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Why & When Marilyn Monroe Changed Her Name From Norma Jeane

Marilyn Monroe’s real name was Norma Jeane, but she eventually changed her legal name to her stage one – and here’s when and why she did that.

Marilyn Monroe’s real name was Norma Jeane, but she eventually legally changed her name to “Marilyn Monroe” – and here’s the story behind her name. The 1950s saw the rise of many Hollywood stars who are now considered icons and legends in film history, and one who has become a pop culture icon is Marilyn Monroe. Her career in the entertainment business started in the late 1940s when she became a pin-up model, during which Monroe started pursuing a career in acting, and in 1946, she signed a six-month contract with 20th Century Fox.

Marilyn Monroe’s acting career began with bit parts in the movies Dangerous Years and Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!, but her contract wasn’t renewed at Fox. However, Monroe continued working towards a career in acting and her rise to fame started when she played small roles in the comedies As Young as You FeelLove Nest, and Let’s Make It Legal before her big break in 1953 with the film noir Niagara and the comedies Gentlemen Prefer Blonde and How to Marry a Millionaire. Three years later, she legally changed her name to “Marilyn Monroe”, putting a definitive end to “Norma Jeane” and with that leaving her troubled past behind, though her new name was still linked to it due to the inspirations behind it.

The Inspirations Behind Marilyn Monroe’s Name

Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jeane Mortenson, and during her modeling career in the 1940s, she occasionally went by “Jean Norman”. After signing her first contract with Fox, she and Fox executive Ben Lyon started looking for a stage name for her. Lyon suggested “Marilyn” as her first name as she reminded him of Broadway star Marilyn Miller (who also had a complicated and ultimately tragic life), while she suggested “Monroe” as her new last name as that was her mother’s maiden name (Marilyn’s grandparents were Della Mae Monroe and Otis Elmer Monroe). Marilyn reportedly got many other name suggestions (via Time) before settling on “Marilyn Monroe”, and in a letter to a friend, dated October 1946, she shared that among the names considered were “Clare Norman”, “Meredith”, and “Carol Lind”. Four months before her marriage to Arthur Miller, in February 1956, Marilyn legally changed her name to her stage name, and Norma Jeane essentially ceased to exist.

Why Marilyn Monroe Changed Her Name

By the time Monroe met Lyon and her career switched from pin-up model to actress, she was married to James Dougherty, so she went by “Norma Jeane Dougherty”. However, according to biographer Donald Spoto, Lyon thought there were too many pronunciations of the last name “Dougherty”, so the search for a stage name was necessary. However, there were other, more personal reasons for Monroe to look for a different name when her acting career was about to begin. In her unfinished autobiography, My Story, written with Ben Hecht (via CheatSheet), Monroe shared she didn’t relate to the name “Norma Jeane” as she associated it with her troubled childhood and the feelings of abandonment and neglect that followed her through those years.

Monroe also hinted in My Story that she saw the name “Norma Jeane” as “unwanted”, “shy”, “an orphanage slave”, and “a little servant girl”, and so she eventually found the empowering identity she had been looking for in “Marilyn Monroe”. Monroe’s name change has a much deeper and tragic meaning and story than it seems, as she struggled with her troubled past and all her trauma during her whole life, and while changing her name to “Marilyn Monroe” gave her some freedom, the rest of her days continued to be tragic in different ways.

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