What's in a name? Fame, fortune and a fat fee

There are very few film stars who end up with a more interesting name than the one they dropped

Share

Yesterday, I was speculating on what the new Pope might call himself, though I suppose he already knows his secret preference. When it comes to an actor changing his name, though, things are not so clear-cut.

Yesterday, I was speculating on what the new Pope might call himself, though I suppose he already knows his secret preference. When it comes to an actor changing his name, though, things are not so clear-cut.

If you have an ordinary-sounding name, the odds are that some member of Equity is already called that. So you will have to change your name. But there is no use choosing one in advance, because there is a great possibility that that will be booked as well.

So you might as well go for something exotic. Indeed, when I was a kid, actors did tend to choose exotic names like Victor Mature and Rock Hudson, and singers gave themselves new handles like Billy Fury and Tommy Steele, so I had always assumed that people welcomed a chance to get away from their humdrum identity into something more exciting.

And quite recently I expounded on this theory in a book I was working on, pointing out that theatre directors and playwrights (who stick to their original monickers ) tend to have prosaic names like David Hare and Peter Hall and Richard Eyre, whereas actors have exotic names like Dirk Bogarde, Vanessa Redgrave, Marlon Brando, and Dinsdale Landen.

Unfortunately, the editor who was handling my speculation before it found its way into print brought me up sharply with a reminder that Vanessa Redgrave was also her real name, and Dirk Bogarde was almost the same as his real name, and Marlon Brando's real name was also Marlon Brando.

She added that she thought, too, that Dinsdale Landen's real name was Dinsdale Landen, and that if I wanted to come up with film stars who had deliberately chosen exotic stage names, I would have to try a lot harder than that, because none of this lot would qualify.

So, stung by this, I looked up several lists of the real names borne by stage and screen performers to back up my hunch that they liked to ditch their boring original names and go for wild and wacky new names, and I found that I couldn't have been further from the truth. It was the other way round. Scores of famous people had started life with a really interesting and different name of their own, and had then ditched it for something much more banal.

I suppose the famous one is Marion Morrison turning into John Wayne, but that was only the start of it.

Frederick Austerlitz had become Fred Astaire.

Walter Matthau had shortened his name from Walter Matuschanskayasky.

Doris Day was initially Doris von Kappelhoff.

Ben Kingsley was originally called Krishna Banji.

Burl Ives - ah, Burl Ives! That looks unusual to start with, does it not? However, it is not half so unusual as the name he was given at birth, which was Burle Icle Ivanhoe.

And when Thomas C Mapother IV went into acting, he, too, decided to drop the interesting half of his name (Mapother IV) and to keep his banal first two names (Tom Cruise).

There is a pattern here, almost as if stars use their change of name to go into disguise. They set out in life with a gaudy name and then, faced with the prospect of fame, pull on an everyday name as if it were a pair of dark glasses or a coat with the collar turned up.

There are very few film stars who ended up with a more interesting name than the one they dropped. Bo Derek is fractionally more interesting than Mary Cathleen Collins, I must admit, but it is much more typical to find Lucille Le Sueur reducing herself to Joan Crawford (or Michael Dumble-Smith, for that matter, reducing himself to a mere Michael Crawford).

Even Victor Mature, I now discover, started out as Victor Maturi.

And whenever I find myself wavering in my adherence to my new theory, I only have to remind myself of Alan Alda's orginal name. Which was Alphonso d'Abruzzo.

Alphonso d'Abruzzo!

You would have to have well-nigh papal humility to abandon a great name like that.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Tea and sympathy for the idea of religion as a force for peace

Andrew Buncombe
The BBC headquarters at New Broadcasting House is illuminated at night in London, England.  

We can no longer justify paying the license fee when the BBC wastes so much money on expenses

Mira Bar Hillel
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits