Few graffiti artists use their real name, both for tradition and to avoid prosecution if they get caught with their name--or tag--on private property. Choosing a tag name can be tricky, as a good tag must be short, memorable, original and distinctive to its bearer. Fortunately, there are a number of ideas for choosing a proper handle.
It is common for taggers to base their names on acronyms. Sometimes these acronyms will be vulgar, but other times they may stand for a neighborhood or other object of personal significance. A tagger from the west side of Detroit might use the tag "WSB" to stand for "West Side Boy."
Many taggers will make their tag a nickname, particularly a short and uncommon one. For example, while a tagger named Nicholas would seldom use the nickname "Nick" as a tag, a tagger with a rare, slightly mysterious nickname--say, "Grease" or "Frizzy"--might adopt that as his graffiti name.
Graffiti art, like any subculture, has its own sense of humor. Sometimes taggers will choose a pun as their name, often as a kind of in joke to other taggers. The modern artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, who was originally a graffiti artist, used to sign his pieces "SAMO", a pun both on "Sambo", the stereotypically black figure, and the phrase "same old"--a joke about the increasing popularity of graffiti, which was once an underworld phenomenon.
Many artists will base their name on a slang word or phrase, particularly one used in graffiti or hip-hop circles. One popular handle is the word "dank," which means "good" or "high quality."
Some taggers also chose to use adjectives, often one that they believe describes their personality or their style. According to ChicagoGraffiti.com, some local artists have chosen the names "Scarce," "Severe" and "Elite." This kind of name communicates to the other graffiti artists something about the person responsible for the work.
One of the simpler tags that artists adopt is their initials, particularly if the initials form a word. For variety, some taggers will also mix up the letters of their initials with a number, often one of special significance, such as their age or their area code.
Graffiti artists will often adopt a short noun for a name, particularly one that has a distinct feeling or describes a particular concept relevant to graffiti. The tagger names "Ebola" and "Cancer" connote danger and death, but also the idea that tags spread mysteriously, like diseases.