Created By: SonofRojBlake on January 16, 2012 Last Edited By: GravelordNito on November 6, 2013
Nuked

Jew? Me?

Actor/character alters or conceals their ethnicity by changing their name

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Trope
Racist prejudice against Jews led to a trend of people (especially performers) with identifiably Jewish names changing them in order to fit in with the surrounding culture and conceal their origins. Less prevalent more recently, but still happens reasonably frequently. Anglicisation of the family name may closely approximate the original (William Shatner's grandfather was named Schattner, not a great leap), or may bear no apparent link at all (Kirk Douglas is not obviously linked to Issur Danielovitch).

Doesn't apply to all stage names - Norma Jean Baker and Archibald Leach weren't trying to overcome racial prejudice by becoming Marilyn Monroe and Cary Grant. Also doesn't apply if only the name has changed - former Rabbi Yacov Moshe Maza may have changed his name and gone into showbiz, but the last person you could accuse of attempting to conceal his Jewishness is Jackie Mason.

Does apply to other ethnicities (e.g. Hispanic, Greek etc.).

Related to the practice of female authors concealing their gender to avoid prejudice against women, e.g. George Eliot, DC Fontana.

More recent name-changers who are less likely to be trying to forestall prejudice may be doing so simply because they have an Unusable Real Name.

Examples

Literature
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay: Clay changed his name from Klayman in order to hide his Jewishness. Reflects accurately Real Life, where comic book creators such as Stan Lieber did likewise.
  • In Pelagia and the Red Rooster (a Spin-Off novel of the Erast Fandorin series), Matvey Berdichevskiy, an ethnic Jew, goes undercover in a society very ill-disposed towards Jews. After an initial blunder, he has to invent a cover story on the fly, re-introducing himself as Matthew Berg-Dichevsky, of both German and old Russian aristocratic descent. Thanks to his natural acting talents, it works like a charm.

Film
  • Mrs. Smith, from Mr. & Mrs. Smith
  • Inverted in Snatch by Uncle Avi, who although not Jewish at all, pretends to be because You Have to Have Jews in the diamond business.
  • Inverted in Love at First Bite: the psychiatrist Dr. Rosenberg changed his family name from Van Helsing "...for professional reasons."

Television
  • On an episode of The State, a Fourth Wall Breaking skit had the actors sharing secrets about themselves: "I'm Michael Ian Black but my real name is Michael Schwartz, which I changed because I'm ashamed of being Jewish."
  • Tom Haverford on Parks and Recreation, is really named Darwish Sabir Ismael Gani, but explains that with his birth name, he could never have succeeded in politics. His boss points out the counterexample of Barack Obama, which pisses him off. (Averted by the actor playing him, Aziz Ansari, who did not change his name, which is possibly part of the joke.)
  • In Boardwalk Empire the Polish-American bootlegger Michael Kozik changed his name to Mickey Doyle in order to better fit in with the Irish gangsters and politicians running Atlantic City. The main characters find this very amusing since the real reason Mickey does not fit in is because he is a very annoying and unlikeable person. The Irish and Jewish gangsters in charge don't really care what his name is.
  • Played with in Community, when Jeff makes up a class and teacher that he names "Professor Professorson," insisting, "It's Dutch! I think it means Professor!"
    • And later on, when we meet this supposed Professor:
    Dean Pelton: (disbelievingly) Your real name is Professor Professorson? "Professor Professorson": My family name was Professorburg, but we changed it when we were fleeing from the Nazis.
  • a.k.a. Pablo: Comedian Paul Rodriguez plays struggling comedian Pablo "Paul" Rivera who lives with his lage extended family. At one point his agent suggests that he change the "a" in his last name to "s" to downplay his hispanicness. The agent says that another comedian did it and it worked.
    Paul: Joan Rivers is Mexican!?

  • Inverted in Breaking Bad, crooked criminal lawyer Saul Mc Gill uses the false last name "Goodman" in his business because he believes his clients will trust a Jewish lawyer more than an Irish-American one.
Theatre
  • In La Chiusa's musical adaptation of The Wild Party, one of the producing team of "Gold and Goldberg" thinks they should change to "Gold and Golden".

Western Animation
  • On The Simpsons, Krusty the Clown's real name turns out to be Herschel Krustofski, and his father's a rabbi (played by Jackie Mason)
  • Family Guy parodied this. It turns out Lois's family on her mother's side was Jewish, but their changed name was Hebrewburg.

