all the gals I used to know back in the day and quickly became frustrated. I wish I could track some old friends down, but can’t because I never knew their real names. As I paid for my items and walked to my car, I wondered: why do strippers use stage names?
Much like hiding your face behind a Mardi Gras mask, stripping under a stage name provides a certain type of freedom. We can play a totally different role on stage when seen as someone other than our ‘normal’, everyday selves. According to Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant, in the Dictionnaire des Symboles, masks don’t hide the persona, but in fact reveal and liberate tendencies of the true personality of the one who wears the mask.
But are strippers hiding behind their names?
During my decade-long career on stage, I made the rounds working at various clubs in Waikiki. O‘ahu may be the third largest of the Hawaiian Islands, but its entertainment Mecca of Waikiki (a mere three miles long and a half mile wide) is anything but vast; if you’re a stripper, the town is even smaller. It would take more than simply changing my name to truly hide, just ask my brother in-law, whom I discovered with a few work buddies in the club one night. Thanksgiving dinners were never the same.
There were moments of secrecy when asked my profession, but it wasn’t because I was ashamed. I suppose I can attribute feeling a sense of validation on stage due to the fact I grew up feeling un-pretty. If anything, I was proud. I didn’t share what I chose to do for a living with most people because in my experience, the general consensus of sex-workers was one of harsh judgment and pity. My twenty-something ego was fragile enough, without inviting that type of criticism in the mix.
So I kept it simple. I changed my name to cut the strings of judgment. My alter-ego was my mask.
The first stage name I landed on was born from nothing more than sheer ingenuity – my brilliant capacity to think on the spot. In entering a dance contest on Amateur Night, the club emcee needed a name. Rather than go with my usual (very Catholic) first name, I went with Stephanie. It seemed prettier and rolled off the tongue, unlike the choppy sound of Christine, which seemed way too stiff. Not only is Stephanie my middle name, it’s also my mother’s first name, which is either an unfortunate coincidence, or massive Freudian slip.
Whatever the reason, I wasn’t Stephanie for long. After working at a new club down the street, I was told I had to change my name because they already had a Stephanie. It was the middle of August, so I chose Summer (brilliant!).
I’ve worked with ladies named Champagne, Deserie, Dallas, Velvet, Chardonnay, Barbie, and even Ohphelia (who jokingly spelled her name Oh-Feel-Ya on the set list). And although I’m sure there’s a story behind every name, I’d bet a garter belt full of cash they aren’t nearly as exciting as you may think.