When do you call a celebrity by their real name?
October 9, 2018 1:56 PM   Subscribe

With celebrities that use a "stage name" or a pseudonym, who is expected / culturally allowed to use their real name with them?

This obviously will differ wildly from one person to the next, but I'd like to hear both general and specific examples.

My question was prompted by John Wayne, whose real name was Marion Mitchell Morrison. Did his wife call him Marion? Did anyone call him Marion? Would old friends from his childhood, who knew him as Marion, be expected to call him John when they saw him?
posted by amicamentis to Society & Culture (36 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I have known someone who used a stage name, though he wasn't a celebrity.
I knew him through mutual friends, who had known him for many years, so I called him by the name they used, which was his birth name. I also worked with him professionally, where it seemed most people called him by his stage name. In his case, the stage first name was a slightly alerted version of his birth first name, so it was clear to other people who I was talking about. His last names were completely different however, and no one else in the professional setting seemed to know his birth last name.
Honestly, it was sort of confusing and awkward. If I worked with him more often I'd be probably just switch to his stage name for professional purposes, and keep the birth name for personal contexts.
posted by Adridne at 2:05 PM on October 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

I've never heard Bono referred to as his real name and a footnote in the linked to Wikipedia article says that his family and friends call him that.

On a similiar front, Sting seems to be called by his real name, Gordon Sumner, a lot more in the public press, so much so that I knew his name without looking it up.
posted by mmascolino at 2:05 PM on October 9, 2018

I'd suspect it would be based on intimacy.

Tony Curtis used to be Bernie Schwartz. This wasn't a secret, and he openly joked about it. Intimates or people who knew him way back when could call him that, but if you were outside of those circles, probably not.

David Bowie called Iggy Pop 'Jimmy'. Bowie didn't know Jimmy when he was Jimmy, so he was probably invited to do so (probably in light that Iggy is a persona more than a person, but whatever).

The Duke of Windsor was called David by his wife and family. But to call him David instead of Your Royal Highness, Your Majesty, or King Edward? Probably not.
posted by Capt. Renault at 2:07 PM on October 9, 2018

It completely depends on why they use a pseudonym or stage name. A lot of actors are stuck with a variation on their name because of SAG rules requiring a unique working name.

As for the John Wayne premise, as far as I know all of his childhood and adulthood friends called him by his long-standing nickname: Duke. Similarly, Marlon Brando's close acquaintances were encouraged to call him Bud.
posted by mikeh at 2:09 PM on October 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Through watching a show like Total Divas (basically backstage stuff with some of the women who work in the WWE) I can say that the vast majority of the time, they referred to each other and their fellow wrestlers (some of whom were husbands or boyfriends) by their real names. Except for the fact that wrestler Dean Ambrose was always referred to by that name (even by his wife) despite the fact that his real name is Jon. But I also wonder if that's due in part to the fact that there are already a bunch of wrestlers whose real names are Jon/John so maybe he goes by Dean for that reason. I heard him once on Chris Jericho's podcast where he informed him that his real name was Jon, so clearly even wrestlers that he worked with didn't use his real name backstage.
posted by acidnova at 2:13 PM on October 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

Ringo Starr's current wife refers to him as "Richie" (he was born Richard Starkey). I believe his first wife did the same.

Bradley Cooper has occasionally been calling Lady Gaga "Stefani" (she was born Stefani Germanotta) in interviews to promote A Star is Born. I get the feeling that he calls her that in general and if so, she has given him permission to do so.
posted by thereemix at 2:18 PM on October 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think it would be the same situation for anyone with a chosen name vs a given name - it all depends on why do they have two names in the first place. Did the celebrity choose the name for branding or uniqueness? To fit a character, to separate the celebrity they play in media from their own private life? Or did they choose a new name for the reasons anyone else might?

They might just hate the given name - it is associated with a problematic person, it rhymes with something distasteful, someone made up a funny nickname in grade school they've never been able to forget. I know plenty of people who despise the name given by their parents for no reason they can explain.

And I know other people who chose a name as part of a new life, either gender transition or a spiritual change; something that made such difference that the old name is now just irrelevant and possibly even hurtful.
posted by buildmyworld at 2:20 PM on October 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

I used to work at a place where Iggy Pop was a client. I addressed him as Iggy on the rare occasion that we communicated, as he never said anything like, "Oh, please call me Jimmy." The head of the company called him Jim only when talking to him directly. When talking about him with us, he called him Iggy.

I think this was appropriate. I think you should defer to the person's wishes if they are okay with you using an intimate form of address, but kind of waving that intimacy around to others who don't have that relationship with the person is sort of obnoxious.