Real life:
  • Paul Muni, born Meshilem Meier Weisenfreund
  • Kirk Douglas, born Issur Danielovitch
  • Samuel Goldwyn, born Schmuel Gelbfisz and known while he lived in England as Samuel Goldfish.
  • Harry Houdini, born Erik Weisz
  • Lauren Bacall, born Betty Perske
  • Winona Ryder, born Winona Horowitz
  • Natalie Portman, born Natalie Hershlag (arguably as much a case of Unusable Real Name)
  • Averted by Mel Brooks, who only changed his name to avoid being confused with a trumpet player called MAX Kaminsky.

Non-Jewish Examples
  • Farrokh Bulsara's parents were Parsis, and he became Freddie Mercury partly to conceal this.
  • Ramón Estévez thought an Irish-sounding name would be better than Spanish-sounding, and went with Martin Sheen. Interestingly, while his son Charlie apparently agreed, his other son Emilio obviously did not.
  • Kal Penn was born Kalpen Modi, but has noted than when he changed his name, calls back increased 50%.
  • Siddig El Tahir El Fadil El Siddig Abderrahman Mohammed Ahmed Abdel Karim El Mahdi was, for the first three seasons of Deep Space Nine, happy to simply shorten his name to Siddig El Fadil. Since that point, however, he has worked under the name Alexander Siddig, ostensibly to make it easier to pronounce.
  • Zig-Zagged by Australian news presenter George Donikian, who was advised to change his name to 'Donican' when he first started his career, so as to sound less "ethnic". When he became a news host for the multicultural, multilingual channel SBS, people were so surprised he adopted the name 'Donikian' that some thought he'd changed his name to sound more "ethnic" and "multicultural". He has worked for other networks, but kept his original name, Donikian, ever since
  • Anti-German sentiment in the UK during World War 1 was what prompted the British Royal Family to change their name from the House of Saxe-Coburg Gotha to the House of Windsor

Community Feedback Replies: 52
  • January 16, 2012
    Duncan
  • January 16, 2012
    chicagomel
    Fictional example on Tracker, Troy Montana was the guy whose image Cole took his human form from. It's revealed in 'Double Down' that his real name was Percy Greenstein. Granted, it may or may not count because it's not stated explicitly, so I'll leave it up to you.
  • January 16, 2012
    Jordan
    Honestly, it kind of does apply to stage names in general. I feel like there is a trope (mirroring reality) that an "old time" actor or actress goes by a name that's not their real one. Some of those will be Jewish or other "ethnic" names, but the "beautiful fake name"/"ugly real name" is also common (i.e. the actress heroine of Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day having the stage name of Delysia Lafosse and real name of Sarah Grubb).
  • January 16, 2012
    ThreeferFAQMinorityChick
    Jon Stewart's actual surname is Leibowitz.
  • January 16, 2012
    ArtyMorty
    ^ I believe like the given Jacky Mason example, since Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz doesn't really conceal his jewish heritage he doesn't count as an example but as an aversion.
  • January 16, 2012
    Ckuckoo
    This happens a lot without necessarily having anything to do with Judaism. For example, it was common for post-war Greek immigrants in Australia to anglicise their names. Does this trope have to be so specific?

    • A real-life example - Australia's current Attorney General is called Nicola Roxon, but her family were Jewish Poles who changed their name from Ropschitz.
  • January 16, 2012
    aurora369
    Many Bolshevik leaders from the Red October era. Trotsky's real name, for example was Bronstein, Zinoviev's was Apfelbaum, Rosalia Zemlyachka's was Salkind.
  • January 16, 2012
    DragonQuestZ
    • Family Guy parodied this. It turns out Lois's family on her mother's side was Jewish, but their changed name was Hebrewburg.
  • January 17, 2012
    SchrodingersDuck
    Dorothy Parker, born Dorothy Rothschild, joked that she married to escape her name. She kept "Parker" even after her divorce, and through her later marriages.
  • January 17, 2012
    randomsurfer
    Meshilem Meier "Muni*" Weisenfreund's name was changed to Paul Muni to hide his Jewishness. Although the official explanation was that Weisenfreund was too long to fit on a marquee.

    * The strict English translation of "Meshilem" is Michael. Ever since he was a boy everyone called him Muni, which was the Austrian equivalent of "Mickey."
  • January 17, 2012
    SonofRojBlake
    Never seen Tracker, but unless it was explicitly stated or sufficiently heavily implied that Troy Montana was trying to cover up his Jewishness, I don't think that one counts. I can't call it, since I've not seen the episode. If you think it does, add after launch.

