With the exception of the occasional email from a parent, or cruel text message wondering why the Nexus decided to print four of my articles on one day, I don’t get a whole lot of feedback on what I write. Anyone who works for the paper has grown accustomed to watching classmates read their articles, not realizing the author of the piece is sitting just a couple of feet away, and that’s fine – we’re certainly not doing this job for fame or fortune. However, it’s always nice to get a positive response to an article, and nothing I’ve written has been as well received as the sports column I wrote that analyzed the best names in college football. Names like Sen’Derrick Marks and Lucious Pusey. I originally planned on taking the same approach to this column, but in case you hadn’t noticed, entertainers don’t exactly have a stellar track record of using their real names.
Most people can figure out guys like Vin Diesel and Jean-Claude Van Damme use stage names, but a little research turned up a disturbing trend, going far deeper than you might imagine. Entertainers like Woody Allen, Charlie Sheen, Kirk Douglas and Natalie Portman all use fake names. Winona Ryder: fake. John Denver: fake. Even the immortal Charlton Heston uses a pseudonym, as he was born John Charles Carter.
Some name changes are understandable, with the celebrity making a slight change to his or her birth name to create a slicker sounding stage name. Having been born Thomas Cruise Mapother IV, one can hardly blame Tom Cruise for cutting off the end of his name in an effort to become significantly cooler. I’ll throw down $8.50 to watch Tom Cruise try to save the world, but I can’t help but think that “Mission Impossible” would be slightly less possible if the hero was a guy named Tom Mapother IV. Ray Charles and Michael J. Fox fall into this category as well, having been born Ray Charles Robinson and Michael A. Fox, respectively. The Canadian-born Fox didn’t want magazines calling him Michael “A Fox!” which seems to me to be one of the most reasonable decisions a Canadian has ever made.
While Cruise and Fox made small changes, many other celebrities choose brand new names in an effort to please Hollywood. It’d be hard to find fault with Alphonso D’Abruzzo changing his name to Alan Alda, or Issur Danielovitch making the switch to Kirk Douglas. A girl named Demetria Guynes smartly made the switch to the considerably hotter Demi Moore, and I can’t imagine those Bea Arthur jokes in “Airheads” being as funny if she went by her original name, Bernice Frankel.
The music world is full of stage names, with varying degrees of success. For instance, I can understand Robert Zimmerman changing his name to Bob Dylan, or Dino Crocetti making the switch to Dean Martin, but I can’t help but think that Elvis Costello is less unique than his original name, Declan McManus. Barry Manilow is one of many examples of celebrities who adopted their mother’s maiden name, and Elton John clearly had to make some kind of change after growing up as the badass Reginald Dwight. As Reginald, his only career choice was to be a butler, but as Elton, the world became his oyster.
Sadly, the Hollywood name game seems to be a never-ending cycle. For every Jerry Seinfeld out there, there’s a Jason Alexander who decided to jazz things up a little with two first names. I guess you could call it karma that most people know Alexander only by his character’s name of George Costanza, who ironically himself once announced that he would change his name to Buck Naked if he ever became a porn star. The whole stage name business is all very confusing, and in the end all it does is sadden fans when they find out the truth. Personally I don’t know how one can recover from finding out that Chuck Norris grew up as Carlos Ray. It’s devastating right? Oh well – his name will always be Walker, Texas Ranger in my eyes.