On preview, I also really like what buildmyworld said. Call a person what they ask you to call them. Of course, I have issues with people presuming to call me by nicknames I'm really not down with.
posted by queensissy at 2:24 PM on October 9, 2018 [9 favorites]

In my experience, they will tell you what they want to be called, or you'll be told by the person who introduces you to them. I played golf once with Spiro Agnew; I was told to call him "Ted" like his friends and family did.
posted by beagle at 2:26 PM on October 9, 2018 [17 favorites]

It completely depends on why they use a pseudonym or stage name. A lot of actors are stuck with a variation on their name because of SAG rules requiring a unique working name

Michael Keaton's real last name is Douglas, and he's said in interviews that he likes his real name and he only uses Keaton because of SAG.
posted by sideshow at 2:30 PM on October 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

Zero Mostel (born Samuel) was close friends with my partner's uncle. Even though "Zero" took that name as an adult once he started performing, that's what every one called him... including his close friends and his wife.
posted by kimdog at 3:00 PM on October 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

There's no law here, there's every possible use case out there.

As anecdata, I was amused to hear on Dax Shepherd's podcast interviewing Mila Kunis that his wife Kristen Bell is "Annie" (middle name, but one she used all her life personally) to her family of origin and her husband Ashton Kutcher is "Chris" to his, and the respective spouses use either name depending on context, but he casually referred to her as "Bell" repeatedly and she had to be asked by Kutcher to stop calling him "Kutch" (her nickname for him from when they were originally friends/coworkers and she was a literal kid) when they started dating because it was creeping him out.

(I too am my first name, which I have not gone by in my adult life, with my family of origin. My husband changed his name last year to his stage name, which almost everyone we've met in the past 8 years knows him by, and I slowly crept from old to new over that time and completely stopped using his birth name when he completed the court change. People outside his family who knew us before have largely followed my lead over time and call him the new name as well. But he legitimately did not like his old name and doesn't want to be called that.)

It's not substantially different from your coworker or customer William - if that's what their email address AND signature says, you call them William until they tell you to use something else, or his email says William because of stupid real name policies but he signs his emails "Best, Billy", or it's obvious from context that he's actually Billy and you can either ask if you should use it or just do what everyone else is doing and be willing to be corrected.

It does seem like, in general, celebrities with not-namelike-names tend to not be called them in private (except for Bono) except when it has for whatever reason gained nickname status. But what "private" means to any specific person (especially to a famous and/or rich person, who's going to have dozens of social layers) is entirely up to them. But that could easily be as true for your coworker Will who is Billy to his mom and William to his grad school friends and Wombat to his wife and Jones to his synchronized swim team.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:07 PM on October 9, 2018 [12 favorites]

The few times I've had to talk to him, Kid Rock requested I call him "Robert." I answer to either my stage name or my real name unless I'm performing, then I'm strictly pseudonymous.
posted by Floydd at 3:23 PM on October 9, 2018 [5 favorites]

I came here to say what Lyn Never said, only less eloquently. It's about intimacy and about what the person actually wants you to do, same as it is with anyone else who isn't a celebrity; when you don't know them well enough, erring on the side of caution and using the "public" name is the best thing to do, in my opinion.

Say I meet Robert J. Famous, and I know his birth name is John Doe. I wouldn't say "hello, John", much like I wouldn't say "hello, Bob". If then he says "please, call me John" or "please, call me Bob" then you can do that. (I wouldn't even say "hello, Robert" on first introduction. It'd be "hello, Mr. Famous".)
posted by sailoreagle at 3:43 PM on October 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

In my previous life in the entertainment industry, I interacted with a lot of celebrities with stage names. In my current life in the book industry, I interact with a lot of authors with pen names. In all cases, I've found it best to address the person by their public name and let them take the lead if they want you to use their original name or some alternative.

My dad, who has worked in the entertainment industry forever, told me that one of his most exciting moments was when Lauren Bacall told him, "Call me Betty."
posted by BlahLaLa at 4:19 PM on October 9, 2018 [29 favorites]

British comedian Vic Reeves is actually called Jim Moir, and his comedy partner Bob Mortimer calls him Jim so often that I'm pretty sure I've heard him do it regularly even when they're actually performing together as Reeves and Mortimer. It maybe helps that Jim and Vic are vaguely similar names (in terms of length, vowel, and the kind of age of person you might expect to have the name), and that their comedy is so gloriously surreal that one of them repeatedly using a different name for the other than everyone else barely even registers as odd in the wider scheme of things.
posted by penguin pie at 4:21 PM on October 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have told the story here before, but when I met Jay Z, not knowing him at all, I called him Mr. Z. He laughed.

I have a friend who is pretty famous. He kept his birth name, but uses his middle name for his famous gig. There are probably 5 or 6 of us that still call him by a 4th grade nickname (think something like "Donuts" because he ate a lot of donuts). His mom would sometimes call him that when we were all together. If he sees someone he knew before say he was 23, he goes by his first name. After that age, his middle name. (The only thing I ever heard his wife call him is "Honey" so I do not know about her.)
posted by AugustWest at 4:21 PM on October 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

Nthing folks who have said it's all about what the person prefers.

I'm not a celebrity, but I used to go by a nickname professionally. I still have friends who know me by that name and only refer to me by that name, and in professional circles if I introduced myself by my nickname I have been a little put off by those who used my given name instead.

Comedy ensued the time my mother called my work looking for me by my given name and she was told nobody by that name was employed there, though, until she added my last name and they put two and two together.

So the rule of thumb I'd always use is whatever name someone gives me, that's what I'll use. If I ran into a celebrity where I knew they used a stage name or whatever that's different from their given name, I'd use the stage name until asked otherwise.

Not entirely on topic, but always worth repeating - if a person has a commonly shortened name but gives you the full version - you should use that version. e.g. if you're introduced to someone who says their name is "Matthew" or "Christopher" or "Kimberly" you should not shorten it to Matt, Chris, or Kim without their explicit request.
posted by jzb at 4:31 PM on October 9, 2018 [6 favorites]

My stage name is a variant of my real name (Creatrix Tiara, Tiara is actually my name from birth). I'd envisioned the "Creatrix" to be more of a title, like "Lady" in Lady Gaga, so when people call me Creatrix it throws me off even though I can see why they'd do that.

A friend of mine, a pretty well-known jazz cabaret artist around town, uses a stage name that has been her nickname since high school. She's trans and has a chosen name distinct from her birth or stage name, but she prefers to be referred to by her stage name even with friends because she feels it represents her personality more.
posted by divabat at 5:12 PM on October 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

A dear older relative who was a well-known stage performer in the 30's took a variation of her first and last name as her stage name. After she married, she took her husband's last name, but she kept the changed first name. It was years before I even knew it was not her birth name.

Culturally, name-shifting can be interesting as well. Another relative emigrated to an English-speaking country many years ago. His birth name gets mangled in English. So he used an Anglicized version of his middle name instead. From then on he was Original Name to his family, and Anglicized Middle Name to everyone else. His wife called him the former among family and the latter when speaking English.
posted by Armed Only With Hubris at 5:27 PM on October 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

in the case of the one sort of famous person I know fairly well (ie: pre-fame) -- it's all context. If it's "on the record" (ie: public), he wants to be FAMOUS NAME. Otherwise, he is who he's always been. It helps that when he's in public, he's usually in character, playing his part.
posted by philip-random at 6:19 PM on October 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have known several people who went by more than one name, including pro dommes, and a bunch of hippies living in the woods (whitewater guides, mostly) who may or may not have had legal reasons for not using their given names.

In general, I asked based on location, and usually that was by the least intimate person likely to be in the group. If we were in a space where sex worker might run into a client, we used their stage name. If we were a bunch of folks hanging out in a tent, we used more intimate names.

When I've been privileged to know multiple sides of a person and it hasn't been clear, much like gender pronouns, I've always felt safest asking, as an aside, "what persona are you in this space?"

People have always appreciated that.
posted by straw at 7:55 PM on October 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've always been amused by the fact that New York Knicks play-by-play announcer Mike Breen only ever refers to his broadcast partner, color commentator and Knick legend Walt "Clyde" Frazier, as "Clyde." (Origin of the nickname here.)
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 8:14 PM on October 9, 2018

I have a friend who's a burlesque dancer, and her group of friends, who are all dancers, all go by their stage names together. Some of their stage names are standard names, like Betty, and some are words that aren't common names, like Soirée.

They always use each other's stage names and although they've been friends for years, it seems like they know each other's legal names about as well as you'd expect a gang of friends to remember each other's middle names.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:49 PM on October 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

In the world of hip-hop journalism:

-For a big proper write-up in certain outlets, they'll use legal last names for rappers throughout the article, mentioning the stage name at least once. I'm not in love with this policy, but generally it'll be something like "Sergio Giavanni Kitchens, known as Gunna, recently released an album with Lil Baby. Kitchens, best known for his Drip Season series..."

