Jew? Me?
Actor/character alters or conceals their ethnicity by changing their name
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(permanent link) added: 2012-01-16 08:18:27 sponsor: SonofRojBlake edited by: GravelordNito (last reply: 2013-11-06 10:23:29)

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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

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