Wednesday, November 4, 2009

whiten their names

I have never felt any ethnic connection between the Greeks and me, other than how hairy I am.

-- Georgios Panayioutous
(a.k.a., George Michael)

    Alan Alda = Allphonso D'Abruzzo Jr

    Woody Allen = Allen Konigsberg

    Jennifer Aniston = Jennifer Joanna Aniston
       (her father, John Aniston, was originally Yannis Anastassakis)

    Fred Astaire = Frederick Austerlitz

    Lauren Bacall = Betty Joan Perske

    Anne Bancroft = Anna Maria Louisa Italiano

    Pat Benatar = Patricia Mae Andrzejewski

    Tony Bennett = Anthony Dominick Benedetto

    Jack Benny = Benjamin Kubelsky

    Milton Berle = Milton Berlinger

    Irving Berlin= Israel Baline

    Robert Blake = Michael Gubitosi

    Jon Bon Jovi = John Francis Bongiovi

    Ernest Borgnine = Ermes Effrom Borgnino

    Marlon Brando = Marlon Junior Brandeau

    Albert Brooks = Albert Einstein

    Mel Brooks = Mel Kaminsky

    George Burns = Nathan Birnbaum

    Nicolas Cage = Nicolas Coppola

    Cyd Charisse = Tula Ellice Finklea

    Andrew Dice Clay = Andrew Clay Silverstein

    Alice Cooper = Vincent Damon Furnier

    David Copperfield = David Seth Kotkin

    Elvis Costello = Declan MacManus

    Joan Crawford = Lucille Fay LeSueur

    David Crosby = David Van Cortlandt

    Tom Cruise = Thomas Mapother IV

    Tony Curtis = Bernard Schwartz

    Doris Day = Doris von Kappelhoff

    John Denver = Henry John Deutschendort Jr

    Angie Dickinson = Angeline Brown

    Kirk Douglas = Issur Danielovitch Demsky

    Bob Dylan = Robert Allen Zimmerman

    Linda Evans = Linda Evanstad

    Sally Field = Sally Mahoney

    W.C. Fields = William Claude Dukenfield

    John Ford = Sean Aloysius O’Fearna

    Great Garbo = Great Lovisa Gustafson

    James Garner = James Scott Bumgarner

    Kathie Lee Gifford = Kathryn Lee Epstein

    Cary Grant = Archibald Alexander Leach

    Joel Grey = Joel Katz

    Buck Henry = Henry Zuckerman

    Barbara Hershey = Barbara Herzstein

    Hulk Hogan = Terry Gene Bollea

    Judy Holliday = Judith Tuvim

    Harry Houdini = Erik Weisz

    Rock Hudson = Roy Harold Scherer Jr.

    Vanilla Ice = Robert Van Winkle

    Jenny Jones = Janina Stranski

    Ashley Judd = Ashley Tyler Ciminella

    Danny Kaye = David Daniel Kaminski

    Larry King = Lawrence Harvey Zeiger

    Ben Kingsley = Krishna Banji

    Cheryl Ladd = Cheryl Jean Stoppelmoor

    Michael Landon = Eugene Orowitz

    Ralph Lauren = Ralph Lifshitz

    Jerry Lewis = Joseph Levitch

    Sophia Loren = Sofia Villani Scicolone

    Peter Lorre = Laszio Lowenstein

    Madonna = Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone

    Karl Malden = Mladen Sekulovic

    Barry Manilow = Barry Alan Pincus

    Dean Martin = Dino Paul Crocetti

    Walter Matthau = Walter Matuschanskayasky Matthow

    Freddie Mercury = Farookh Bulsara

    Lorne Michaels = Lorne Michael Lipowitz

    Helen Mirren = Ilynea Lydia Mironoff

    Demi Moore = Demetria Guynes

    Chuck Norris = Carlos Ray Norris

    Jack Palance = Volodymyr Palahniuk

    Colonel Tom Parker = Andreas Cornelius van Kuijk

    Les Paul = Lester Polfuss

    Bernadette Peters = Bernadette lazzara

    Emo Philips = Phil Soltane

    Iggy Pop = James Newell Osterberg

    Natalie Portman = Natalie Hershlag

    Stefanie Powers = Stefania Zofya Federkiewicz

    Kelly Preston = Kelly Kamalelehua Palzis

    Joey Ramone = Jeffry Ross Hyman

    Tony Randall = Leonard Rosenberg

    Ginger Rogers = Virginia Katherine McMath

    Joan Rivers = Joan Alexandra Molinsky

    Edward G. Robinson = Emmanuel Goldenberg

    Wynona Ryder = Wynona Horowitz

    Jane Seymour = Joyce Penelope Wilhelmina Frankenberg

    Charlie Sheen = Carlos Estevez

    Martin Sheen = Ramón Estévez

    (Emilio Estevez = Emilio Estevez)

    Gene Simmons = Chaim Witz

    Anna Nicole Smith = VIckIe Lynn Hogan

    Robert Stack = Robert Modini

    Cat Stevens (later, Yusuf Islam) = Stephen Demetre Georgiou

    Jon Stewart = Jonathan Leibowitz

    Jennifer Tilly = Jennifer Chan

    Danny Thomas = Muzyad Yakhoob

    Ritchie Valens = Ricardo Valenzuela

    Frankie Valli = Francis Castelluccio

    Jesse Ventura = James George Janos

    Raquel Welch = Raquel Tejada

    Nathaniel West = Nathaniel Wallenstein

    Gene Wilder = Jerome Silberman

    Natalie Wood = Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko


  1. Mariah Carey = Mariah Nuñez

    But in this case it was not Mariah herself who whitened her name (= made it sound more Anglo) but her grandfather when he came to America from Venezuela.

  2. Thanks abagond, I thought about including her, but I'm not sure that most people think of her as "white" -- do they? I'm also not sure that, even if they do, she is "white," or has "become white," or . . . So, she didn't seem to fit this list of "white" people who have "whitened" their names.

  3. I never thought of Freddie Mercury as was kinda confused to see him on the list...

    The Mariah thing is a reach - seeing as how her father's name was Alfred Carey, she could hardly be accused of "whitening" her name.

    I also found it interesting to see the Sheens [and Emilio?] but there was no mention of Jennifer Aniston's father, John Aniston [Victor on Days of Our Lives]. Here too, I wonder who was actually responsible for the name change. I guess she and her father did it together?

    And..uh..does Hulk Hogan really count?

  4. The same thing used to happen in India, especially within Bollywood. Ever since the dawn of early Hindi cinema, many Indian Muslim actors have had to Hindu-ize their names in order to be accepted-- just like many Jewish people did in the early days of Hollywood.

    Many Indians are often surprised when they learn that a particular Bollywood icon was a Muslim, not a Hindu.

  5. Three observations:

    1. >> "Cyd Charisse = Tula Ellice Finklea"

    Some things might not have much to do with whiteness.


    2. It is interesting to compare the ethnicities suggested by these last names with the various ethnicities of "How ___ Became White" books.


    3. Sometimes the motivation for this isn't de-ethnicization/Whitening but ease of pronunciation. I go by my middle name (Willow), partially because Americans tend to butcher the pronunciation of my first name, which is Irish Gaelic (or not know how to spell it, if they hear someone say it first). I assume that for someone who is trying to become famous, this aspect probably plays a larger role. (Note: I am not suggesting that Irish/Irish-Americans aren't white; hence "de-ethnicization." And I'm not a complete example here--I happily use my last name, which people *can* pronounce).

  6. Nearly all of these former names are white-- most appear Jewish, Russian, or Greek. I think it's important to make the distinction between Anglicizing and whitening, especially since many white people claim they're not white-- they're Irish, or whatever.

  7. Hi I've been reading your blog for a while, and while it's true that the people on your list have whiten there name, I think of it as more of changing their names for more anglo-saxon sounding names, because white people exist in most cultures, that is some Latinos are white and in the list there's also some people of Russian descent which are also considered white.

  8. Macon, seriously? It's called a stage name, and for the great majority of entertainers it has nothing to do with being more white. It's about having a short, memorable, easy to spell, and above all catchy name. Trust me, I do theatre.

    It's funny that for someone who's spoken out against "white ethnics", you include so many Irish, Italian, and Jewish examples.

    You're totally missing the point here. A stage name is simply not the same as having to worry about if anyone will mock your child for having a too ethnic name or changing your name to hide the fact that you're Jewish. Really, this post is completely lacking in substance, I'm sorry :/ You might want to really trim down the list and include a writeup, otherwise this post is just celebrity trivia.