-At less formal feature in other outlets, you can use the stage name throughout the article, but you're kinda supposed to mention the legal name once if it's easily accessible. "Gunna, born Sergio Giavanni Kitchens, recently released an album with Lil Baby. Gunna, best known for his Drip Season series..."

-For an album review or news brief, you generally would not mention anybody's real name.
posted by Juliet Banana at 9:02 PM on October 9, 2018 [5 favorites]

Not directly related, but I found it very amusing that recent articles about the Trump White House would refer to Ms. Manigault Newman and I'd be all "Who the hell is that?", because everyone calls her "Omarosa".

Even less directly related, I was watching the TV show "Fool Us" (quite good. Magicians do a trick for Penn and Teller and they have to guess how it was done) and was amused that one guy referred to them as "Mr. Penn" and "Mr. Teller". Wrong on both counts. "Penn" is his first name and Teller's full legal name is just "Teller" (his twitter handle is MrTeller, but it turns out that Teller was already taken). You would think magicians would know this.

Someone mentioned Sting earlier. According to an interview I read, even his wife calls him Sting. If you said "Hey, Gordon", he'd assume you were talking to someone else.

But, as everyone else has said, it all depends. Some people have a very definite "stage name" and some people have a nickname that they also use professionally. It would probably also depend on how much of a separation there is between their personal life and professional life.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:07 PM on October 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

When I met president ford at the American book convention in 79 I thought about calling him his given name Leslie, but didn't. When I visited his library years later it was made clear that it wouldn't have been a good idea, given that his birth father was only one biologically.
posted by brujita at 2:51 AM on October 10, 2018

Through weird circumstances, I've come to know or meet at least a few porn actors from the 70s and 80s through different circles. I can think of at least one person who was known by their stage name with other porn people, but went by their birth name with people outside that group. So, like, a porn actor might say "Minx asked me to watch her parrot this weekend," but a non-porn person would be like "I had breakfast with Judy the other day" (and these are totally made up names, by the way, because obviously you don't share a performer's birth name without their consent).

I can't speak for anyone, so I won't say what anyone's personal motivation is. I know some people saw porn as a kind of community of misfits back then, and I imagine that's why they've held on to that identity. But obviously there's a lot of stigma against that kind of work, so people might want to downplay it with non-porn folks. And of course, other people just said "fuck it" and used their real names in porn anyway.

Anyway, just thinking of a different kind of celebrity!
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 3:41 AM on October 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

I've got no famous friends, but I do have a friend who uses a pseudonym for professional privacy reasons. That it's a pseudonym isn't well known in our [hobby] community, and generally one doesn't find out that it's not their real name until one reaches a deep level of trust (and is already well-used to calling them $fakeName), at which point you'll be told something like "Oh, so my real name is $realName, but most people don't know that and almost nobody uses it. Please keep it private." They are extremely comfortable being called by their pseudonym, to the point where they sometimes answer to it more readily than to $realName. Our close friend group have permission to call them by $realName, but we generally only do so for temporary periods if there's a reason to switch from our usual pseudonym method of address, and never in [hobby] community activities. So for example, I did business with someone outside of our community that my friend recommended to me, and when they asked who they could thank for the referral, I told them $realName because that was the (legal) name businessperson knew them under. But even at home with just me and my husband having a conversation, we refer to friend by their pseudonym, because that's the name we met them with and it's the name we became friends with them with. My husband will occasionally refer to friend by their real name to me and it kinda freaks me out, to be honest, like "No, that's not them! That's the OTHER them!"
posted by Hold your seahorses at 5:43 AM on October 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Many years ago, my co-worker Larry was friends with a famous performer who would sell out massive venues under his stage name. Let's say his stage name was Famous Frank and his real name was Joe Smith. (All names changed to protect privacy.)

When Famous Frank stopped by our office, Larry introduced him as "Joe." And Larry's tone of voice and body language basically conveyed the subtext, "We all know this guy is Famous Frank, but please don't make a fuss over him. I'm introducing him by his real name because wants to be treated like any other buddy of mine."
posted by yankeefog at 5:56 AM on October 10, 2018 [6 favorites]

Through watching a show like Total Divas (basically backstage stuff with some of the women who work in the WWE) I can say that the vast majority of the time, they referred to each other and their fellow wrestlers (some of whom were husbands or boyfriends) by their real names.

