Do you look at the posts about names on this site and ever ask yourself, what is the big hullabaloo about names? It’s not like there are a lot of people changing their names out there. Right?
Well, the truth is, there are a lot more name changes going on than you realize. I think it’s a bit like buying a new Mini-Cooper and feeling so unique until you start passing one after another out on the road. Name changes are like this. I thought I was so strange when I decided to change my first name. I thought I would be the laughing stock of my friends, family, community, work, etc. It took a lot of courage for me to take the leap, but once I did, I was surprised to learn about so many other people who had changed their names. People I never suspected!
|Popular Name||Birth Name|
|Jon Stewart||Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz|
|Elton John||Reginald Kenneth Dwight|
|Barack Obama||“Barry” Barack Obama|
|Maya Angelou||Marguerite Ann Johnson|
|Gene Wilder||Jerome (Jerry) Silberman|
|Sugar Ray Robinson||Walker Smith|
|Gerald Ford||Leslie Lynch King Jr|
|Whoopi Goldberg||Caryn Elaine Johnson|
|Bono||Paul David Hewson|
|John Wayne||Marion Robert Morrison|
|Sigourney Weaver||Susan Alexandra Weaver|
|Freddie Mercury||Farrokh Bulsara|
|Tori Amos||Myra Ellen Amos|
|Elle MacPherson||Eleanor Gow|
|Alice Cooper||Vincent Damon Furnier|
|Elvis Costello||Declan Patrick McManus|
|Michael Crawford||Michael Patrick Dumbell-Smith|
|Bing Crosby||Harry Lillis Crosby|
|Barry Manilow||Barry Alan Pincus|
|Meat Loaf||Marvin Lee Aday|
|Queen Latifah||Dana Owens|
|Gene Simmons||Chaim Witz, and later Eugene Klein|
|Sting||Gordon Matthew Sumner|
|Tina Turner||Anna Mae Bullock|
|Shania Twain||Eileen Regina Edwards|
|Stevie Wonder||Stevland Judkins|
|Billie Holiday||Eleanora Fagan|
|Babe Ruth||George Herman Ruth|
|Spiro Agnew||Spiro Theodore Anagnostopoulos|
|Malcolm X||Malcolm Little|
|Joseph Stalin||Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvilli|
|Mark Twain||Samuel Langhorne Clemens|
|Frank Lloyd Wright||Frank Lincoln Wright|
|George Eliot||Mary Ann (or Marion) Evans|
Name changes are woven throughout the fabric of our nation as well. For example, getting a name right is crucial—even for fictional characters. Margaret Mitchell in writing the book, Gone with the Wind originally named the heroine Pansy. At the editor’s request, the author spent months going through names for the feisty main character—everything from Nancy, Peggy, and even Margaret, before finally settling on Scarlett. Getting Scarlett’s name right was an important first step for one of the most successful novels in history.
The thing is, you may not realize how prevalent name changes really are, because you may not realize how many people have changed their name. The table at left demonstrates the pervasive nature of name changes in our culture. In the course of my research, I’ve talked with people around the country about their names and also conducted an online survey. One respondent indicated that she never liked her name, but she didn’t feel comfortable changing it. So she chose instead to give her daughter a name she would have liked for herself. Maybe parents are searching for something more than a unique name for their baby; maybe they’re looking for something unique within themselves as well.
I was in the check-out line at Macy’s recently when three nearby women (all of a similar age) noticed they had the same name, Rosemary. They talked about nicknames, spelling, and their frustrations about the name. I was left thinking about the name Rose. It reminded me of the words of Shakespeare. “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” The name Rose hit a peak in popularity in 1960 and has plummeted since then, leaving women with that name anchored to a certain age and image.
Why couldn’t a rose change her name? It worked for Eileen Edwards who changed her name to Shania Twain. It worked for Leslie Lynch King, Jr., who as a young adult changed his name to Gerald Ford (yes, the US. President).
What’s in a name? Apparently a lot.