  9. Yeah, I agree with Willow that some of these don't seem to have anything to do with sounding white as just being stage names (Hulk Hogan and Vanilla Ice were the two I noticed, and someone going from Brown to Dickinson doesn't seem like a change from "ethnic" to white, either), but wow, there are a lot more on here than I'd heard of before.

    As for Freddie Mercury, I think a lot of people didn't/don't realise he wasn't white, and the fact that he went by Freddie Mercury rather than Farookh Bulsara contributed to that.

  10. Mariah Carey is biracial (white irish american mother, black american father)therefore, by default, is not "white" white. This of course speaks volumes about the color spectrums and "white purity" discussions that I've heard. I am a black woman (Angela Basset dark if you need a visual) married to a white man, and my kids are VERY fair compared to me (they can "pass"), to the point that people don't believe that they are mine.

    But of course, they aren't JUST white. To the naked eye yes, and maybe thats all that is necessary initially...

    (Please excuse the randomness of my post--I have been reading your blog for awhile now, but this particular post/comment struck a cord that warranted a comment)

    In keeping to the topic though, this is not surprising to me at all. Unfortunately,this is more common than people would like to think. The assimilation process is a difficult and sometimes necessary step for people to feel accepted/for people to be accepted within the US. From experience, I know that my husbands family thought I was white because of my name. The look on their faces spoke volumes when they first met me.

    The power in a name...

    Anyway, thank you for this blog and
    please, keep up the good work.

  11. Oh, sorry about Mariah. She considers herself black. My mistake.

  12. The name cited for Jennifer Aniston is incorrect - her real last name is Aniston, and her middle name is Joanna. Her father John Aniston's original last name was Anastassakis. I didn't make the effort to look up any of the other celebrities.

    Many celebrities are influenced to change their names by their managers or - in the old days, the studios where they were under contract. And sometimes it wasn't a change to a less "ethnic" name, just a "snappier-sounding" name. I love this blog and I appreciate the way that you make me think about society and racism, but I think your point with this post would have been better served with exposition and some examples, rather than a list of celebrities who changed their names, in different time periods, for many different reasons.

  13. Not sure Elvis Costello should be included, either.

    "Around this time, Costello adopted the stage name D.P. Costello. His father had performed under the name Day Costello, and Elvis has said in interviews that he took this name as a tribute to his father."


    "His manager at Stiff, Jake Riviera, suggested a name change, combining Elvis Presley's first name and Costello, his paternal grandmother's maiden name."

  14. @Cloudy

    So the Irish aren't white?

    "White" includes people of non Anglo-Saxon descent. Hence, white people "anglicizing"- otherwise it wouldn't be anglicizing, now would it?

    I mean, I'll give you Hulk Hogan and Vanilla Ice- no contest. That's not anglicizing- that's creating a persona based on inanimate adjectives and nouns.

    But, notice that that Macon said this is "stuff white people do." He didn't say it was wrong necessarily. Presenting it like this, a list, is perhaps an open invitation to mull it over. Yes?

    I think it says something that we're seeing less on of this in acting. It's become more common for actors to use their real names and I think a big part of it is that Hollywood has evolved enough to leave room for names like "Lisa Epstein" (House)

    I have no aspirations as far as Hollywood goes, but I'd like to think that if I did, I could keep my very Arabic name (which is slightly anglicized, my parents removed the "Al-" that precedes so many Arabic last names) without getting typecast- and don't tell me ethnic typecasting doesn't happen. The first movie I saw (IIRC) that really broke the mold as a mainstream popular feature that featured non-black POC as non-stereotypical protagonists was actually Harold and Kumar Go to Whitecastle.

    I will say that this list finally explains why I've always thought Emilio Estevez looks a lot like Charlie Sheen. All this time I never knew. I suddenly get the joke on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (groan freely, I know, I know) where Hillary comments she's going to a celebrity party but wasn't sure who she ran into: Charlie Sheen or Emilio Estevez. "I can never tell the difference!"

  15. i read this thinking 'pub quiz'! actors and actresses have long been changing their names...just changing their names because they sound awful.. marion just doesn't cut it as the name of a war hero cowboy gunslinger does it?
    this is also not specifically a 'white' phenomenon...
    etta james.. jamesetta hawkins
    vin diesel.. mark sinclair vincent
    nichelle nichols.. grace nichols.. left wondering why this is an issue

  16. Wow...I had no idea how many famous people had changed their names. They should have stayed with their original names, in my opinion. It might be difficult to pronounce but does it kill people to make some extra effort in pronunciation?

  17. There's way too much dismissal and derailing going on here. The point I got from this post is that the notion of White Normalcy is furthered by white people who change their names to whitewash any hint of ethnicity. By contrast, this causes POC (unless they do the same and "whiten" their names) to appear more "different" or "alien" when applying for jobs, giving one's name over the phone, etc. and reinforces institutional racism and systems of privilege.

  18. I knew about the Sheen brothers.

    But Jennifer Tilly was a huge surprise. She's asian?

  19. Wow, I was really surprised at some of the hidden ethnicities. To those that really don't see the implications of changing your name to change your present-day life, do some more research. By wiping your ethnicity slate clean, one can present themselves as part of the "norm" more easily.

    Honestly, some of the names listed cited Jewish ancestry and I had no idea. So there's no implications in changing the fact that you're Jewish? Really? *sarcasm*

  20. Your definition of "white" is fairly loose if you are going to include part-Gujarati Ben Kingsley and Indian/Persian Freddie Mercury. Although they are commonly seen as white.

    Stage names are a part of showbiz, and are particularly common when someone has a birth name that is less than star-like, but it is most noticeable with ethnic names. And I don't doubt that the aforementioned two guys' careers would have suffered had they remained Krishna Banji and Farrokh Bulsara.

  21. Hi Macon, as this is my first comment (I think) let me express my appreciation for your blog (which I have linked to on previous occasions from my own, German-language blog) before I begin to criticize.

    Because I do take issue with the fact that you have included people who have - presumably - changed their names due to "racial" prejudice (i.e. choosing names that sound less Jewish) and stage names (Alice Cooper? Vanilla Ice? Hulk Hogan?) in the same list.

    However, I find it interesting that both the post and the comments point to the cultural and historical contingencies of "whiteness". Leaving the obvious stage names aside, the list seems to implicitly equate "white"=WASP (and "non-immigrant" background). Writing from Germany, it would never occur to me to think of German- and Scandinavian-sounding names as somehow "non-white".

    There are interesting questions here. One of them being: There are many different forms of privilege - is it always helpful to conflate them into "whiteness" if, as in this case, the issue seems to be an anti-immigrant sentiment that goes beyond questions of "race"? Or does such a conflation make it harder to speak of racism "proper"?

  22. What interests me more is the phenomenon demonstrated here by Cat Stevens. What drives white people to 'exoticise' their names?

    Also, is Iggy Pop not his real name? Wow, I can't believe he whitened it up so much.

  23. I'll deviate from the rest of the comments and say that I'm one of those white people who has wanted to Anglicize her name. My last name sounds very Native American or "tribal", and I believe it may be native to some area in Canada. If you've ever visited my site you've seen that I'm about 1 shade darker than the color of pasteurized milk.

    The reason I've wanted to change my name is because of the white reaction to my name. For nearly my entire life white people have been stumbling and stuttering over my name and asking me to explain its origins - sometimes in front of entire classrooms. I've always felt weird, been questioned by whites, and treated like I'm the whitest Native American ever.

    I won't get into deeply explaining why my name is easily pronounceable in Spanish and for African-Americans. It has a lot of elements found in the naming trends of African American girl first names of the 70's and 80's. And I don't have a problem with people mispronouncing my's that they expect to find out how a whitey like me ended up with such a name. They ask like it's their business, without regard to my right to privacy. They want to know if it's my "husband's" name. They want to know where it came from.

    I went through the "embrace it" phase where I would just make something up about it and the joke was on the person asking me. I went through the "shrug" phase where I just pretended (or didn't pretend sometimes) to know nothing about it, and I've gone through the "OMG I want to be left alone - let me change it!" phase. At age 31 I've become indifferent about it. When white people think it's appropriate to give me the 3rd degree about my ethnicity in inappropriate settings I tell them I'd rather not discuss that right there. I just find that to be SO incredibly rude. They're not asking because they genuinely care about where it comes from. They just want to know where these white "ethnics" come from or prove to themselves that I married into the name.

    So this is my take on why people would want to make their name less "ethnic" sounding... it's because of white people's need to put everything into a nice little box of "normal". I don't think whites consciously think that everyone should have a white name, but I've had this happen to me thousands of times. This is just how I feel about it.

  24. What they did is not really "whiten" as most of those people are white. What they did is Anglicize their name and make it sound more British.

    Is this what it takes to be part of the "American society"? Completely and utterly stupid. Disgusting.

  25. 'Leaving the obvious stage names aside, the list seems to implicitly equate "white"=WASP (and "non-immigrant" background). Writing from Germany, it would never occur to me to think of German- and Scandinavian-sounding names as somehow "non-white".' (elbu)
    My suggestion: racism is not an exact science. Race gets defined ad hoc, top down and in America the Anglos are the whitest of the White.

  26. Interesting post, and it's prompted a fascinating discussion here.

    i took a cue from the beginning quote by George Michael. This is about ethnicity, or rather the whitening of it. Hulk Hogan and Vanilla Ice are stage names, not necessarily "white" ones, but look at their original names, which are very ethnic, and so in America, not quite "white."

    And yes, becoming "white" in America seems to mean whitening into something "Anglo." But then, "Anglo-Saxon" is what became "white," right? American whiteness in the 1800s was called "Anglo-Saxon whiteness"; that's who the "real" white people supposedly were, and then other ethnic groups worked their ways into whiteness, by assimilating into an Anglo-Saxon norm. A norm that gradually became just "white," instead of "Anglo-Saxon." (Oddly, the Jewish actor/singer Al Jolson worked his way into whiteness by wearing blackface! It made him just another white person doing a very American white thing, "blacking up," basically erasing his degraded Jewishness.)

    "Race" is an act, really, so this emphasis in the list on actors and singers is useful too. Those who are "white" in everyday life perform as white. No one really "is" white. Whiteness itself is a fiction. In that way, I think people like Ben Kingsley and Freddie Mercury belong on this list. I long thought they were white, those stage names especially did that, covering up some other ethnic/national specificity. I think that in that sense they "became white," in a way that's more or less like anyone else who supposedly "is" white. All "white" people are just walking around doing a racial performance that the rest of us accept as a racial reality when we see and interact with them.

  27. Yeah, "Anglicize" is the word you're looking for. Whiteness here is distinctly Anglo-flavored. Which isn't too shocking, considering our history.

    Has anyone else ever heard that Ben Franklin didn't consider Germans to be white? I always thought that was sort of remarkable.

  28. @ Victoria:

    I don't think white people wanting to know the origin of your name is from a need to put everything into a nice little box of "normal".

    I think this curiosity is from an insecure need to try to identify who is and who isn't white. And it's part of an unspoken rating-scale system that white people use to determine how civilized (Asian?) or savage (American Indian and African?) someone is.

  29. @ Bluey512:

    I'm not surprised to hear that German's weren't thought of as white at one time. The same was for Italians in the southern states at least until the late 1950s--perhaps longer. Italians, particularly Italian sharecroppers, weren't treated as badly as black Americans, but they weren't welcomed in the south and there were certain towns Italians wouldn't go to after dark.

  30. It might be interesting to re-sort this list into the decade in which the change was made.

    I notice, for example, that many of the actors who WASP-ized their Jewish names did it in a time when lots of people in Hollywood were Jewish but much of the casual commentary in much of the middle of the country was anti-Semitic -- country clubs banned Jews all across the country and in many small midwestern towns a small Jewish minority was both exploited and persecuted as a matter of habit.

    I notice, too, the habit of agents, producers, and other advisors and employers to demand that someone aspiring to fame and glory change their name to something "short and catchy" -- which I always read as a Euphemism for "pronounceable by anglo's who've never met someone from your country/culture/language".

    One of the things that gets highlighted by such a list is the demand of authority figures that we all conform to some narrower-than-required standard. Whether it's a theatrical agent wanting someone to change their name, or a political pundit complaining that a public figure should allow people to pronounce her name as if it were of English origin, I keep noticing the amazing laziness of people at the top of the cultural foodchain.

    Reminds me of a story, I hope apochryphal, of some rich tycoon who required all the male servants in his mansion to be the same height and wear the same cologne so he wouldn't be troubled by having to notice who was on duty handing him his coffee.

    Also I was surprised by some of my specific reactions. Ben Kingsley, for example. I first encountered him in several bit parts and never gave any thought to his ethnicity or ancestry or country of origin -- he spoke in a British accent and I took him for an anglo. When I saw him in the movie "Ghandi" my first thought was 'why didn't they give this role to someone from India?'. Now I'm laughing at my assumptions.

  31. Not everybody on the list is actually "white, white." Ritchie Valens was Mexican-American, and didn't look white at all. And he changed his last name because his manager felt it would be more popular that way than if he just kept "Valenzuela." Technically, the change wasn't motivated by Ritchie himself. He's the guy who sings "La Bamba" in its rock-americanized version.

  32. @Eurasian Sensation - I actually think you touched on part of the point (problem?) in this statement:

    <<"Stage names are a part of showbiz, and are particularly common when someone has a birth name that is less than star-like">>

    That's just it isn't it? Who get's to decide what kind of name is star-like? This post could be entitled, "Stuff white people are influenced into doing by the white people with power."

    My own French Huguenot name was anglicized 250 years ago by a census taker who apparently though it should be spelled as it might be in an English colony.

    I think that fits in with the Anglicizing angle that many of you are arguing. But this is still something that white people do. And given the heirarchy discussed here before, one could argue they are still whitening their names.

    Here's a more comprehensive list - that includes many people of color.

  33. Thanks for the list, Macon! I'm fascinated at how many famous people have changed their names to make it more "normal" sounding.

    My own last name growing up was very Anglo so that, mixed with the fact that my skin is a light yellow color, made it easy for people not to notice my mixed ethnicity.

    I'm wondering now if I would have received more questions if my last name were, for example, Rodriguez instead.

  34. Jane Mann (Giana Mankowski)November 5, 2009 at 6:44 AM

    "Italians, particularly Italian sharecroppers, weren't treated as badly as black Americans" ...

    So by this you meam that they weren't systematically enslaved, hosed down, set upon by dogs, lynched, verbally and physically abused, and denied the right to vote?

    People change their names for all sorts of reasons, but when the excuse is that they picked names that are "easier to pronounce" or "more memorable", the question that follows hard on the heels of this explanation is ... Easier to pronounce ... for whom? More memorable ... for whom? And that brings us right back to white privilege. Whatever the other reasons, many of these people change their names to assert their identity as White, as "normal".

  35. Even in the cases where these are "stage names", it still speaks to a system that would reward Anglicizing names. I doubt you'd find many stage names going in the reverse direction.

    I didn't read this as blame to those who did change their names, or even the ones who openly rejected their heritage. How can you blame someone for not wanting to identify as Russian during the Cold War, for instance? The part that sucks is that they felt they had to, in order to have any chance at success.

  36. All actors must have unique names. No two people who are members of the Actors Guild can have the same name.

    Meanwhile, being an actor or achieving media celebrity is a career goal that people manage with great care. If it helps to reach the goal by having a simple anglicized name, then that is the thing to do.

    Is there a rapper who goes by his/her birth name?

  37. Interesting - I too saw past the questionability of some of the people on this list (Freddie Mercury is not white, c'mon) to the general idea of Anglicization of names. My grandfather changed his last name from one that was very Jewish to one that was not-so-Jewish sounding. My mother hated the second name so much that she was thrilled to latch on to my Dad's very Anglo last name despite her feminist ideals.

    I found that Emilio Estevez thing particularly interesting (I guess I always thought he and Charlie Sheen were half-brothers and that's why the name was as it was).

    It is worth noting that most of the members of that list are 40+ and that things are changing. Look at the up-and-coming 20-something actors who are making no apology for their heritage: Aziz Ansari, Emanuelle Chriqui, Alia Shawkat, Dev Patel, etc.

    Does anyone know if Freida Pinto's real name is Freida Pinto? Pinto sounds to me to be of Spanish origin and so I've always wondered...

  38. Interesting post... While I do agree with the point made by some commenters that in most cases this isn't so much about "whitening" names as anglicizing them, I think that may be more of a semantic difference than anything. It doesn't change the central fact that it's still about erasing cultural difference.

