Change Your Name, Get More Commercial & TV Auditions?

May 25, 2012

Would a rose still be a rose if its name was “Rosoideae Berberifolia?”

Kal Penn

When pursuing a career in acting, there are a lot of things you might change: your hair color or style, your wardrobe, your diet and physique, your attitude. You might even change your name. Indeed, you just might have to. There are several reasons why an actor might change his or her name. Jennifer Anastassakis found her name was too hard to pronounce and spell, so simplified it to Jennifer Aniston. Margaret Mary Emily Anne Hyra felt her birth name was too long and consequently switched it to Meg Ryan. Some may prefer to conceal their heritage or shield themselves from potential discrimination. After Kalpen Suresh Modi, born to a Hindu Indian family, changed his name to Kal Penn, he noticed his callbacks increased by 50%. Historically, Jews in Hollywood were encouraged to anglicize their names. Jonah Hill Feldstein (Jonah Hill) Winona Laura Horowitz (Winona Ryder) and Natalie Hershlag (Natalie Portman) are recent examples of actors who opted to use names that deemphasize their heritage. Sometimes a name can really blow an actor’s image. Take Marion Morrison. He was aspiring to be cast in masculine cowboy roles; however, the name Marion had culturally evolved into a female name since his birth. So, he changed his name to John Wayne.

You may have no intention of changing your birth name for your career, but might discover you actually need to. The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) requires that no two members in their organization share identical working names. Michael Fox wanted to join SAG, but found out there was already an actor in the guild with his name. Thus, he became Michael J. Fox. When Michael Douglas found his given name was already taken, he decided to become Michael Keaton instead.

When you are an actor, your name becomes a brand name. Some agents therefore suggest your name be fitting for a perfume or cologne brand name, hoping to elicit excitement and curiosity from the world. Joan Alexandra Molinsky’s agent, Tony Rivers, advised her to change her name; after she left his agency, she indeed opted to change her name … to Joan Rivers—after him.

Norma Jean Baker

Norma Jeane Mortensen Baker began using the name Marilyn Monroe in 1946 as a young actress, and the rest is history. Hollywood lore would have you believe the studio system forced her to change her name as they created and controlled her entire image and persona. Others say it is just as likely Norma Jeane wanted a more glamorous allure and believed the name Marilyn would help fulfill her prodigious dreams. I think it’s safe to say the name Marilyn Monroe served her very well, but it can be argued she would have succeeded as Norma Jeane just as well.


Listed below is just a small portion of actors who, for one reason or another, decided to change their names:

Caryn Johnson

Caryn Johnson – Whoopi Goldberg

Bryan Ray Ulrich – Skeet Ulrich “Scream”

Carlos Irwin Estevez – Charlie Sheen

Demetria Gene Guynes – Demi Moore

Goldie Jean Studlendegehawn – Goldie Hawn

Carlos Ray Norris – Chuck Norris

Christian Michael Leonard Gainsborough – Christian Slater

Susan Abigail Tomalin – Susan Sarandon

Eric Bishop – Jamie Foxx

Allan Stewart Konigsberg – Woody Allen

Mandy Rogers – Portia De Rossi

Natasha Nikolaevna Gurdin – Natalie Wood

Kevin Matthew Fowler – Kevin Spacey