A Brief History
On September 28, 1066, a warrior leader known as “William the Bastard” invaded England from Normandy in what is now France. You probably know him better as William the Conqueror, a much catchier name. William the Bastard was the illegitimate son of the Duke of Normandy. His status as a bastard posed some difficulties for him as he succeeded his father, however, after he had consolidated his power and established control over his duchy, he also set his sites on England and set the invasion of the island country in motion. That move was the best thing he could ever have done for his reputation because from then on, he was no longer known as William the Bastard, but as William the Conqueror.
We have already written a few articles on goofy names and about rock stars who have changed their names. (Please also see our related articles from April 2 & April 23 and May 3 & May 4.) Here we examine more people with names that changed, mostly for the better. Who would you nominate to this list? Who would you nominate for a name change?
Let us start with US presidents. President Gerald Ford was born Leslie Lynch King, Jr. Another president with a name change was Ulysses S. Grant. He was formerly known as Hiram Ulysses Grant and apparently did not like his initials spelling “HUG.” Oddly enough, Millard Fillmore chose not to change his name. And now on to some musicians. Chubby Checker got his name when someone noticed he looked like a smaller version of Fats Domino (get it?). Engelbert Humperdinck, the suave British singer, started life with the decidedly un-suave name of Arnold Dorsey. History and Headlines Trivia: The name he picked was that of a German composer. Besides singers, actors are among the entertainers who most often change their names. Notable name changes include: John Wayne (Marion Morrison); Cary Grant (Archibald Leach); Edward G. Robinson (Emmanuel Goldenberg); Tony Curtis (Bernie Schwartz); Kirk Douglas (Issur Danielovitch); Nicholas Cage (Nicholas Kim Coppola); and Martin and Charlie Sheen (Ramon and Carlos Estevez). Contrary to popular belief, Marilyn Monroe was not born Norma Jean Baker. Do you know her real name? Sports stars are also not above name changes or somewhat goofy names. The National Basketball Association (NBA) player Lloyd Free changed his name to World B. Free in the middle of his career. Jesse Owens’ actual name is James Cleveland Owens. When a teacher asked him what his name was, he responded “J.C.” for James Cleveland. His teacher misunderstood him, and from then on, he was known as Jesse. History and Headlines Note: Though not born in Cleveland, Owens moved there as a tot and grew up with Cleveland as his hometown. Obviously, the O.J. in O.J. Simpson stands for something, and that something is Orenthal James. How many “Orenthals” do you know? (For that matter, how many “Wilts” as in Wilt Chamberlain do you know?) The great baseball relief pitcher known as Sparky Lyle was really named Albert Walter Lyle, whereas Sparky Anderson, 3-time manager of World Series champion teams, was born George Lee Anderson. Other sports “Sparkys” include Earl Adams who was a major league baseball player from 1922-1934 and Phillip Woods who is currently the football coach at Virginia Military Institute (VMI). Hey, if you want to call your kid “Sparky” just name him that in the first place!
Sometimes names are changed because of religious convictions. Examples of this include: Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay); Kareem Abdul Jabbar (Lew Alcindor); and Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens, who actually born Steven Georgiou). The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been born Michael King and changed his name (not legally) after his father had a vision that both of them should change their names to Martin Luther King. Catholic cardinals take on a new name upon election to the papacy, but for some reason they pick names like Leo, John, Pious, Innocent and the like. Why not take the opportunity to pick something cool like Kobe or Deerslayer? Of course, some people get neat names right off the bat, such as Napoleon Bonaparte, actors Shia LaBoeuf and Megan Fox and basketball great Lebron James. Some genuinely badass people do not have a tough-sounding name and apparently do not need one. Cases in point, U.S. Marine Corps General Smedley Butler, World War I hero Alvin York and World War II hero Audie Murphy. Question for students (and subscribers): Do you have a cool name? If you do, please share it with us in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Rosenkrantz, Linda and Pamela Redmond Satran. The Nameberry Guide to Off-the-Grid Baby Names: 1000s of Names NEVER in the Top 1000. Nameberry, 2013.