Gilded Serpent presents...

Your Stage Name

Choosing the Right One

Ma*shuqa Mira Murjan

by Ma*Shuqa Mira Murjan
posted August 13, 2011

If you have been dancing and performing as an Oriental Dancer for at least a year, and you are serious about continuing to perform on the stage, there are several good reasons to select a stage name. 

First, adopting one begins the process of becoming professional and establishing your identity as a dancer. 

Second, a one-of-a-kind stage name will help avoid dancer identity confusion as you begin to: 

  • market and advertise yourself as a professional performer,
  • develop your marketing collateral (business cards, brochures, etc.),
  • building a website, 
  • and creating social marketing presence.

Third, with all of the marketing and visible presence both in print and on the Internet, you will want a stage name for safety reasons:

  • to protect your given name for separate career interests (more discussion on this in another article; 
  • and for personal safety, such as protection from stalkers, and identity theft problems. 

Beware of letting others name you! Years ago, dancers were often surprised before going on stage to dance as they were announced by musicians or club owners by a name unknown to them that they hadn’t selected.

  Thus, dancers often were given names by Middle Eastern men that were not at all appropriate:  a name like Haraka –it sounds like it could be a nice name, but is actually a word from the book Watership Down meaning “rabbit poop”.  One dancer, Heaven-forbid, was given the name Sharia! Again, this sounds like a nice Arabic name for a woman – but is actually the term in Islamic Law which deals with many topics addressed by secular law, including crime, politics, and economics, as well as personal matters such as sexuality, hygiene, diet, prayer, and fasting.

Let me share my own personal stage name history:  Ma*Shuqa Mira Murjan 

I chose my name for a very practical reason; I didn’t think my given name would be good on a performance program or theatre marquee.  During the time I was finding my stage name, my mother-in-law was raising Arabian horses; so I had the choice of real Arabic names such as: Tishana, Sharifa, Londa, and MaShuq.  I wanted the name Sharifa, but several dancers already had chosen this beautiful name. 

As it turns out, Ma’Shuqa means beloved or sweetheart. I chose my stage surname, Murjan, from clothing designer, Gloria Vanderbilt’s, designer blue jeans Murjani. (Research was difficult back in the days before the Internet), but I found that murjan meant "treasure or precious".  Mira means strong or to "carry a big stick" in Greek, and is also the name of an Indian goddess.  I chose Mira as my middle name from the movie Ben Hur.

There is a characteristic theme to both my given middle name and stage middle name. Mira was the name of the white horse in the team of four horses in Judah Ben Hur’s chariot team stable. Mira was the sturdy, stable horse, and favorite sweetheart of the old Arab owner that was placed on the inside spot of the chariot horse team. I find it quite interesting that the chariots in this movie raced counter-clockwise. I, too, always prefer to spin counter-clockwise and always seem to take the more difficult road and "go against the flow" in almost everything I do!

Most interesting to me is that my Japanese middle name, Kazue, is a rare name for a woman and is usually a man’s name, Kazuo, because it means "strong" (or strong-willed).  I think both Mira and Kazue are perfect as I come from Japanese samurai lineage. My given birth name means “strength” in English European history.  Asian cultures share similar views of proper female behavior with Middle Eastern cultures; thus my study and performance as an Oriental dancer, rather than a classical Japanese dancer, was not viewed positively by my parents and was yet another manifestation of my strong will. 

Luckily for me, the strength of my names gave me strength when I needed it most: in my recovery from a horrific childhood accident and later, in my fight against cancer.

While writing this article, I had an opportunity for some introspection regarding my dance experience, my dance persona, and what I have studied and learned about the dance and profession. This introspection has brought me to the realization that I have come full-circle and I now embody and exemplify my chosen professional dance name.  My selected dance name was my guide, and it gave me hope and encouragement to achieve my goal of becoming a professional dancer. 

