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February 3, 2017 4:12 AM   Subscribe

I'm interested in people who changed their first name, but who only changed the spelling, whether stage name/Equity purposes or personal choice. So not Cary Grant going from Gary, but say, Jackie Collins suddenly deciding she wants to be known as Jacqui Collins, or Zadie Smith (born Sadie). Can you give me any examples? I don't mind if they are accepted/'normal' spellings or not.
posted by mippy to Grab Bag (52 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Enya's real name is Eithne. (Eithne is an Irish name that is pronounced EHN-YA, and she started performing under the Enya phonetic spelling so people wouldn't have to struggle with the Irish name.)
posted by mochapickle at 4:32 AM on February 3, 2017 [7 favorites]

Doesn't quite meet your guidelines, but:

David Walliams changed his name "to David Walliams when he joined the actors' union Equity, as there was already a member named David Williams."

It may be that Equity have rules about homonymous names?
posted by doozer_ex_machina at 4:33 AM on February 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Jaime King has been Jaime, Jamie and James in screen credits.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 4:38 AM on February 3, 2017

Audre Lorde was born Audrey Lorde, but she preferred having both names end with "e" for artistic reasons.
posted by lemonadeheretic at 4:40 AM on February 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

There's an Irish actor/director named Mikel Murfi, who changed his name from Michael Murphy, I presume for Equity purposes.
posted by Samarium at 4:41 AM on February 3, 2017

ZAYN from One Direction was born Zain Malik but changed the spelling (and capitalisation) of his name to make it more distinctive.

I am so, so glad I have dedicated brain cells to recording that information. It is endlessly useful to me.
posted by matthew.alexander at 5:04 AM on February 3, 2017 [17 favorites]

Mykelti Williamson, currently starring in the Denzel Washington movie "Fences", was born Michael T. Williamson.
posted by briank at 5:12 AM on February 3, 2017 [7 favorites]

Ginnifer Goodwin
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:29 AM on February 3, 2017

Rhys Ifans was born Rhys Evans. Quick googling suggests he changed the spelling ‘to be difficult’. Whatever that means.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 5:30 AM on February 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Melvil Dewey was originally named Melville, but was a proponent of spelling reform, and changed his name to Melvil Dui. The last name change never worked, for some reason.
posted by blnkfrnk at 5:33 AM on February 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

Assume my given name is Jennifer. (It's not.) I was Jenny as a child, got older and became Jen, then decided that was boring, and have been Jenn ever since.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 5:52 AM on February 3, 2017

Elvis Aron Presley changed the spelling of his middle name to Aaron.
posted by asperity at 6:06 AM on February 3, 2017

So not Cary Grant going from Gary

Wouldn't he have gone from Archie?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:19 AM on February 3, 2017 [10 favorites]

Do you know the story of Dionne Warwick's extra E?
posted by Mchelly at 6:28 AM on February 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Does Chef Boyardee (the product of one Mr. Boiardi) count? It was really just his name on a product, but it acted similarly as a stage name.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:29 AM on February 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Barbra Streisand too.
posted by Mchelly at 6:31 AM on February 3, 2017

I think Emma Stone was originally named Emily but had to change it for SAG reasons.

Jennifer 8. Lee threw in an 8 since well, she has an incredibly generic name.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:49 AM on February 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Louis CK, whose original last name is Szekely, which is pronounced CK
posted by brainmouse at 7:02 AM on February 3, 2017

Ugh just noticed you asked for first names, sorry
posted by brainmouse at 7:02 AM on February 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Ah but as a roundabout one, the singer Gotye is actually named Wouter, which is the Dutch version of the French name Gauthier (pronounced, you guessed it, Gotye)
posted by brainmouse at 7:05 AM on February 3, 2017

Andy Andrew Cole?
posted by fullerine at 7:16 AM on February 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Michael Gilmore changed his first name to Mikal. I don't remember exactly why, but he talks about it in Shot in the Heart.
posted by Lucinda at 7:23 AM on February 3, 2017

Shaun Sean Bean
posted by Gordafarin at 7:40 AM on February 3, 2017

Setting aside the last name, Geddy Lee went with the pronunciation of "Gary" used by his Polish parents.
posted by Occula at 8:22 AM on February 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

Michael J. Fox (middle name Andrew) added the J because SAG already had a Michael Fox.

Suzyn Waldman, radio commentator for the NY Yankees, was originally Susan.
posted by JimN2TAW at 8:27 AM on February 3, 2017

Response by poster: "Wouldn't he have gone from Archie?" - Sorry, I was on a bus when I wrote this and I got confused between Grant and Gary Cooper.

