Myth Trivia: The Hollywood name game, Rome and geography

The inside story on Hollywood naming traditions, Roman history, customs and statues, and some fun facts on Shalotte, N. C. And no, we didn't misspell Charlotte.

Restored original reduced-size model of Roman trireme actually used in the 1959 MGM film, "Ben-Hur." (Via Wikipedia entry on "Ben Hur," CC 2.0 license via Flickr)

CHARLOTTE, N.C., August 31, 2016 – Other than coming in the middle of the week, one of the great things about trivia day is that it’s an opportunity to forget, however briefly, all the daily political and global strife in deference to water cooler-ready factoids.

1 – What’s in a name?: We all know that many entertainers change their names to something that will offer more marketability. Among the best known name changes in Hollywood lore are Norma Jean Baker (Marilyn Monroe), Archibald Leach (Cary Grant) and Marion Morrison (John Wayne).

But did you know that the Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG), which merged with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) in 2012 to become SAG-AFTRA, only allows one celebrity to have a particular name?

That created a problem for Michael J. Fox whose real name was Michael A. Fox, Unfortunately for Michael, the Guild already had a Michael A. Fox on the roster.

In similar fashion, Michael Keaton changed his name because he was born, Michael Douglas. The same is true of Stewart Granger, who was James Stewart at birth.

Other stars “adjusted” their names so they would not be mistaken for other celebs such as Katy Perry and David Bowie. Perry was born Kathryn Hudson but thought it was too similar to Kate Hudson. Bowie’s real name was David Jones, but he feared being confused with Monkees singer Davy Jones.

Other oddities include Louis C.K. whose real name is Louis Szekely. Luckily for Louis, “C.K.” also happens to be the way to pronounce “Szekely.”

Can you guess who Eric Bishop is these days? He’s Jamie Foxx. He chose the name Jamie because it gave him a better chance for stand-up slots during his early days honing his craft at comedy clubs. Back then, women got better time slots so by using “Jamie” so the ambiguity of that handle sometimes gave Foxx a later, more desirible starting time.

As for Foxx, he chose that part of his name in honor of his idol Redd Foxx, who, by the way, was really Jon Elroy Sanford. Does that ring a bell?

Natalie Herschlag became Natalie Portman. Stevie Wonder does have a nicer ring than Steveland Judkins. Or how about Maurice Mickelwhite who liked Humphrey Bogart so much in “The Caine Mutiny” that he became Michael Caine.

Of course there are some stars who did retain their own identity such as Prince who was Prince Rogers Nelson. Madonna is actually Madonna Ciccone and Rihanna really is Robyn Rihanna Fenty. Taylor Swift, Keira Knightly, Powers Booth, Tom Cruise and Ray Charles are all real names, although in the case of Cruise and Charles, they did drop their given last names.

Two of the better monikers in recent memory, however ,are Cherilyn Sarkisisan who simply became “Cher” and Wolf Blitzer, whose real name is… Wolf Blitzer. What a great name for a journalist.

Finally, there’s comedian Albert Brooks. Believe it or not, Brooks was born Albert Einstein. Now that’s funny.

2 – When in Rome: With the arrival of the 2016 “Ben Hur” at your local cinema, it seems appropriate to contribute a bit of Roman trivia.

One of the classic episodes in the Charlton Heston version and the current remake is a scene in which slaves are forced to row a ship at ever increasing speeds to the tempo of a rapid drum beat.

In truth, slaves were generally employed as rowers only during times when the Romans had minimal available manpower or when an extreme emergency arose. Most of the time, the rowers who powered the ships were paid freedmen possessed of incredible strength and endurance.

Speaking of slaves, Hollywood loves to portray gladiators as slaves or prisoners and always presents them as men. Early on, there were actually professional freeborn citizens who participated in the competitions, and, yes, some were women.

Films set in ancient Rome often portray gladiator/slaves as capable of winning their freedom if successful in the arena. In fact, like Sumo wrestlers in Japan, some gladiators were celebrities and even became wealthy in the process.

Eventually, in 19 B.C., the Roman government banned freeborn competitors and by 200 A.D., under the rule of Emperor Septimus Severus, only men were permitted to fight in the arena.

When visitors travel to Italy and marvel at the dramatic marble sculptures dating from the Roman Empire. Today, the statues are are generally completely white, given the medium from which they were carved. In ancient times however, statues were often brightly colored, almost to the point of being overly gaudy.

At the Vatican Museums located just outside St. Peter’s Basilica, a replica of a sculpture of Julius Caesar has been painted to look as it would have appeared during the pinnacle of Rome’s power. It is a stark contrast to what travelers see today and how those statues are portrayed in Hollywood movies.

3 – Geography lesson: If you can picture North and South Carolina in your mind you probably envision that the Tarheel State is called “North” Carolina because it is geographically above its smaller sister.

Though that’s indeed true, due to a geographical quirk, the town of Shalotte, N.C., which is part of Brunswick County in the Southeastern corner of the state, is also considered part of the Myrtle Beach, S.C. metropolitan area.

Though it may be hard to believe until you look at a map, more than half of South Carolina is north of Shalotte, N.C.

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Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.

Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (

Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News

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