What’s in a Name?

Our name is usually one of the first things we tell people when we meet them. For most people this is not an issue, especially if you have a relatively common name such as Jane Taylor, Michael Brown or Sam Anderson. 100 years ago, there was a small pool of names from which most babies in the UK were named but nowadays you can call your baby practically anything. People who have less common names like Trixibelle, Araminta or Zowie may be less confident about introducing themselves and having to go through the same lengthy explanation about their name for the thousandth time. Changing your name is easy and quick, and thousands do it every year for a variety of reasons.


In the heyday of Hollywood, it was standard practice to change actors names to make them sound more attractive and glamorous. Would Marilyn Monroe, Fred Astaire and Judy Garland have been as successful if they had stuck to their birth names of Norma Jean Baker, Frederick Austerlitz or Frances Gumm? Although modern day movie stars are more likely to use their real names, there are still a few notable exceptions such as Tom Cruise, who was born as Thomas Mapother. Movie stars have to have names which trip off the tongue, are easy to spell and are memorable. Cruise fits these criteria much better than Mapother.


America is known as the world’s melting point, and there are names of many different nationalities found its major cities. Many well-known people have changed their names simply to make them more recognizable and easy to spell. The famous designer felt his Ralph Lauren Denim & Supply line would sell better under that name than under his birth surname of Lipschitz. For similar reasons, cosmetics industry entrepreneur Helena Rubenstein changed her first name from Chaja.

Weird and Wacky

Of course, some people feel forced into changing their names because their parents have lumbered them with very odd or wacky names. David Bowie’s son Zowie soon grew tired of people making fun of his rhyming name, and took the decision to change it to the far more normal Duncan. Another rockstar’s daughter with a wacky name is Memphis, daughter of U2’s Bono. Luckily, her middle name is Eve so she uses that rather than Memphis.


In the UK, changing your name legally is simple and quick, and just involved filling in a few forms. You are legally entitled to call yourself whatever you like, and all you have to do is inform your bank, employer and so on of your new title. Birth certificates cannot be changed however, and you cannot change your name into something which is offensive. Brands and companies often do not take kindly to people using their protected trademarks, so there may be legal difficulties ahead for people wanting to call themselves Coca-Cola or Ralph Lauren Denim & Supply, for example. Changing names should never be done on a whim as the decision may be regretted after a matter of days.


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