I  see now that, in selecting my stage name, I named myself as I would have wanted to be known as a dancer: strong, reliable, and respected, treasured, and beloved for teaching and performance. Although when I first started this dance I dreamed of being a professional dancer who was renowned for excellence, my name selection was mostly a subconscious selection as I didn’t have the perspective and personal history that I have now experienced throughout my dance career.  Thus, I counsel that you will come to know which names are the right ones for you–if you engage in soul searching as you select your professional stage name.

Fun facts regarding my stage name:

I chose the name of one of my mother-in-law’s horses because I knew that since I was familiar with the Arabic name, I would respond when called by this new name and have a smile on my face because I would be thinking,  “Who is calling the horse?”  I often share a laugh with people who hear Ma*Shuqa as “Mashugana” (a Yiddish term used as an exclamation to describe something as “crazy or bizarre”). Sometimes the mis-hearing makes introductions hilarious!  To help with pronunciation, I added an asterisk symbol to the spelling of my stage name, which has given me a teaching tool. I tell dance students to use the symbol of the asterisk in Ma*Shuqa as a structure for developing dance styling (e.g. take every step you know and give it dimension by moving in different directions such as diagonal, etc.).  Born a Gemini, I also sometimes write my name with a star symbol instead of an asterisk.  I tell my students that when they re-structure dance steps learned as a drill using a star pattern, their performances will shine and they can be “stars of the stage” as they begin to develop their own dance styles and allow their own special personae to shine.

Today, I encourage dancers  to select a stage name to give themselves the opportunity to become a professional dancer. Just as you would approach applying for a job, highlighting your personal history to match the job description, I would advise you to select your dance name in much the same way.  What is your preferred style of dance?  What type of music do you like? Do you want to select an Arabic, Persian, Turkish, or Lebanese name that matches your dance style?  What attributes do you wish for yourself: strength, agility, fluidity, etc? Do you have any personal characteristics by which you are known?  e.g. flaming red hair, a sweet, shy smile, or powerful movements and flowing dance style? These (and other) questions can lead you to a dance name that will feel right for you!

In addition to researching on the Internet, you can look to books written to assist in choosing an appropriate dance name; Najia Marlyz (formerly Najia El-Mouzayen) who is a writer for Gilded Serpent, published the first dancer’s name book “What’s In a Name?: a Glossary of Names for Middle Eastern Dancers”, now available on Gilded Serpent.

Check with your relatives and community as your ancestry might provide information and relevant names.  (Amaya of New Mexico told me she may be distantly related to  the Spanish Flamenco dancer, the famous Carmen Amaya.)

Even with research, some name conflicts can’t be avoided.  An Internet search on YouTube for “MaShuqa” will provide you with over 100 YouTube videos of Indian Bollywood star, MaShuqa. Yes, the name has the same spelling as mine, but without the middle and surname.  She is a good entertainer (probably half my age) who wasn’t  born yet when I chose my dance name, but as a result, sometimes I’ll discover that I have new students who expect to learn Bollywood style dancing!

I am glad to have had a stage name early in my dance career to avoid a conflict of interest with my regular day job/career employment,especially in light of the recent situation in Northern California with an adjunct college professor being fired for discovery of her other employment in San Francisco as a dancer.  A stage name may offer some protection, shielding your given name for career interests and for personal safety issues such as protection from stalkers, and identity theft problems. 

Mu*Shuqa winks

My discussion of stage names and security issues for Oriental dancers will continue in an additional article.  I have already contacted many of the professional dancers I know who do not use a stage name, and I am awaiting their responses regarding the issues of professional conflict of interest or identity theft that they may have experienced.  I’ll also share some of my own experience with security and career issues.  Please contact me at MaShuqaDancer@gmail.com if you want to share your personal story about experiences as a dancer and your own naming process, or discuss any other issues related to your stage name.

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   |       |    1 Comment

  1. No Gravatar
    Larry Lade

    Nov 13, 2011 - 06:11:35

    Mira was the name of the mare who was the mother of the four white Arabian horses pulling Ben Hur’s chariot in the movie “Ben Hur”. The names of these four chariot horse were Altair, Antares, Aldebaran and Rigel.

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