    Doesn't apply to stage names in general. "Archibald Leach" just doesn't cut it as a film star's name. There's no suggestion that he wouldn't get the job because of his race, it's just the sound of the word, and in fact probably a usable other trope. Whereas Jewish families had legitimate concerns that their identifiably ethnic names would put them at risk of prejudice and rejection based purely on the name.

    Agree that it doesn't apply to Jon Stewart.

    Does the trope have to be so specific? Don't know. I think it is actually specific. All the examples I can think of are (a) people changing names away from specifically Jewish origin and (b) pretty old since that kind of prejudice seems thankfully to be less of a practical problem nowadays - modern examples tend to be jokes (Simpsons, Family Guy, The State). The fact these jokes exist suggests there's a trope there, and the fact that all three of them are specifically about changing a Jewish name suggests that the trope is indeed that specific.

    By all means bang in a list of non-Jewish examples, if you got 'em. The title was just a placeholder joke in any case (I was trying for a homophone with "Who? Me?", but I don't think it quite works and I'm uncomfortable with it, partly because of the weird way that the word "Jew" on its own can sound like a racial epithet). Other possibilities might include What Do You Mean You'reNotAGentile?, Less Jewish Stage Name, or anything really that works better than what's there, if possible.
  • January 17, 2012
    SonofRojBlake
    Done a bit more digging on this and something's bothering me.

    On the one hand, it's unarguable that people like Tony Curtis were changing their names to appear less Jewish and avoid prejudice and stereotyping. So... trope.

    On the other, people are still doing it - Jon Stewart, Winona Rider, Natalie Portman. Does anyone NOT know these people are Jewish? And yet they change their names, presumably for reasons other than avoiding prejudice. Aesthetics, maybe - does "Rider" sound preferable to "Horowitz"? Maybe. "Portman"'s more euphonious than "Hershlag" I guess. Point being, there's presumably been some point, or some period, before which the changes were to conceal an ethnicity and after which any changes were mainly for other reasons because the ethnicity was no longer the issue it used to be. It seems Jewish ancestry isn't much of an issue any more, but Indian is - see Kal Penn and Siddig El Fadil.

    Am I over-thinking this?
  • January 17, 2012
    Ckuckoo
    ^^
    • The Miller family has produced two showbiz successes - George Miller, an Australian film director, screenwriter, producer, and former medical doctor (famous for his work on Mad Max, Babe, and Happy Feet) and Bill Miller II, an award winning Sydney-based feature film producer. Their family name was Miliotis, but was changed by their Greek immigrant parents after they arrived in Australia.
    • Zig Zagged by Australian news presenter George Donikian, who was advised to change his name to 'Donican' when he first started his career, so as to sound less "ethnic". When he became a news host for the multicultural, multilingual channel SBS, people were so surprised he adopted the name 'Donikian' that some thought he'd changed his name to sound more "ethnic" and "multicultural". He has worked for other networks, but kept his original Greek name, Donikian, ever since.

    I think that while it is likely true that most of the examples under this trope in the US relate to Jewish origin, in my country this is a phenomenon, but the Jewish community is pretty tiny, and the most visible examples come from people from larger communities such as the Greek community. I'm not necessarily saying the trope name should be changed, since as a title I think it works ok. I was just surprised the description focuses so heavily on Jewish examples when I know of many from other communities who fit this trope (even if many are from acquaintances in RL). But because of the US's heavy role in Western media, maybe the focus is rather appropriate, I don't know.