    And it brings up the interesting idea that there are degrees of "whiteness" - that even when comparing different peoples who are all technically Caucasian, some may be regarded as whiter than others, depending on the time period and cultural context. Certainly the Jews and the Irish have at some times and places been regarded as effectively non-white, and probably a lot of others too.

    It's also interesting how easy it is not to realize that someone is anything other than white if you don't have the clue of an "ethnic" sounding name - even if you like to think you're relatively aware of things like this, whiteness has an insidious way of still being the default identity. For example, I had no clue Freddie Mercury was Asian before I read this, or that the goth singer/songwriter/satirist Voltaire (another for your list) was Hispanic before I stumbled across the fact that his real name was Aurelio Hernandez.

    It's also interesting how many names got anglicized generations back, for entire families, when they emigrated to places like the US and Canada. Even mine - I have a deceptively anglo-sounding last name which is actually an anglicized Dutch name. I've considered at some points changing it back to the original form, and was surprised to hear relatives discourage me. The most common response I got was "Why would you want to do that? No one will ever be able to pronounce it!" - even though as Dutch names go it's one that would be pretty easy for anglophones to pronounce. There just seemed to be this reaction of astonishment that I could possibly consider having a non-anglo-sounding name, even when it's my own family name in its original form. The idea that anglo = easy/convenient/normal and anything else is somehow a burden to bear, or an imposition on everyone you meet, seems very deeply ingrained.

  39. Shortenig names to be "stage names" is no excuse. It "sounds snappier" and "easier" for white people. I highly doubt Robertson and Jameson sound "snappy" to Chinese-American immigrants or Hispanic immigrants. But, of course, hardly anyone tends to investigate it that far. Stage names are another way for white people to excuse away their ethnocentrism instead of stand up to it.

  40. For those nitpicking individual examples this list, way to miss the point people.

    I would also argue with the idea that this phenomenon is just about stage names (as Cloudy seems to think). I can give examples of non-famous people from my own family, as I'm sure many others can as well, of changing their names to sound more Anglicanized or Americanized. On my mother's side of the family, the Italian names were changed from the first people to come through Ellis Island up through my grandmother's generation. Giacobbe to Jacobbe. Caterina to Catherine. My grandmother changed her name from Dominica Rose to Mary Anne, and none of us knew it (including her children) until years after her death, when someone stumbled across her birth certificate. I think that ethnically European immigrants used name changes to help them assimilate into whiteness, in ways that visibly non-white people cannot.

  41. Chuck Norris was born Carlos Ray Norris, not just Carlos Ray. Since Carlos is a form of Charles, it's not really that surprising he acquired the nickname 'Chuck' during his time in the military.

  42. Stage names, though, are also a way for people whose whiteness is or was marginal at best to attempt to "pass" in the Anglo mainstream.

    Of course, this isn't a complete explanation, as no one would think Mel Brooks or Woody Allen wasn't Jewish. But the notion that people didn't want to hear Jewish names, or that they weren't marketable somehow, speaks to the anti-Semitism of the period.

    In other words, it wasn't that long ago that Jews weren't white, but by pretending to whiteness in small ways some of them found they could get a lot whiter.

  43. I think that ethnically European immigrants used name changes to help them assimilate into whiteness, in ways that visibly non-white people cannot.

    Yes! This exactly.

  44. Anglicization/Christianization isn't the same thing as "whitening", although it's still a problematic trend. I think a lot of the "but..." comments could have been avoided by using "anglicizing" instead of "whitening." (And anglicizing is, as commenters have pointed out, something people of color do as well.)

    Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam, though, I don't think is a case of "exoticizing". He converted to Islam and chose a new name, something converts often do in many religions (witness the number of Christian converts from all over the world who took Anglo-Christian names--a phenomenon that's slightly less standard now, but still not uncommon). It's not like he decided "Hey, my name isn't cool enough, I think I'll randomly choose one from another culture."

  45. Thanks Ashley, I changed Norris's entry to indicate that.

    Thanks also to "my name is amanda" for the info about Jennifer Aniston and her father -- I also changed her entry.

    And thanks also to The Boss of You -- I added Karl Malden to the list.

  46. BlameMyPeople said...

    What interests me more is the phenomenon demonstrated here by Cat Stevens. What drives white people to 'exoticise' their names?


    Cat Stevens did NOT exoticise his name. It's customary (though not required) for converts to Islam to change their names to Muslim ones, though it is true that most only change their first names.

  47. Albert Brooks = Albert Einstein

    In this case, I can kinda understand why he would want to change his name. Anyone born with the name of someone famous will have to contend with that their whole life. Especially this guy, who is an actor.

  48. Elsariel - ha, I actually have a friend who was born "Charles Manson." You can bet he changed his name.

  49. @Jillian

    Yikes! With a name like that, I would, too. >_<

  50. Okay, a bit of a derail here. Is it really considered rude to ask about the origin of an unusual name? I am a bit of a "word nerd" and love to hear about unusual names, their ethnic and geographical origins, and any meaning they might have.

    Most of the people I've asked with an unusual name seem pretty open to discussing their names and the history of them. Of course I wouldn't "grill" them about it, either, so that may have something to do with it. If they seemed uncomfortable, I'd just let it go.

    I'm not trying to "put them in a box" or determine their "degree of whiteness". I'm pretty sure my love of names isn't based in insecurity either. (I just don't believe that every interest has to revolve around a racial motive or personality flaw.)

    Names are a part of the ever changing world of language and history, and many people have really great stories to share about their names and the people and countries associated with their names. I've had some wonderful conversations with people that started out about names.

    So, what do you guys/ladies think? Is it rude?

  51. Wow, I had no idea. Thanks for posting this.

    Anyone notice how many of those names were Jewish? Was it to avoid anti-Semitism?

  52. I guess Englebert Humperdinck born Arnold George Dorsey is kind of the exception. Well both Englebert and Arnold sound white I suppose.....

    I work with a guy named Trushit Baht and his is not white enough to change his name to something more English sounding. But I can understand why he might be tempted.

  53. @ Jaime - "Snappier" to the group of people perceived as the cultural *majority.* It's about appealing to the numbers you think will be spending the most money.
    And this isn't about making excuses or assigning blame. The trend is meaningful as a symptom of a racist society.

    In other words, macon d - Okay, I understand the greater point. I was initially distracted by Aniston, and stage names like Vanilla Ice, but yes, overall, it's obvious when I think about it.

  54. I must say, the comments and the response to the list is more riveting than the original post! Thank you Macon for really starting a dialogue on this topic. Did you expect this sort of response? I'm interested to hear your response to some of these comments.

  55. My question: Is this an American thing or do people all over the world do it? If it's an American thing I would wonder if it's an effect of immigration making names more disposable. Everyone always talks about how names where changed at Ellis Island and I'd assume that the same happened at Angel Island. Not to mention the fact that slaves brought over wouldn't have been allowed to keep their names and the native peoples here were taken and forced to become more 'white.'

  56. I didn't have the time (or the patience) to read all the comments so pardon me if I'm reiterating a post. Some that i did read mention that they changed their names for ease of pronunciation or for use of a stage name. So my immediate question is why? Why should anyone have to change their names to fit a white societal standard? It's been proven that a whiter sounding name is picked over a non-white name for jobs. How is that fair? People should be able to use whatever name they want and be successful. If they want to change their name to a whiter name, let them! it's their prerogative. but if I change my name to feel like I have a greater chance at success, that to me is a big problem

  57. Mr. M, I was hoping for this kind of response, and yeah, kind of expecting it, because this blog has a lot of smart, informed readers (and lots of others who are, um, catching up on some things). I knew if I put together a post this oblique, a lot would still be made of it.

    To answer your question, I agree with many comments here -- too many to name -- especially those that see in a list like this one a sort of submerged white coercion in American society, and those that see in it a shifting conception in historical terms of what's broadly considered appealing in terms of names, and what isn't (and of how unmarkedly "white" an "appealing" norm has been).

    I do agree, also, that anglicizing is a more precise description of what's usually going on with such names, but then, I think that still is a whitening process -- it's an erasure or bleaching away of ethnicity. Maybe the preference for specifically anglicized names is a remnant of the historical process that AE mentioned above, the era when whiteness was openly labeled "White Anglo-Saxon." Other European groups have since been allowed into an ever-expanding notion of whiteness, so the "Anglo-Saxon" part of mainstreamed whiteness has faded from overt recognition, but maybe in some ways there's still a hierarchy to whiteness, with Anglicized norms still at the top?