This is a relatively new development in the notoriously kayfabe-heavy professional wrestling industry. In the olden days, guys* would move from territory to territory, constantly refining and updating their "gimmick", which often meant a change in stage name. The tradition that evolved was that you call wrestlers by the name they used when you first worked with them -- for instance, Mark Calaway went by "Texas Red" near the start of his career, then as "Mean Mark" for a little while in the big leagues, and eventually as "The Undertaker" for 25 years. So a few guys call him "Red", a few more call him "Mark", and most call him "Taker". Fans were considered laughable ("smarks") if they felt like they knew wrestlers well enough to call them by their real names, and referring to a wrestler by a previous gimmick name was even worse.

That's changed in the days since it became easy to discover that The Undertaker is actually named "Mark" (and since nearly everyone has given up on kayfabe and is allowed to treat their gimmick as a role). Nowadays, a lot of wrestlers go by their real names pretty freely (Lina Fanene uses her real name as her display name on Twitter, even as her Twitter handle is her character name), while some are more "old school" about it (as noted, Jon "Dean Ambrose" Good goes by his character name almost exclusively, but he also doesn't use social media).

But mostly, they've learned to be the ones to introduce themselves so people know which name to use. I've seen wrestlers shake hands with a kid and say "Hi, I'm [character name]. What's your name?" and then a minute later shake hands with an adult and say "Hi, I'm [real name].", even though the adult obviously knew who he was.

* -- I say "guys" because the vast majority of women wrestlers stuck with a single name throughout their careers in the 20th Century, because they had much less freedom to make their own characters.
posted by Etrigan at 7:39 AM on October 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

they referred to each other and their fellow wrestlers (some of whom were husbands or boyfriends) by their real names.

ETA: Ohmigod Etrigan, how do we keep getting within minutes of each other on wrestling topics?!?

Just to point out, this is actually a relatively recent, and huge, departure from the normal arrangement of pro-wrestling, where every performer lives their gimmick when out in public. "Kayfabe", the code of secrecy prowrestlers used to live by, has been broken all to heck when a reality show records the private lives of wrestlers (no matter how staged that show sometimes seems).

The tradition used to be that, in the locker room, when a new wrestler joined the promotion, whatever the more senior members introduced themselves as is the name you used. Thus, there are very few people who can call the Undertaker "Mark" and practically no one who calls Triple H "Paul".

Sometimes, for storyline purposes, a wrestler will call out another wrestler by their real name, like when CM Punk referred to his personal grudge with Triple H as "Phil Brooks vs Paul Levesque", which always gets a hushed "oooooh" from the audience.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 7:41 AM on October 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

I've seen the (extremely wholesome and lovely) press coverage of A Star is Born and Bradley Cooper refers to Lady Gaga by her birth name Stefani pretty much exclusively.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:20 AM on October 10, 2018

My perspective is professional and as a lawyer, not personal. My practice is to address everyone by his or her legal surname—"Mr Williams," "Ms Davis"—until I'm invited to use something different. Usually this invitation is either explicit ("Please call me _____") or I infer it from an email signature: if your email shows as "Elizabeth White" but you sign your email "Betsy," then I'll infer you prefer to be called Betsy.

I've never had a client ask me to use their stage name. I suspect that's partly due to my demeanor. I present to clients with an authoritative demeanor (which I believe is part of what they're paying me for) that doesn't really invite informality; and I escalate that with high-profile clients, who usually have enough people trying to sidle in as their "buddy" and therefore appreciate that I'm displaying boundaries. Having said that, if a client asked me to use their stage name, I would.
posted by cribcage at 9:34 AM on October 10, 2018

My dad was in show biz and whenever he ran into Engelbert Humperdinck behind the scenes, my dad would call him by his real name. This drove Mr Humperdinck crazy because he was superstitious and attributed all his success to his new name. My dad’s excuse was that he knew the guy before he used that name, but I think he was just doing it because the reaction was funny each time.
So that’s one case of a celebrity insisting always to use the stage name.
posted by w0mbat at 12:00 PM on October 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

One of my friends works with identity in his art. And he changes his identity all the time. Recently he has been identifying as a black woman which is just... Well, you all know. He is NOT a transgender person, he is a performance artist who explores gender. When I'm angry with him I use his real name at him, and he doesn't like that. The weird thing is that before I have been really uncomfortable about how to speak of him, but these days I'm using she and her, and her female identity when talking about her in public. I respect her work.
I do have thoughts about why I work it this way, but unless you need to know, I'll leave it there.
The main thing is that if someone is an artist with a stage name and you've known them always, you deal with it in ways appropriate to the intention of that stage name.
posted by mumimor at 2:57 PM on October 10, 2018

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