    edit - but since this wiki is meant to be open for developments further down the track, and as you note while this is becoming rather redundant in the modern world for now more accepted/mainstream groups like Jews and Greeks and whatnot, it is starting to become more relevant to other groups. I think that if other groups will be fitting this trope in the future, we should keep it open for the Kal Penns who are yet to be and so forth. If that makes sense.
  • January 17, 2012
    Duncan
    In La Chiusa's musical adaptation of The Wild Party, one of the producing team of "Gold and Goldberg" thinks they should change to "Gold and Golden".
  • January 17, 2012
    Jordan
    Not an acting example, but Tom Haverford is not the real name of that Indian-American (but born in America) character on Parks And Recreation, it's Darwish Sabir Ismael Gani. In the episode where this is revealed, he explains that with his birth name, he could never have succeeded in politics. His boss points out the counterexample of Barack Obama, which pisses him off (Part of the joke here might also have to do with the fact that Tom's actor, Aziz Ansari didn't change his name).
  • January 17, 2012
    ccoa
    Many Volga-Germans in the American Midwest changed their Germanic or Russian sounding last names to more anglicized names in order to avoid anti-German (during WWII) and anti-Russian (during the Cold War) sentiment.
  • January 17, 2012
    Tzintzuntzan
    Does this apply to just stage and pen names, or to characters who are ordinary people aside from the name change? There used to be an entire genre of Jewish jokes about businessmen who change their names but still can't assimilate. Like the Jew who changes his name a second time from O'Brien to Mc Donald "because people are always asking me what my name was before I changed it."
  • January 17, 2012
    SonofRojBlake
    I'd say it applies to any real life person or fictional character who changes their name to avoid prejudice.
  • January 17, 2012
    Waterlily
    I wasn't around then but was it actually secret that people like Kirk Douglas and Lauren Bacall were Jewish or did they just not want to be typecast?
  • January 17, 2012
    IsaacSapphire
    A lot of people don't know that *insert famous person's name here* is Jewish or whatever if their name doesn't reflect it. It's probably less prevalent these days with a 30 second wikipedia search providing the answer, but you still have to do the search.
  • January 18, 2012
    randomsurfer
    • The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier And Clay: Clay changed his name from Klayman in order to hide his Jewishness.
    • Per Kavalier and Clay many early comic book writers and artists changed their names, as much to hide the fact that they were working in the shameful field of comics as to hide their Jewishness. These include Stan Lee (Stanley Lieber) and Jack Kirby (Jacob Kurtzberg).
  • January 18, 2012
    SonofRojBlake
    "with a 30 second wikipedia search providing the answer"

    ... not today...
  • January 18, 2012
    Tambov333
  • January 18, 2012
    TheHandle
    Yes, I thought at first it was about being Mistaken For Jewish, which happens to me all the time, because I look like a stereotypical Yeshiva student.
  • January 18, 2012
    SonofRojBlake
    Suggestions welcome. What Do You Mean Theyre Not Gentile, Less Jewish Stage Name? By all means, bring suggestions. Also, have initiated a YKTTW for Mistaken For Jewish, since that's something else possibly worth a trope.
  • January 18, 2012
    Koveras
    • In Pelagia and the Red Rooster (a Spin Off novel of the Erast Fandorin series), Matvey Berdichevskiy, an ethnic Jew, goes undercover in a society very ill-disposed towards Jews. After an initial blunder, he has to invent a cover story on the fly, re-introducing himself as Matthew Berg-Dichevsky, of both German and old Russian aristocratic descent. Thanks to his natural acting talents, it works like a charm.
  • January 18, 2012
    69BookWorM69
    @ SonofRojBlake I think ethnicity and aesthetics are related reasons for the name changes, as well as the whole shame-of-showbiz aspect (In addition to the comics' Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, I understand actor Jeremy Brett changed his name to avoid embarrassing his family.) In times past, the prejudice was likely a bigger factor than now, but I'm certain it's not entirely absent except from cases like Marilyn Monroe and Cary Grant. There is another YKTTW for aesthetic name changes (Unusable Real Name) that should be tied in with this one.

    Tzintzuntzan also has a point in that people have come to expect actors and such to use professional names. How far this reflects the development of a separate professional persona and how far it serves the privacy of the performer and her/his family is a matter of some conjecture.
  • January 18, 2012
    nielas
    • In Boardwalk Empire the Polish-American bootlegger Michael Kozik changed his name to Mickey Doyle in order to better fit in with the Irish gangsters and politicians running Atlantic City. The main characters find this very amusing since the real reason Mickey does not fit in is because he is a very annoying and unlikeable person. The Irish and Jewish gangsters in charge don't really care what his name is.
  • January 18, 2012
    SonofRojBlake
    Aware of the other YKTTW - I started it after having started this one. Not sure where to tie them together yet. Will fix.
  • January 18, 2012
    Jhimmibhob
    • Inverted in Love At First Bite: the psychiatrist Dr. Rosenberg changed his family name from Van Helsing "...for professional reasons."

  • January 19, 2012
    FastEddie
    Get a name that does not sounds like dialog.
  • January 19, 2012
    reub2000
    • Winona Ryder was born Winona Laura Horowitz.
    • Lana Peters, the daughter of Stalin was actually Svetlana Alliluyeva.
  • January 20, 2012
    SonofRojBlake

    Thank you for what is now the third suggestion that I should change the name. I know it needs a better name.