    I think that's just a start on what gets conjured up by such a list, as others here have been pointing out.

  58. macon, I think there may be something to your idea that Anglo-saxon is still at the top of the white hierarchy. I have heard many people, even in recent years, who say things like "Italians/Greeks/Portugese/Mediterraneans/ aren't really white." It seems like maybe there's a certain prototype of whiteness (i.e. WASP) that is based on the original cultural groups who were considered white.

  59. Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan, Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul Jabaar and everyone else who is a member of the Nation of Islam has changed his name.

    Every Pope receives a new name when he is annointed.

    And millions of young black males have "street names."

  60. Regarding the wild generalizations regarding the differences between "white," Anglo-saxon," and the Irish, read Edmund Spencer's dialogue on the present state of Ireland as well as Brian Friel's play Translations.

    But thanks for make and encourage broad sweeping generalizations and wild inaccuracies.

  61. Gosh, you think the culture and norms of this country might have been influenced by English culture? A little bit? It's not like we, oh, speak their language, or listen to their music, or watch their TV shows, or consider their literature to comprise a large portion of Teh Classics, or study their history as our own. Or anything like that.

    Once, after watching the BBC miniseries version of the Chronicles of Narnia, I asked my friends at school whether they'd ever heard of "Nahhhnia." Of course they had no idea what I was talking about. My mom had to sort out my pronunciation later. People who have lived in London still tell me my accent sounds kind of British - and I'm from Dallas.

    When I visited Dublin Castle - a very English-influenced place, or so it seemed to me - I recognized the decorating style from my grandmother's living room. Her chairs and crystal chandeliers are clearly copies of the stuff you find there. She was mad at me for not visiting Waterford "to see where they make all the gorgeous crystal."

    Okay, maybe I'm more heavily British-influenced than the average American, but still. I could give you such a long list of British pop culture influences in the US, particularly in nerd culture. Doctor Who, Monty Python, Harry Potter, disdain for the French, Ren Faires, thinking of Europe as "The West" and Asia as "The East" even though from where we're standing that's the opposite of true. It really is everywhere, once you start to look for it.

    I'd also like to point out that some of the people on that list are literally British.

    In any case, if white is the norm, and Anglo is the norm for whites, then to be white is to be Anglo. Stands to reason.

  62. @ Jillian - re: Freida Pinto:
    The name Pinto is Portuguese in origin and her family is Catholic, so there's your connection. The Portuguese were active in colonial times in India and Sri Lanka, and in modern times in the city of Goa.
    Portugese names such as Fernandes, Rocha and Pinto are not uncommon in the Goan and Anglo-Indian communities. This is not to say that Freida Pinto necessarily has any recent Portuguese ancestors though.

  63. Anonymous Jaime said...

    Shortenig names to be "stage names" is no excuse. It "sounds snappier" and "easier" for white people. I highly doubt Robertson and Jameson sound "snappy" to Chinese-American immigrants or Hispanic immigrants. But, of course, hardly anyone tends to investigate it that far. Stage names are another way for white people to excuse away their ethnocentrism instead of stand up to it.

    No white person has to excuse a personal choice like that of changing their name any more than a non-white person.

  64. @GDS

    You're complaining of a spelling change 250 years ago? Hell, my anglo forebears 150 years ago had different spellings of their surname between father and son (Samson, Sampson, and a third version I can't recall). Surnames remain labile to this day.

    What do you think about systems that won't accept Polish script - let alone Arabic? Should they be rejected completely, or should they be included with an approximation?

    Hell, my current surname in Japanese gets a -nu ending, even though they have -n, plus a few other changes they don't have direct analogues for. If I was to move there permanently, my name would essentially and significantly change (and not just the spelling), unless I was so tied up in it I made it a thorny issue for everyone.

    Having read a few articles here, I think the blog should be titled "stuff majority cultures do".

  65. Also on the list, perhaps another thing to consider with the various German and Italian sounding names is that a lot of these entertainers would also have been working in the shadow of WW2 and it's not inconsiderable propaganda against the opponents... Germany and Italy (and, of course, Japan, but not many Japanese in the list).

    Finally, what is Archibald Leach doing on the list? Both names are monumentally anglo-white as anglo-white can be. How do you make Archibald Leach any more English without putting 'King' in front of it and some roman numeral after it?

  66. I think this speaks to the oppression/discrimination that is patroled within whiteness in this country. Some of these folks changed their names b/c Hollywood refused to believe they would be accepted with their given name. Some how to anglicize and some had to just make their name sound more pleasant to the ear. Lots of people were just not treated well, looked at oddly for having an "ethnic" white last name rather than an anglo-saxon style name. So to stop the differential treatment, to some degree, people changed their names. There were stories that when people arrived at Ellis Island from Europe that the customs agents couldn't understand the immigrants or pronounce their names and just wrote down what they thought they heard. Since then those stories have been discounted by some historians but I think there was an element of truth there. IN order to begin to be considered "white" or to begin to become accepted as white non-Anglo ethinics had to change their names thus obliterating their heritage and losing connection with where they came from. It even happens today, I've heard of Italians going to places in the deep south or the west with few Italians and being given funny looks, weird treatment and not being treated as altogether white.

  67. @EPT - um, please read what I wrote - not just mispelled - actually Anglicized intentionally by an English census taker.

    I pointed it out not with any level of anger, but to show my agreement with other comments arguing this is a white-washing of names, even for names with white origins. Essentially making them even whiter (and making the title of this post appropriate) Not to mention that it's been happening for centuries.

  68. @GDS

    How does changing white name style #1 to white name style #2 mean the name is whitened? I'll buy anglicised, but it's a pretty harsh stick to claim all non-anglo cultures as not white or less white.

    I can't see how anyone could possibly describe any northern European descent people as anything but 'white', and yet in the list we have plenty of Germans, Irish and Polish, and a smattering of others.

    The list largely overgeneralises, ironic given that fighting racism is about fighting stereotypes.

    I mean, Robert Van Winkle - how is that even remotely not a white name? Is it because American society has an underlying belief that continental Europeans are subhuman? Or is it just that it's a bad article title trying to claim something that simply is incorrect on closer look?

  69. I think it's interesting to look at the flipside of this--people with "ethnic" names who decided to keep them. For example, an agent wanted Keanu Reeves to go by the initials K.C. or another name because he didn't think the public could deal with Keanu, but the actor refused to part with his Hawaiian name. That said, I'm not sure how politically/racially Keanu conscious is. Although he's part Hawaiian and Chinese, he's referred to himself as being a white boy, so maybe wasn't taking a racial stand but simply didn't want to part ways with his given name.

  70. Walter Matthau's name was not originally Walter Matuschanskayasky. That's an urban legend:

  71. thesciencegirl said
    "I would also argue with the idea that this phenomenon is just about stage names (as Cloudy seems to think). I can give examples of non-famous people from my own family..."

    Actually, that's not what I think. I said the stage names of celebrities is a very different thing from when non-famous people do it.

    And it's a bit frustrating that in the "shuffle ambiguously between whiteness and ethnicity" post, the message was that Jews and Italians and Irish are ridiculous for saying they don't really feel white, yet in this post the opposite is true.

  72. Thanks Elizabeth, got it fixed. I actually think it's pretty cool that Mattau/Matthow's joke lives on like that. Maybe he was even signifying on this whole stage-name tradition.

    Cloudy wrote,

    And it's a bit frustrating that in the "shuffle ambiguously between whiteness and ethnicity" post, the message was that Jews and Italians and Irish are ridiculous for saying they don't really feel white, yet in this post the opposite is true.

    I'd like to say that I get what you're saying with your attempt to summarize two of my blog posts, and/or I'd like to say that, well, we all embody paradoxes, don't we? But I guess I can't say either with any sincerity. That's because I don't actually get what you're saying. Also, what I do think I get in what you're saying doesn't sound to me like what the two blog posts are saying.

    As I read this post on names, for instance, it's not saying that Americans with recognizably Jewish, Italian, or otherwise "ethnic" names are "ridiculous for saying they really feel white" (which would be the opposite of the whitened people in the other post being "ridiculous for saying they don't really feel white" -- which I also don't think is what that post really says). For me, the implications of this post on names are many, but the charge that those who whiten their ethnic origins are "ridiculous" isn't one of them. And while some of them may do so because they "feel white," others may not feel white, but instead want to be taken as white, and so, in effect (and in their careers) changed their names and "acted" white.

