What is an American name? What Bob Dylan and Chloe Bennet have in common.
Some of the biggest names in entertainment industry were Wonsal, Gershowitz, Bulsara, Beilin, Konigsberg. Don’t recognize any of them? Perhaps you are more familiar with the Anglicized versions: Warner, Gershwin, Mercury, Berlin, and Allen?
After my last article on the music industry’s celebration of AAPI Heritage Month, I was invited to talk about it on the Break the Business podcast. While chatting off-camera, my host mentioned how Chloe Wang found success as an actor only after she changed her name to Chloe Bennet.
The host pointed out that many of the celebrities of AAPI heritage do not use an Asian name professionally. It doesn’t always happen on purpose, as many of the white-passing AAPI celebrities were born with non-ethnic last names. Michelle Branch, Chrissy Teigen, Vanessa Hudgens are some examples. But it does seem that most white-passing (or Black-passing) AAPI do not draw attention to their AAPI heritage in their names.
Assimilation of other ethnicities
Taking on a more “American” name is nothing new. In the past, celebrities with Jewish, Polish, or Italian names often used a stage name that was more palatable to Hollywood. It’s strange to think that, not so long ago, these names were not considered “American” enough so they had to be Anglicized to fit in.
The first three of the Warner Brothers emigrated with their Polish-Jewish mother from Poland to Canada, and eventually the U.S. in 1889. Sam Warner, Harry Warner, and Albert Warner were originally named Szmuel Wonsal , Hirsz Wonsal, and Aaron Wonsal.
Cary Grant (born Archibald Alec Leach) was forced to adopt a more American-sounding name by Paramount Pictures co-founder B. P. Schulberg in 1931.
In the case of George (born Jacob Bruskin Gershowitz) and Ira Gershwin (born Israel Gershowitz), their whole family chose to Americanize their names. They are of Russian-Jewish descent.
Irving Berlin, perhaps the most prolific songwriter in modern times, was born Israeil Beilin. Could he have succeeded without changing his name?
In 1949, Anthony Dominick Benedetto was renamed “Tony Bennett” by Bob Hope when the latter…