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What's in a Name?

Episode # 317

Air Date: 6/7//24

What’s in a name


The glitz and glamour of Hollywood often come with the pressure of maintaining a persona that resonates with audiences worldwide. For many actors, their name becomes an integral part of their brand, a key component in their rise to fame. However, deciding whether to change one's name is a complex and deeply personal decision. This chapter delves into the myriad reasons actors might consider altering their names, the process they undergo, and the potential consequences of such a change.

The Importance of a Name in Show Business

In the entertainment industry, a name can be a powerful tool. It can evoke certain feelings, suggest a persona, or even hint at an actor's background. A name is often the first point of connection between an actor and their audience. For instance, the name "Marilyn Monroe" conjures an image of timeless beauty and classic Hollywood allure, whereas "Joaquin Phoenix" might evoke thoughts of intense, transformative performances.

Reasons for Changing a Name

1.           Marketability and Memorability:

•            Some actors change their names to something catchier or easier to remember. This can be crucial in an industry where standing out is essential. For example, Reginald Kenneth Dwight became Elton John, a name that is not only unique but also memorable.

2.           Avoiding Typecasting or Prejudice:

•            Actors may change their names to avoid typecasting or to overcome biases related to their ethnicity or background. This was a common practice in the early days of Hollywood when many actors Anglicized their names to fit in better with mainstream American audiences. For instance, Issur Danielovitch Demsky became Kirk Douglas.

3.           Union Regulations and Conflicts:

•            The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) has strict rules about name usage, prohibiting two members from having the same professional name. This has led many actors to adopt stage names to avoid conflicts. For example, Michael Keaton was born Michael Douglas but had to change his name to avoid confusion with the already famous Michael Douglas.

4.           Personal or Artistic Reasons:

•            Some actors feel a different name better reflects their artistic identity or personal evolution. Prince, for instance, famously changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol to assert control over his music and persona.

The Process of Changing a Name

Changing an actor's professional name involves several steps and considerations:

1.           Choosing the Right Name:

•            The first step is selecting a name that aligns with the actor's desired image. This might involve consulting with agents, managers, and branding experts to find a name that resonates with audiences and suits the actor's career goals.

2.           Legal and Professional Considerations:

•            Legally changing a name can be a straightforward process, but it involves paperwork and sometimes court appearances. Professionally, the actor must notify industry organizations, such as SAG, update their professional credits, and ensure that casting directors, producers, and other industry contacts are aware of the change.

3.           Rebranding Efforts:

•            A name change often requires a comprehensive rebranding effort. This includes updating marketing materials, social media profiles, websites, and possibly reintroducing oneself to the public and industry through interviews and press releases.

Potential Consequences

1.           Positive Outcomes:

•            A successful name change can rejuvenate an actor's career, helping them to break free from previous associations or to capture a new audience. It can also align more closely with their personal identity or artistic vision, leading to greater career satisfaction and authenticity.

2.           Challenges and Risks:

•            Conversely, changing a name carries risks. An established actor might lose some of the recognition and goodwill associated with their original name. There is also the possibility of alienating existing fans or causing confusion within the industry.

3.           Legacy and Long-Term Impact:

•            For actors who become legends, their chosen names become part of their legacy. The success or failure of a name change can have lasting implications on their career and how they are remembered in the annals of entertainment history.

Case Studies

•            Natalie Portman:

•            Born Natalie Hershlag, she adopted her maternal grandmother's maiden name, Portman, early in her career. The change allowed her to maintain privacy and professionalism, contributing to her success as an acclaimed actress.

•            Bruno Mars:

•            Born Peter Gene Hernandez, he chose the stage name Bruno Mars to avoid being stereotyped due to his Hispanic surname. His new name helped him establish a unique identity in the music and entertainment industry.

•            Emma Stone:

•            Emily Jean Stone adopted the name "Emma" due to an existing "Emily Stone" in SAG. The change has had no adverse effect on her career; in fact, she has become one of the most recognizable and successful actresses of her generation.


The decision to change one's name is a multifaceted process that involves careful consideration of personal, professional, and marketability factors. While a name is just one aspect of an actor's identity, it plays a crucial role in their public image and career trajectory. Whether for reasons of branding, avoiding prejudice, or simply a fresh start, the choice to change a name can be a pivotal moment in an actor's journey through the entertainment industry.


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