  73. Macon, you post is all over the place and hard to be sense of (maybe there was a few typos or something), so I'm just going to summarize:

    The shuffle post: "Jews and other white ethnics are wrong for claiming not to be white. Jews and other white ethnics have white privelege and thus any claims of not feeling like they fit into white society are negated."

    This post: "There is indeed a hierarchy of whiteness and some groups of white ethnics, as well as PoC, have chosen to change their names to better align themselves with whiteness/be more white."

    They're in direct conflict.

  74. Don Draper was previously known as Dick Whitman.

    Superman was also known as Clark Kent.

    And Gary Hart was previously known as Gary Heartpence.

    Meanwhile, if name-changing is such a disturbing issue to so many, then what is there to say about women changing their names after marriage?

  75. Cloudy

    Those quotation marks shouldn't be there -- not only are those not actual quotes, they don't even summarize the posts accurately. Thus, whatever contradiction you're seeing is your own.

  76. Macon,

    1) The quotation marks are used correctly as they are an imitation of speech. I doubt anyone would mistake them for an actual quote.

    2) I am speaking not only about the writeup, but the comments/discussion as well. Actually, probably slightly more about the comments in the "shuffle" post.

    3) You used this quote:

    "'The leader of an anti-racism workshop in the 1990s once noted a disquieting inclination on the part of white participants to dissociate themselves from the advantages of whiteness by emphasizing some purportedly not-quite-white ethnic background. "I'm not white; I'm Italian," one would say. Another, "I'm Jewish." After this ripple had made its way across the group, the seminar leader was left wondering, "What happened to all the white people who were here just a minute ago?""

    to demonstate that people claim their ethnicities to deny responsibility for racism without any further reflection that this might not be the case. As someone who's seen violence and bigotry against "white ethnics" firsthand, that quote still bothers me.

  77. cloudy and macon,

    I guess it's news to you two, but at least 99% of all Jews are white and they say so.

    Jews do not describe themselves as a separate race.

  78. no slappz,

    You guessed wrong, it's not news to me that Jews who fit the fictional descriptor of "white" in the U.S. were welcomed into an ever-expanding notion of whiteness after WW II, and thus allowed to participate in the "biggest affirmative action program in U.S. history," a program basically limited to "whites," the GI Bill.

  79. no slappz,

    White may be what they check on the US Census, but that is not an accurate portrayal of how "white" someone feels in general society. Some do not feel white at all, and many feel like they're treated as "less than" by the WASP majority. They might even feel white, but there are a significal amount that don't feel White-white.

    let me put it another way: the US Census defines people of Middle Eastern decent as white. Do you think 99% of them actually feel white?

    You and your hyperbolic, unresearched population percentages do not speak for everyone.

  80. What you describe is Anglicizing, not "whitening."

    Conflating the two only leads to confusion.

    The problem is that Americans talk about "race" when they are really talking about social class, leading to all kinds of illogical statements.

  81. Macon, In the great Greta Garbos case I think it's more a form of making her stage name more "exotic". Gustafsson is a quite plain Swedish name. She changed it to Garbo in 1923 two years before going to the US.

  82. Mima, on the contrary, while Gustaffson might have been (or be now) perfectly common in Sweden, it was likely not in most of the US, therefore, it's not an "exoticization" of Garbo's name, rather, it is a simplification of it.

  83. Chas,

    On the idea that Anglicizing is not whitening, please see this comment from above.

    Also, what are you talking about in terms of class, as it relates to this list of changed names? Are you saying Anglicizing one's name is an attempt to move up the class ladder?

  84. Hershele OstropolerNovember 9, 2009 at 7:01 AM

    Lenny Bruce = Leonard Alfred Schneider; "Leonard Alfred Schneider sounded too Hollywood."

    Though like Woody Allen and Mel Brooks, no one was going to think he wasn't Jewish.

    I'm not sure Valli is any whiter sounding than Castelluccio, or Costello than MacManus (particularly in Ireland)

    (My blog comment nom de guerre actually sounds more Jewish than my actual name.)

  85. Hershele OstropolerNovember 9, 2009 at 10:27 AM

    I missed Joey Ramone, another one I'm not sure of -- changing from a vaguely Jewish name to a patently Italian one isn't really "Anglicizing" (not to mention, that's on the border of stage-name-as-persona).

    Kathy Lee Gifford took her husband's name, which is a little beyond what I understand to be the scope of this blog, though she may have been motivated by the WASPness of it; she may have used a different name professionally had her married name sounded ethnic.

  86. This is a long comments thread, so I'm not going to read through it all right now, but has anyone noted the irony of commenting on the names people choose to present themselves with on a blog where people are posting under names like "molecularshyness", "Wallflower Extraordinaire", or even just "Liz"? Heck, the blog is hosted by "macon d". How do screenames relate to stage names, I guess is what I'm asking. Is your screename "whiter" than your real name?

  87. This reminds me of a time an American relative came to visit me (in Canada). She saw a poster for a show hosted by George Strombolopolous and was shocked that he hadn't changed his name for tv. I didnt realize how common this is.

  88. My whole family did this as part of the 'assimilation' process.

  89. My understanding is that Nicholas Cage changed his name from Coppola to assert his own identity, and not be perceived as having brokered his famous name as a vehicle for his career- he is Francis Ford Coppola's nephew. In other words, he wanted to be his own man, and I don't believe he should be on this list, since it was clearly not about ethnicity or anglicizing his name.
    Also, there is merit to the argument that these name changes occurred for a variety of reasons over the course of Hollywood/entertainment history, and not just the one simple reason some are gravitating towards. I was in high school with a guy named Leslie. I'm sure no one here will name their male children Leslie, nor will they name them Marion or Merle, two other formerly frequent male names. Archie Leach, male lead, doesn't have the same ring to it as Cary Grant. It's not all about race.

  90. This doesn't seem to be so much about race as it is about culture, language and nationality. The idea that Anglo Saxons are the only "real" white people is comical. As someone with Irish and Slavic ancestry (complete with a last name that was anglicized before my ancestors even came to America), if someone suggested to me that I was not really white, I would advise them to get their eyes checked.

  91. Hey, you forgot adult-entertainer Jenna Jameson from the list. She was born Jenna Mazzoli.
    As for People 'Anglicizing' their names, it bears pointing out that names like Aniston (despite ending in 'ton') may sound like they're of British origin, but are in fact not typical of any ethnicity and are in fact fabricated. The motivation for changing names is not just to obscure one's ethnic backgroung, but also to have a name that is pleasant sounding and easy to say. After all, Archibald Leach is undoubtably Anglo-Saxon, but Cary Grant is certainly much more pleasing to the ear.

  92. I don't know if any of the previous comments have mentioned it before, but in regard to Jennifer Tilly her surname was most likely changed from Chan because of her parent's divorce. 'Tilly' was her mother's maiden name. Not really "whitened".

  93. Her parents divorce; thus, she takes her mother's maiden name? Less likely, though plausible.

  94. honeybrown - given that her sister, Meg Tilly, has also always been Meg Tilly, it seems to be the truth.

  95. Nicolas Cage changed his name because of his famous relative, Francis Ford Coppola, and he wanted to "make it on his own" and not be cast in movies simply because people knew he was related to the famous filmmaker. Or feel like he had a leg up.

    I can also imagine that Albert Brooks changed his name as to not be confused with the famous physicist.

    RE: Cary Grant... I don't think you can sound more anglo-saxon than "Archibald Alexander Leach."

    Most of these people listed are from the "Golden Age" of cinema when Jewish people were still being ostracized, and they changed their names (like thousands and thousands of other Jews) so they could get work. People forget how much Jews were discriminated against back in the 1940s and 1950s. Americans would like to think of themselves as the savior of the Jews or something because of how we aided with WWII and fought against the Nazis, but in reality, Americans hated the Jews. My grandfather came over to America to escape Nazism and found a new kind of hatred, so he changed his name. I think it was Hanus or Janus or something like that, and he changed it to John.

    A lot of the time, it wasn't for vanity reasons, it was so they could escape persecution. Even people who were Greek or Russian, or what have you, were persecuted. I honestly don't think they WANTED to sound more "white" but it was rather of necessity.

