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I’ve always thought being famous with a pseudonymous name but an anonymous appearance and legal name is the best of both scenarios.

Someone like Bansky or Daft Punk, for example. Everyone knows your artist name and your work, but virtually no one recognizes you on the street and you can check into hotels or use your real name without most people noticing.

Is the point that you get your work recognized, instead of your “self”?

Depends on where you draw the line between work and self, I guess.

I read Kevin Hart’s autobiography and one takeaway from the book was that famous comedians or famous people don’t use pseudo/nicknames but just use his/her own name.

Kevin Hart was known as Lil’ Kev the Bastard until one of his early mentor told him to drop that nickname.

> Kevin Hart was known as Lil’ Kev the Bastard until one of his early mentor told him to drop that nickname.

This is also just a monumentally bad name. In comedy alone, there are plenty of people with nicknames or not-their-actual name:

- Louis C.K. (Louis Székely)

- Jon Stewart (Jon Leibowitz)

- Larry the Cable Guy (Daniel Lawrence Whitney)

- Mel Brooks (Melvyn Kaminsky)

- Gene Wilder (Jerome Silberman)

- Tim Allen (Timothy Alan Dick)

- Rodney Dangerfield (Jacob Cohen)

- Jamie Foxx (Eric Bishop)

Many of those seem like pen names covering for ethnicity rather than preserving anonymity. I see Hungarian, Jewish, German, Polish...

Jon Stewart disagrees with that theory:

Stewart says the name change has still invited criticism from people who think he made the switch to mask his Jewish background. "People always view it through the prism of ethnic identity," he said. "I hate myself for a lot of reasons, but not because I'm Jewish."

There are simpler explanations at hand for stage names, such as being easier to spell, remember and pronounce. In the case of Louis, "C.K." is approximately the English pronunciation of his last name.

And there tend to be specific motivations. Tim Allen's case is apparent enough. Larry and Rodney wanted stage names to reflect a character. Dangerfield for a guy that never gets a break.

In the case of Jon, he wanted to distance himself from his father.

Mel Brooks: "During his teens, Melvyn Kaminsky officially changed his name to Mel Brooks, influenced by his mother's maiden name Brookman, after being confused with the trumpeter Max Kaminsky."

Jamie Foxx: "When he found that female comedians were often called first to perform, he changed his name to Jamie Foxx, feeling that it was a name ambiguous enough to disallow any biases. He chose his surname as a tribute to the black comedian Redd Foxx."

In show business, stage/screen names are often used to fit the actor's desired image. This definitely fits in with the ethnicity thing--most Americans are not going to see someone as an "everyman" if his last name is too "ethnic". But this was once common even for people who already had Anglo names; Gary Cooper apparently didn't think "Frank James Cooper" projected the right image, and I don't think anybody would accept Marion Morrison as a cowboy/war hero as readily as they accepted John Wayne. In other cases, people come up with stage names just because they're more cool. Who would you rather see in a movie, Vin Diesel or Mark Sinclair?

The only exception to this that I can think of is Arnold Schwarzenegger. I guess with the accent it wouldn't have mattered if he'd changed his name to Mark Johnson or something.

Up until fairly recently, I had no idea Charlie Sheen's birth name was Ramon Estevez.

Martin Sheen, actually. Charlie Sheen is Carlos Estevez, and chose his screen name to match his dad. In contrast, Charlie's brother and Martin's other son, Emilio Estevez, deliberately goes by his real name.

Oh wow, that seems true. What is the reason for this?

It used to be much less accepted to have a "foreign sounding" (non-anglo-saxon) name.

It still is if it's non-obvious how to pronounce it. People will avoid saying your name which has some indirect effects on things like interviews and introductions

I have an Anglo-Saxon surname, but it's rare and very difficult for people here in SE Asia to pronounce, so I use a simpler, shorter, one-syllable last name when I'm here. This used to be a common thing that people would do internationally, even non-famous people like me. Some native English speakers back home might think I'm doing it for subversive reasons, but it's actually to make things easier for the natives here to say, spell, and remember.

Fully aware that it can still be an issue. I have such a surname and spend a lot of time explaining it. Just writing that however unaccepted it is today, it was less accepted in the past.

A number of studies here in Canada have found that resumes are more likely to get a call-back if the person's name is typically Anglo-Saxon as opposed to pretty much anything else. I think the effect has been shown in the USA too.

Employers are probably biased towards hiring a "John Watson" over a "John Adeyemi" or even a "John Kaminski", all other things being equal. So people change their names. It's pretty common. I doubt show business is any different.

Our sales guys have african-sounding names; after taking alter-egos of western names, their response rate tripled up to the normalized comparison of other employees with western names.


I'd say in show business it is more about building your brand. You want a name that rings and is easy to remember.

Avoiding racism, anti-semitism, etc.

In contrast to people like John Stewart who changed his name to sound less Jewish, Whoopie Goldberg (born Caryn Elaine Johnson) changed her name to sound more Jewish. She said she changed her name early in her career to sound Jewish because it would help her career. It's interesting that both of these very successful actors/comedians started from very different assumptions but in the end both ended up being top people in their field.

> It's interesting that both of these very successful actors/comedians started from very different assumptions but in the end both ended up being top people in their field.

Who says they started with very different assumptions?

Order of preference:

1. White non-jew 2. White jew 3. Black

He changed his name so he could get by more easily as the top-ranked preference. For her, a non-jew white name would be hard to distinguish from black. She chose the name that more affirmatively promoted her above the lowest ranked spot.

I doubt either of them would disagree with the above ranking order, though.

What sounds "black" about her birth name?

#2 is Jew, not White Jew.

Black Jew is rare and intriguing in a way that Black or Jew alone is not.

Less rare thing you think back then. Drake, Lenny Kravitz, Lisa Bonet, Nell Carter, Sammy Davis, Rashida Jones are famous names.

Donald Trump decided to refer to Jon Stewart as Jon Leibowitz, I can't think why

You think he knows him personally from the synagogue Jared Kushner and his daughter attend?

That's because he is trying to shame him for supposedly hiding his Jewish heritage. Could be a dog whistle for the anti-Semites, but that's one level deeper than Trump's thinking ever seems to go.

It's rather rich considering Trump's grandfather changed the family name from Drumpf to Trump.

I never in my life expected to learn on a random groggy Sunday morning, on a message board for tech that Tim Allen was using a pseudonym.

Wait until you find out he was a coke dealer who only escaped a life sentence by turning informant:


He's also a licensed amateur radio operator. His FCC license is under his real name.

I see. I didn’t know that. Thanks for clarifying

Come on, "Larry" is a common nickname for Lawrence, people go by their middle names all the time, and nobody thinks "The Cable Guy" is a real surname. You might as well put Cedric the Entertainer on this list.

- Mindy Kaling (Vera Chokalingham)

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