Thanks for the answers so far, I'm interested in first names rather than surnames, though - changes of surnames tend to be to do with masking ethnicity - looks like Rhys Ifans did the opposite by Welshificating his name further - or Equity/SAG issues in the case of famous people. Especially if there is a reason given for the change. (Personal anecdotes also welcome!)
posted by mippy at 8:29 AM on February 3, 2017

Response by poster: Andrew/Andy Cole being a great example!
posted by mippy at 8:30 AM on February 3, 2017

Do you know the story of Dionne Warwick's extra E?

Man, that astrologer really got around. Cleo Laine and John Dankworth played a concert once in Philadelphia. The program had to list him as Dankworthe, it looked like a typo but no, the extra letter was due to some astrology thing. This was in the mid-70s too.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:13 AM on February 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Jennipher Frost (former America's Next Top Model contestant who married Brian Urlacher, so I guess she's doing pretty good) changed the spelling of her name to distinguish herself from the zillion other Jennifers in her sixth grade class.

Come to think of it, you could probably dig up all sorts of anecdotes of teenagers with plain-jane names changing the spelling (playne-jeinne?). There was a kid at my high school who spelled her name "K8" for years.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:16 AM on February 3, 2017

My parents changed the spelling of my name two weeks after I was born because people were pronouncing it wrong.

After being alive for many more weeks after that, I can tell you that it didn't help.

If my name was my screen name: They originally spelled it "Meemziyo" but changed it to "Meemzio." It's supposed to be pronounced MEEM-zee-yo. People would say mem-ZY-o.
posted by meemzi at 9:23 AM on February 3, 2017

My great-grandmother and namesake "changed" her first name so many times that had it not been for my grandfather (her son) still being alive, it would have been difficult to confirm her on censuses etc.

Born Anni Kristine
On a family farm census as Annikke
On a farm outside of Kristiansand (now Oslo) as Anni
Came through Ellis Island as Annie (anglicized spelling probably due to the person documenting)
Canada census as Annikke
Oregon census as Anna; loads of people remember her with that name

I'm named Anna.

She was Norwegian; it was a thing there. They're all considered the same name, basically. Depending on dialect, Anni/Anne/Anna are pronounced roughly the same.
posted by fraula at 10:13 AM on February 3, 2017

A friend's grandfather changed the spelling of the family name to make it easier to pronounce – it's an English name but so rare that people often got it wrong. The solution wasn't a great success, and the mispronunciations continued – but it became a useful shibboleth for cold callers. /derail
posted by mushhushshu at 10:21 AM on February 3, 2017

Geddy Lee, OC.

His birth name is Gary Lee Weinrib, but his parents, Polish-Jewish refugees who survived the Holocaust, pronounced the first name 'Geddy' due to their accents.

It stuck.
posted by spinifex23 at 10:49 AM on February 3, 2017

comedian Myq Kaplan was born Michael Kaplan...
posted by cluebucket at 10:56 AM on February 3, 2017

I think Emma Stone was originally named Emily but had to change it for SAG reasons.

To expand on this: The entertainment unions do not allow multiple members to share the same exact name.

So, very many of the entertainment people who have changed their names, did so for this reason.

David X. Coen, show runner of Futurama, had to change his middle initial to X because his birth middle name is Samuel, and David Cohen, David S. Cohen, and David Samuel Cohen already existed at the WGA

Not exactly what you are looking for, but my favorite "changed their name to join to union" situations is Michael Keaton. His birth name is Michael Douglas, and obviously that one was taken. Keaton is just same random name he choice so he could get into SAG. He uses Douglas for everything in his non-progressional life.
posted by sideshow at 11:14 AM on February 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Couple more: My 96 year old grandmother has diff legal documents with Ann, Anne, and Anna as her first name.

"Anna" on her birth certificate, "Ann" on her marriage certificate/DL/Census info/Social Security checks/bank accounts, and "Anne" on her US Passports.

She filled out her marriage paperwork with "Ann", and that changed her legal name from that point on. No one is sure how Anne got on her passports, but it's been that way for 40 years.

Her husband, my Grandfather, changed his middle name accidentally because he was misinformed as to what his legal name was! His county birth records went missing for decades, so various gov agencies (CCC, US Army, Social Security, Census, etc.) just took his word at what his middle name was. It wasn't until he tried to get a US Passport to visit what was then part of the Soviet Union that the missing records caused him any problems, and then eventually they just issued a new birth cert or something.

It wasn't until many years after he died, and pretty recently, that the original records were located. Turns out he spent 80+ years thinking his middle name was one thing, but his actual legal name was something else.
posted by sideshow at 11:27 AM on February 3, 2017

My grandma was born in 1923 and her birth certificate says Betty. She's been spelling it Bettye for about 80 years. Every document and form of ID my grandma has, save her birth certificate, says Bettye.

I'm curious about the people who make this change without going through the whole legal name change process. My first name ends with -ie and I'd like to ditch the i, but it seems silly to go through the process (and pay all the fees) for a legal name change.