  96. Blacks in America always hear how immigrants come to America and made it, but it is never told how they made it. All they had to do was change their name and they were considered white or could pass for white. Blacks already had white names passed down from the slave master, but somehow white America could always tell that we were Black. When we went for employment, to buy property, start a business etc. and were denied basic human rights, for some reason unlike the immigrants who brag and boast they made it but never say how ( by denying who, what, where they came from, their religion etc. even as someone posted "didn't tell their own children and grandchildren their real names" and never had to live under Jim Crow, Red lining, city, state and federal laws backed up by the courts, police, and military to legalize the rape, lynching and torture against their men and women... Yet they love to admonish Blacks who already had the slave masters name about how they made it in America why can't they? Blacks who were able to pass for white, made it even further than most of the immigrants who believe, if they made it why can't the Blacks make it also.

  97. Excellent points, Mike, especially at the end, which bears repeating:

    Yet they love to admonish Blacks who already had the slave masters name about how they made it in America why can't they? Blacks who were able to pass for white, made it even further than most of the immigrants who believe, if they made it why can't the Blacks make it also.

    That's really interesting, a great way to highlight the value that the cloak of whiteness has . . . I hadn't thought about "passing" in that context before. Thank you for putting in that way. I'd love to see some stats on it (not that I doubt it's true -- I suspect it is true), but then, reliable stats would be hard to gather, since so many blacks who passed for white basically disappeared as blacks, and are thus uncountable.

  98. mike_from_brooklyn,

    You seem to have read the book of black revisionist history and taken it as fact.

    There's no doubt blacks had a huge extra measure of problems in the US during the first and second generations following the end of slavery.

    But you would have trouble finding another group that has been given more help -- both government and private -- than blacks.

    The NAACP was started by the founding families of Sears & Roebuck around 1910. There were -- and are -- 105 Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

    Moreover, despite the problems and hindrances to black life in the US, blacks have been coming here from every black nations on the planet.

    As for Jim Crow laws, well, yes, they were unfair and abusive. Those laws were ended. Meanwhile, Jews were facing plenty of discrimination. Apartment buildings refused to accept them as tenants. Colleges limited the number of Jewish students they would admit.

    The Irish, the Italians and the Japanese also experienced degrees of unwantedness in the US.

    Meanwhile, the practice of "redlining" reflected the nature of banking laws. Banks would not underwrite mortgages in neighborhoods where conditions for debt repayment were bad. That means neighborhoods where crime and property decay were overly abundant.

    In fact, this was good news for someone who had saved some money. Due to the lack of available financing, buildings in redlined neighborhoods sold for very little.

    Anyway, all the financing issues disappeared in the 1ate 1970s with the passage of the Community Reinvestment Act and the establishment of secondary mortgage markets. After that, banks were able to sell mortgages to other banks.

    Of course, the CRA was the first step on the slippery slope to the Mortgage Crisis of the past two years.

  99. no_slappz,

    You seem to have read the standard book of (white) American history and taken it as fact.

    And btw, it isn't just black people who seek a truer version of that history -- historians and other truth-seekers of all races seek it, and they're "revising" the standard, false version because in many respects it's exactly that -- false. It also "lies by omission," as James Loewen puts it in his book, Lies My Teacher Told Me (have you read it?).

    And speaking of lies by omission, your comment is a long list of that kind of lie. You seem to be wearing white blinders, which cause you to display a classic symptom of those who have thoroughly absorbed the lessons of a life-long training in American whiteness -- denial.

    I was raised under that tutelage as well, and it still affects how I see things. However, I've managed to dislodge my own white blinders enough to see that you're basically overlooking at least two important, large-scale facts: the ongoing psychological and material value of whiteness, and the enormous and continuing impact on non-white people of institutionalized white racism.

    You should stop living in white denial to the great extent that you clearly are; you could start with some basic readings on the tremendous and ongoing material benefits that white supremacy continues to have for white people, and on the ongoing, material effects on non-white people of white racism:

    Karen Brodkin, How the Jews Became White Folks (an especially relevant bit is excerpted here)

    An especially lucid interview on these processes in the late 20th century, with john a. powell

    George Lipsitz, The Possessive Investment in Whiteness

    Oliver & Shapiro, Black Wealth, White Wealth

    Go ahead, give them a try. All you have to lose is a good deal of your inculcated white oblivion. And what you'll gain, if you read them sincerely and openly, is a good deal of humanity.

  100. [Dear no_slappz,

    "blah, blah, blah"?

    If you're not even going to acknowledge what I wrote, then I'm not going to go on publishing what you write. Really, go read the sources I provided. Then come back and address, substantively, what they have to say. Chances are, you'd also get more of a clue then that this is a blog about stuff white people do, not stuff black people do.

    Sincerely, macon]

  101. Macon d,

    For starters, I think James Loewen is a screwball. Second the excerpt from How the Jews became White Folks is loaded with errors.

    Is it news to you that like Asians today, the number of Jews accepted at top colleges was Cut Back because they were doing so well in high school that they were displacing the traditional WASP crowds?

    The notion that the GI Bill was an Affirmative Action program turns the concept of Affirmative Action on its head. Jews had already Merited acceptance at the best colleges. It was not remedial work that was needed.

    Maybe you cannot admit the truth, but very few black students keep up with their white and asian competition.

    Here in NY City, the public school system operates on two tracks – General Education and Competitive Education. Every kid in the school system is repeatedly tested in math and English. The top 8% are channeled into special programs for the smart kids.

    Here in NY City, the school population is 35% black,35% Hispanic, 14% asian, 14% white and 2% other. At the best competitive public schools, the percentage of students who are asian is 50%. Whites account for about 40%. Blacks and Hispanics combined account for about 8%.

    The “minority” kids are given massive amounts of remedial assistance. Free. There are city, state and federal programs that exist to help the “minority” students. Nevertheless, when kids take the tests to get into the special schools, blacks and Hispanics rarely make the cut. Moreover, years and years of test data show that a stunningly huge percentage have poor English and math skills.

    Believe what you want, but the poor showing is not the fault of whites.

    John Powell -- well, roughly everything he stated is out of date. And, like most black critics of the white world, he spends his time dredging the past to support his claims for the present.

    Lipsitz and his Possessive Investment in Whiteness. More mumbo-jumbo from someone who knows nothing about science or economics.

    Black Wealth/White Wealth – another tired tract driven by belief in black victimization. Take note of the fact that NOT ONE economist praised the book. The blurb writers are all sociologists who expect the same back-patting from the author when their next books are published.

  102. macon d,

    If you want to read a few books on the subject of race, try Jim Sleeper and The Closest of Strangers.

    There are quite a few good books that take an honest look at things. But, unfortunately those books are not on your reading list.

    Meanwhile, when it comes to knowing how things are going for people of every race, religion, creed, ethnicity and nationality, there's nothing like living in the middle of it all.

    Every day I see what people do. Anyway, as I said, if your thesis of whiteness were valid, then presence of successful black nations would be the proof.

  103. James Loewen is a "screwball"? What? You think ad hominems are going to get you somewhere here? Address what he writes, not what you think he is.

    Second the excerpt from How the Jews became White Folks is loaded with errors.

    Such as? Again, baseless rejections like that aren't going to get you anywhere here.

    Is it news to you that like Asians today, the number of Jews accepted at top colleges was Cut Back because they were doing so well in high school that they were displacing the traditional WASP crowds?

    No, it's not. They were also Cut Back, and kept out, because WASP's found them "loud" and "pushy." Sounds like white supremacy to me. But Jews did better than blacks and other groups in part because they were allowed into what Brodkin rightly calls an expanding notion of whiteness. Blacks were not, and thus continued to reap the opposite of white privilege. Sounds like white supremacy to me.

    John Powell -- well, roughly everything he stated is out of date. And, like most black critics of the white world, he spends his time dredging the past to support his claims for the present.

    Wrong. He explains facets of racialized residential segregation and subjugation in the second half of the last century that still subjugate black people today.

    You insist on ignoring a myriad of environmental influences on the relative lack of black economic success (including Western/white meddling in so-called "black nations").

    So what's your explanation? That blacks are just less intelligent? If that's what you think, why not say it? Oh right -- because you're not a racist.

    Black Wealth/White Wealth – another tired tract driven by belief in black victimization.

    Change "belief" to "proof" and I'd agree with you. You should read it, and not the blurbs, before you dismiss it.

    There are quite a few good books that take an honest look at things. But, unfortunately those books are not on your reading list.

    The books on my list are entirely honest, especially when they puncture holes in self-aggrandizing myths propagated by white America.

    So you live "in the middle of it all." Are you a teacher, by chance? I ask because you remind me of two white teachers of black youth that I talked to awhile back.