    When I get the FIRST suggestion for what I should change it TO, I'll get on and do it. How about Awesome Mc Not Jewish Name?
  • January 20, 2012
    Jordan
    Well, I think the point is that the trope isn't Jewish specific (although Jews have been a common example), so there's no real need for the title to mention Jews.
  • January 20, 2012
    Duncan
  • January 20, 2012
    reub2000
    Why not use Unusable Real Name?
  • January 20, 2012
    randomsurfer
    a.k.a. Pablo: Comedian Paul Rodriguez plays struggling comedian Pablo "Paul" Rivera who lives with his lage extended family. At one point his agent suggests that he change the "a" in his last name to "s" to downplay his hispanicness. The agent says that another comedian did it and it worked.
    Paul: Joan Rivers is Mexican!?
  • January 20, 2012
    Zinaida
    @reub2000

    Stalin himself was born Josef Djugashvili. A lot of Bolsheviks took revolutionary pseudonyms, so I'm not sure it had anything to do with concealing the fact that he was Georgian, but it's interesting to note.
  • January 21, 2012
    SonofRojBlake
    Not Ethnic Stage Name doesn't work, because it's not just about stage names. (See Community, Boardwalk Empire and Snatch examples.

    Unusable Real Name doesn't work either, because the real name isn't unusable (i.e. long (Siddig El Fadil), unpronouceable (ditto), or sounding unpleasant (Natalie Portman) or like something else (anyone called Lipshitz or similar).
  • January 21, 2012
    Fiwen9430
    Anti-German sentiment in the UK during World War 1 was what prompted the British Royal Family to change their name from the House of Saxe-Coburg Gotha to the House of Windsor.
  • January 21, 2012
    reub2000
    I'm well aware that many Bolsheviks used aliases. (This is at a time when the Bolsheviks where trying hide from the Tsar's secret police.) I think Lana Peters was trying to distance herself from her family, seeing as how she denounced communism, and lived in India and US.
  • January 23, 2012
    SonofRojBlake
    Any Hats?
  • November 5, 2013
    ShanghaiSlave
  • November 5, 2013
    KTera
    • Sally Jupiter, born Sally Juspeczyk, from Watchmen changed her name to hide her Polish ancestry. Her daughter Laurie uses the Juspeczyk surname, though.
  • November 5, 2013
    Surenity
    • Andy Serkis, originally Serkisian, of Armenian decent.
    • All of The Three Stooges, who were Jewish. Moe Howard's real name was Moses Horowitz, his brothers Curly and Shemp were actually named Jerome and Samuel respectively, and Larry Fine's real name was Louis Feinberg.
  • November 5, 2013
    Chabal2
    There's a joke where two Jewish brothers in (for example) England see that their business is failing, and conclude that it's on account of their name. So they rename the company to an extremely local name like "The Picketts-Barkerton Brothers", and sure enough, they start getting calls... that end with the receptionist, since when they ask to speak to the owner she asks if they want Isaac Picketts-Barkerton or Abraham Picketts-Barkerton.
  • November 5, 2013
    randomsurfer
    In Flashback episodes of The Simpsons it is shown that newsanchor Kent Brockman was originally field reporter Kenny Brockelstein.
  • November 5, 2013
    kjnoren
    No real concept yet.
  • November 6, 2013
    TwoGunAngel
    Charles Bronson was born Charles Dennis Buchinsky, and was of Lithuanian descent on both sides of the family. The name-change came during the 50s, at the suggestion of his agent at the time, who was concerned that his Eastern European last name would make him a target of the McCarthy witch hunts going down during that period.
  • November 6, 2013
    DAN004
    Often Fake Nationality also covers name changes.
  • November 6, 2013
    AgProv
    Russian-born Lovat or Lev Winogradsky became Lew Grade when he started a showbiz career in Britain. He soon realised there was more money in managing talent, and retired from performance to become an agent. As Lord Lew Grade, he was one of the men who shaped British television. His son Michael Grade - technically Michael Winogradsky - has kept up the family business, having held senior executive positions with the BBC, ITV, and Channel 4.
  • November 6, 2013
    MorningStar1337
    I think Unusuable Real Name might had been discarded. It might be a good idea to remove that reference to the aborted trope.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=w08jenbdsz83vibbkvl77z1v