(Additionally, my surname is spelled with an -gu- in the middle, but it was originally spelled -ug- and it changed when my great-grandfather immigrated and wanted to Anglicize his Norwegian surname. I toy with the idea of flipping the g and u back to the original spelling.)
posted by elsietheeel at 12:30 PM on February 3, 2017

Thandie Newton changed the spelling of her name from Thandiwe. I read about why she did that a few years ago, can't find the reference now.
posted by foxjacket at 1:17 PM on February 3, 2017

Eithne is an Irish name that is pronounced EHN-YA

Sorry to be That Person but no; Eithne is pronounced Eth-na. (Credentials: Irish person who also knows at least 2 Eithnes.)
posted by billiebee at 1:50 PM on February 3, 2017

My mother's first name was originally Inge. She was from Germany, and the name is two syllables, but when they emigrated to the U.S. people kept calling her "Inj", so she eventually changed her name to Inga, which is at least closer to her original name, pronunciation wise.
posted by gudrun at 1:51 PM on February 3, 2017

When I was born, my mother gave me a perfectly nice middle name but changed an "i" to a "y" just to be "different".

Over the years I've debated changing it back simply because I find that sort of thing supremely tacky, but as I've had to put it on more and more legal documents lately, it seems more and more of a headache to do so.
posted by tully_monster at 2:20 PM on February 3, 2017

My father-in-law's first name was "Rudolf" in Germany. When he was processed at Ellis Island, it was documented as "Rudolph", and his family thought he was "required" to use that spelling. So that was that.
posted by dustkee at 3:01 PM on February 3, 2017

Prince, for awhile, became TAFKAPrince.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:42 PM on February 3, 2017

My grandfather, an Austrian, was named Max. He thought it wasn't sophisticated enough (and also wanted to appear less German and less Jewish) so his business cards for a long time said Maximillian. He also gave himself a middle name. Neither was done officially. (Amusingly, my little brother who was named after him was also named Max and got so sick of people assuming it was short for something that he introduced himself as "Just Max" for a while...so the trend came full circle.)
posted by eleanna at 4:07 PM on February 3, 2017

Meant to say that he did that after immigrating to the US in 1939.
posted by eleanna at 4:08 PM on February 3, 2017

The footballer Alexander Hleb has gone through multiple transliterations, if that counts. His website uses Aliaksandr, but he was, IIRC, Alexander at Arsenal and Aleksandr at Stuttgart. He's currently registered with FIFA as Aleksandr. The Turkish Football Federation (which seems to have an unusually robust record of players online) had him registered as Aliaksandr.

Not quite what you're looking for, I don't think, but my dad's family was from the Burgenland and depending on which documents you look at, people's names drift between German, Hungarian and Latin forms of the same name. So Josef, Joszef and Josephus are all the same person, for example. (It's worth noting that Ellis Island records are actually ship manifests and don't reflect "legal" names (which was a much hazier concept at the time, but anyway). My grandfather was born in the US and I'm pretty sure his birth certificate said Frank along with the rest of his US documents. He lived in Austria as a child (why? no idea) and you can find him in the Ellis Island records as Franz, presumably because they were speaking German when they bought the tickets.)
posted by hoyland at 4:50 PM on February 3, 2017

My mom had a friend who changed her name from Natalie to Nathalie on her 18th birthday. Same pronunciation but she thought adding an h made her name more glamourous. This would have been in the early 1970s.
posted by Champagne Supernova at 5:12 PM on February 3, 2017

Eithne is an Irish name that is pronounced EHN-YA

Sorry to be That Person but no; Eithne is pronounced Eth-na. (Credentials: Irish person who also knows at least 2 Eithnes.)

Wow, neat, billiebee! Is it possibly a regional thing? I found a recording of Frank McCourt saying the name with the pronunciation mentioned in my earlier comment.
posted by mochapickle at 6:59 PM on February 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

The woman whose pen name was George Eliot started life as Mary Anne (or Ann, she used both) Evans but switched to 'Marian' in her thirties. Late in life she sometimes used Mary Ann again. (She also insistently took her unmarried partner's last name - Lewes. Sometimes she used Marian Evans Lewes. It's interesting because her 'real' name is often given as Marian Evans but she actually signed relatively few of her letters that way.)
posted by yarrow at 10:44 PM on February 3, 2017

Mary Louise = Meryl Streep
Elizabeth Stamatina = Tina Fey
Ann Marie = Ree Drummond
posted by spraypaint at 2:11 PM on February 4, 2017

My grandmother was "Jean" for 65 or 70 years. After my grandfather passed, she moved to Florida and started calling herself "Jeanene".
posted by Horselover Fat at 6:52 AM on February 10, 2017

The actress Shannyn Sossamon was born Shannon, and changed the spelling as an adolescent because she "never felt like a Shannon."
posted by désoeuvrée at 12:54 PM on February 10, 2017

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