    Anyway, you're obviously calcified in your beliefs that white supremacy is a thing of the past, that whiteness is now benign, and that black people in dire circumstances have no one but themselves to blame for that.

    Sad, really. You're denying yourself, and others, a better version of yourself.

  104. James Loewen is a "screwball"?


    What? You think ad hominems are going to get you somewhere here?

    Address what he writes, not what you think he is.

    Loewen writes:

    "Did you know that the automobile was invented in rural Wisconsin? That a Texas preacher beat the Wright brothers by a year, in a plane inspired by the word of God? That four different people in three different states "first" used anesthesia in an operation? That Abraham Lincoln was born in a cabin in Kentucky built 30 years after his death? Those things never happened, of course, but the landscape commemorates them anyway."

    Loewen, like you and many others, seem to believe that being "first" is all that matters.

    If the car were invented by a former slave in Mississippi; if the first plane were built and flown by a black backyard engineer or the first person to use anesthesia was a black surgeon, it would be okay with me AND it would make NO difference to the world.

    The Japanese are great copy-cats. But they are not great inventors. They are excellent engineers. They make good things better. The Japanese economy is testimony to their intellectual strengths. But they do NOT lead when it comes to innovation.

    Does it matter? No.

    Japan is the only country in the world where Japanese is spoken. The population is about 175 million, about a quarter of the world's black population.

    Has their langauge barrier or their small numbers kept them from developing one of history's most prosperous economies? No.

    Meanwhile, when it comes to athletics, blacks dominate. There will never be another white heavyweight boxing champ. In fact, the days of whites reaching the top of any weight class are over.

    Basketball. Football. Baseball Now tennis and golf. Blacks dominate.

    Clearly they are better than the competition. I believe that is good news because the competitors with the greatest skill and talent receive their just rewards. Merit.

    All things evolve. The first car might have some aspects in common with today's vehicles, but today's vehicle is the sum total of 110 years of annual improvements coming from engineers around the world.

    Athletics? We get better every year. But some groups are simply better than others. No problem.

  105. macon d, you wrote:

    "So what's your explanation? That blacks are just less intelligent? If that's what you think, why not say it? Oh right -- because you're not a racist.

    Black culture is the cause of black difficulties. Fatherlessness, illegitimacy, violence, low academic achievement and excessive substance abuse are the culprits.

    Again, whether you or not you can face the reality, there are some well understood paths to social and economic well being.

    Black culture ignores reality and the results speak for themselves.

  106. Basically Blacks are stupid AND uncivilized.

    Um, macon, is THIS an example of your new moderating because it smacks a LOT of the whole "Black women are all welfare sluts" guy you kept letting comment because you didn't know he was being an asshole (how you couldn't suss that out, I'll never know).

    Here's a clue for you, skillz IS being an anti-Black asshole.

  107. Or slappz, whatever the sheet-and-hood-wearer's name is.

  108. I'm still working with it, Witchsistah.

    I might still let the occasional clueless comment through, especially when it's 100 comments into an old thread, which means that there's basically not a conversation there to derail anymore.

    What I think happened here was that a seemingly civilized commenter got drawn out by me into exposing the truly uncivilized brutality beneath that mask (I deleted another comment in that latest outburst that was even worse). I'm still tempted by the argument that occasional sparring with such people can be useful, as some commenters have written.

    As I said, I'm still working with it.

  109. No_slappz,

    Please refrain from posting here until you have some valid points that aren't easily refutable. Do you even try in your trolling? Every single word you post is a laughably redundant course of action perpetuate by anyone with less than a Bachelor's degree.

    Black culture ignores reality? Hmm. Interesting. Would that be the culture that created American music? Or, would it be the one that invented the gas mask, traffic light, first successful open-heart surgical procedure?

    Step away from the adult pool and waddle in the kiddie pond? But, please make sure you have floaties on. I have a feeling that you may require them the most.

    Witchsistah, here's some food for thought: The oppressor always puts his (or her, let's be fair) negative attributes on the oppressed.

  110. [No thanks, no slappz. You take it over here instead.]

  111. >The Japanese are great copy-cats. But they are not great inventors.

    What's your definition of 'invention'? Sounds different from mine. Here's what the Japanese invented (at least according to wiki), but obviously you don't think of them as inventions, eh? How many of these do you own?:

    Compact Disc player
    Digital audio
    Portable CD player
    Solar-powered calculator
    Digital camera
    Videocassette recorder
    Blu-ray Disc
    Flash memory
    Floppy disk
    Bullet train
    Flat panel display

    The American page includes things like cream cheese and thumbtacks. If we were to include Japanese inventions along those lines, then the list would be endless coz we'd have to include things like sushi and kimono.

    My point is, STOP STEREOTYPING!

  112. fromthetropics, like most people who fall for superficial claims, you have allowed yourself to be fooled.

    The Compact Disc itself was developed by Philips Electronics -- located in the Netherlands. The Compact Disc Player followed and was the result of a collaborative effort between Philips and Sony.

    Sony made important improvements to the existing Philips technology. That's what the Japanese always do, and I praise them for it.

    Moreover, the key element of the Compact Disc Player is the Laser that "reads" the CD. That laser has its roots in the US.

    You seem to think these consumer products were designed from the ground up by one firm.

    Again, these products combine the intellectual output of scientists and engineers from around the world. And, once again, I am deeply grateful for the major contributions of the Japanese and all the other smart people who deliver these fantastic products.

    Meanwhile, if you think the US is lacking in the innovation department, then you are painfully unaware of the activities at the US Patent Office.

  113. >Meanwhile, if you think the US is lacking in the innovation department, then you are painfully unaware of the activities at the US Patent Office.

    Did I say they're lacking? No. I just mentioned the cream cheese in case you start comparing the two lists on that site.

    And so are you suggesting that US patent activities are mostly made up of 'inventions' built from the "ground up", while the activities in the Japanese patent office aren't? Can you please provide some statistics?

  114. fromthetropics,

    If you stop feeding it, it will probably go away.

  115. oooohhhh. okay. It's an 'it'. Thanks for the reminder RVCBard :)

  116. fromthetropics,

    macon d has the unfortunate habit of choosing which of my comments to post. Oh well.

    Anyway, the point of my comments boils down to the fact that asians and whites are responsible for virtuallly all scientific and engineering advancements throughout the history of man.

    It's that simple.

    Except for those who actually hold the patents, the "inventors" themselves are not important. Though they are great role models.

    The key is that inventors exist and that they synthesize knowledge and theory to give the world great things.

  117. No Slappz,

    That's not even true. I'm no expert on where inventions come from, so I can't speak to certain groups, but WTF are you leaving out Arabs? They invented algebra, for fuck's sake.

  118. Jillian,

    If you stop feeding it, it will probably go away.

  119. This really is bull. You can't turn EVERYTHING into a "White" thing. You are cheapening your argument by doing that. This is ONLY about Anglicization. Purely and simply. In many cases, the original name would never be considered non-white, but rather "less" in different ways: German names are not acceptable, cause 'all Germans are Nazis' e.g. Jewish names are not acceptable due to antisemitism. Other names which will not be assumed typically to be non-White (such as the Dutch names)and the Italian names are deemed "too difficult" to pronounce.

  120. Other names which will not be assumed typically to be non-White (such as the Dutch names)and the Italian names are deemed "too difficult" to pronounce.

    Interesting usage of the passive voice there, KD. Who does that deeming?

  121. Ohhh it's another version of the "damaging your cause" argument from derailing for dummies. Woo!

  122. I get the general idea, but this list is a bit harmed by the inclusion of people like Iggy Pop, Jon Bon Jovi and Alice Cooper whose name changes can hardly be described as simply 'whitening' and a lot of people whose original names are not non-white sounding in any way shape or form. If anything, people like Elvis Costello and Harry Houdini have un-whitened their names.

  123. Nicolas Cage, I believe, changed his name in order to distance himself from the Coppola family- of whom there are at least two very successful name-bearers operating in Hollywood today (Francis Ford and Sofia Coppola).

    As for Natalie Portman, I believe Portman was actually her (Jewish) grandmother's maiden name, which she took on as an actress to preserve her privacy. She may be white, but she's always been pretty outspoken about the Jewish part of her identity- never made an attempt to 'pass' as Anglo, so to speak.

    I can give you one more to add to the list, though:
    Kalpen Mehta---> Kal Penn.


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