10 Famous Immigrants Who Changed Their Names After Arriving in America

Ever heard that you can’t find your ancestors because their names were changed upon their arrival at Ellis Island? Though this tale is actually quite a tall one, some people did change their names later in life for various reasons. You may know some family members who have done this, but it’s an even more popular occurrence among famous celebrities.

But whatever the reasons may be behind the surname (and even first name) changes of both your ancestors and celebrities, they do occur —just not by the discretion of Ellis Island clerks. In fact, the Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Foundation who has provided information on some famous celebrities of yesteryear who willingly changed their names after immigrating to the United States. Do any of your ancestors share the original surnames of these famous immigrants?

10 Real Names of Famous Celebrities from Yesteryear with Not-So-Famous Given Names

Famous Name: Irving Berlin
Given Name: Israel Beilin
Claim to Fame: Songwriter
Arrived in America: Sept. 14th, 1893

Irving Berlin is considered one of the greatest American songwriters who ever lived. You likely know the words to some of his most popular compositions like “White Christmas,” “God Bless America” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” But what you probably don’t know is that this Russian Jew was given the name, Israel Beilin. 

Famous Name: Bob Hope

Given Name: Leslie Hape

Claim to Fame: Actor & Comedian

Arrived in America: March 30th, 1908

When Bob Hope was born, he was given the English name, Leslie Hape, before he embarked on a 60-year career as an famous television, film, radio and Broadway actor.

Famous Name: Xavier Cugat
Given Name: Javier Cugat
Claim to Fame: Violinist & Bandleader
Arrived in America: July 6th, 1915

Xavier Cugat was born in Spain and immigrated to the United States where he popularized Latin music. Also known as “The Rumba King, ”Xavier’s given name was Javier.

Famous Name: Arthur Murray
Given Name: Moses Teichmann
Claim to Fame: Dancer
Arrived in America: August 31st, 1897

Arthur Murray, or Moses Teichmann, was a famous dance instructor who taught other famous people such as Eleanor Roosevelt, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Elizabeth Arden and the Duke of Windsor how to dance. You may recognize Mr. Murray’s name from the dance studio chain that also bears it.

Famous Name: Stan Laurel
Given Name: Arthur Stanley Jefferson
Claim to Fame: Actor & Comedian
Arrived in America: October 9th, 1912

You may know this famous name from the Laurel and Hardy comedic duo. Famously known as Stan Laurel, this funny actor’s given name was actually Arthur Stanley Jefferson. 

Famous Name: Claudette Colbert
Given Name: Lily Chauchoin
Claim to Fame: Actress
Arrived in America: October 9th, 1911

Born in France, Claudette Colbert’s original name was Lily Chauchoin. You probably recognize this Academy Award-winning actress from her roles in, It Happened One Night, Private Worlds and Since You Went Away

Famous Name: Rudolph Valentino
Given Name: Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d’Antonguolla
Claim to Fame: Silent Movie Actor
Arrived in America: December 23rd, 1913

The Italian-born “Latin Lover” Rudolph Valentino was famously known for his roles in several popular silent films — and for his tragic death at the young age of 31. His real name is quite long, and likely why it was changed to something much shorter and Americanized. Try this one for a true tongue-twister: Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d’Antonguolla.

Famous Name: Cary Grant
Given Name: Archibald Alec Leach
Claim to Fame: Actor
Arrived in America: July 28th, 1920

Cary Grant was an English stage actor named Archibald Alec Leach before becoming one of Hollywood’s most defining leading men in film. His good looks, debonair demeanor and transatlantic accent were more well-known than his real name, though. 

Famous Name: Charles Atlas
Given Name: Angelo Siciliano
Claim to Fame: Bodybuilder & Entrepreneur
Arrived in America: September 11th, 1903

Italian-born Charles Atlas’ bodybuilding program was very popular with young boys who wanted to bulk up. In 1922, he changed his given name, Angelo Siciliano, to Charles Atlas because a friend told him he looked like the Statue of Atlas that sat atop a Coney Island hotel. 

Famous Name: Johnny Weissmuller
Given Name: Johann Weissmuller
Claim to Fame: Actor & Olympian
Arrived in America: January 26th, 1905

Austro-Hungarian-American Olympic swimmer and actor, Johnny Weissmuller used to have a far-less American first name — Johann. You likely know him by another fictional name though: Tarzan.

Do you or your ancestors share first or last names with these famous celebrities? Be sure to record the stories behind your ancestors’ names in your family tree! Name changes, or simply different spelling variations, can make tracing that elusive ancestor even more difficult. Give us a shout if your ideas have run out @traceyourpast.com 

Eager to research your immigrant ancestors in their homeland, make sure and check out our course "A Complete Guide to Immigration & Naturalization," where you can learn how to identify the specific location of birth and original names of your ancestors, paving the way to expanding your family tree and potentially obtaining dual citizenship.

(Thanks to Crestleaf family tree for sharing their blog post with us.)

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Written by

December 1, 2016
Wesley is the founder of hello@traceyourpast.com.

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