Wikipedia picture of Archibald Leach.

Wikipedia picture of Archibald Leach.



Ben Franklin wrote as Silence Dogood, Polly Baker, Busy Body and other names.

Ben Franklin wrote as Silence Dogood, Polly Baker, Busy Body and other names.

One of Hollywood’s classic leading men from the 1930s-1963 was Cary Grant. An interviewer once told him, “Everyone would like to be Cary Grant,” to which Cary replied, “So would I.” He was actually born Archibald Alexander Leach in Horfield, Bristol, England.

In addition to choosing a writing pseudonym, entering the Witness Protection Program or taking on a more appealing stage name, there are many reasons people change their names. Although Shakespeare wrote that a rose by any other name would be as sweet, I agree with L.M. Montgomery’s character, Anne, who said this in ANNE OF GREEN GABLES. “…I don’t believe a rose would be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage.”

My mother grew up being called Mary Ibbeth when other children had trouble pronouncing Elizabeth. My brother called me Mayno until he could say Marylin. Mary Ann Evans wrote under the name George Eliot to be taken more seriously than women writers of her time. And Mark Sinclair changed his acting name to Vin Diesel. I assume it’s for VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) and DIESEL (a type of gas used in a diesel engine) which fits with FAST AND FURIOUS.

When I was growing up, almost all my friends hated their names at some time or another, and we’d talk about the names we’d rather have. All of us ended up sticking to our given name, or shortening it to a nickname. One of my favorite examples of choosing a significant name is by Patricia Briggs in RIVER MARKED. “Mercy is not a proper Indian name.”… “Rash Coyote Who Runs with Wolf … We could shorten it to Dinner Woman.”

I once thought that if I had to change my name for some reason, I’d use my first nickname, Mayno, and add my mother’s (and my daughter’s) middle name, Elizabeth.  It just didn’t feel right. You know what they say about a rose—or a thistle—by any other name.

Mom's dementia has her remembering being a child on the farm. During this visit I called her Mary Ibbeth as I read a poem about farms.  She just smiled.

Mom’s dementia has her remembering being a child on the farm. During this visit I called her Mary Ibbeth as I read a poem about farms. She kept her eyes closed, but she smiled.

Child carrying stack of books ~ statue at main library in Colorado Springs.  If you got books by Deanna Dwyer, Leigh Nichols, or David Axton, who wrote them? (Dean Koontz)

Child carrying stack of books ~ statue at main library in downtown Colorado Springs. If you got books by Deanna Dwyer, Leigh Nichols, or David Axton, who wrote them? (Dean Koontz)

The doll of Dorothy from THE WIZARD OF OZ.  The movie role was played by Frances Ethel Gumm (aka Judy Garland)

The doll of Dorothy from THE WIZARD OF OZ. The movie role was played by Frances Ethel Gumm (aka Judy Garland)



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79 responses to “A THISTLE BY ANY OTHER NAME

  1. I know all about names, it would have been so easy to go from Gerlinde to Linda when I moved to the U.S but it didn’t feel right. My name was my name, so it stayed with me for all these years. And wouldn’t you know it, it sounded good once I added my married name.

  2. I grew up being called Michael or Mike by many family members because my father was also called David and no-one wanted confusion. It never felt right and I couldn’t wait to be called David by those outside the family. Once my father died I only ever used David which does feel right. But despite my age, I really dislike people calling me Mr Prosser as I always feel that belongs to my father..
    When younger it was fun to use made up names and create personalities to use with them. Dr Ramon Hidalgo the horse specialist ,but I promise I never tried to pick up a girl with ‘trust me I’m a doctor’
    I inherited the title far too late in life for picking up girls.but I wonder if it would have worked anyway.Maybe if there was no optician in the area .
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    • Dr. Ramon Hidalgo–doesn’t that go with the movie Hidalgo?–but I’m glad you didn’t try to pick up girls with the “Trust me, I’m a doctor” line. Your natural charm would have been enough, David. 😉

  3. For some of us, blogs give a chance to play with names. I had no desire to be called Gallivanta till I started a blog. 😉 As a child I wanted to change my name to Katrine. Possibly because I had come across the name in a book by either Victoria Holt or Anya Seton, both of whom used pen names. Nowadays I am very fond of my own names; wouldn’t want to change them at all, particularly not to thistle or skunk cabbage, and not even to Rose.

    • I read the name Katherine in a Victoria Holt book, and for awhile it was one of the names I wished for, so we were on the same track! And I’m very happy with my name now, so it must be one of those natural things we go through as kids, wanting to define ourselves.

  4. Just for fun, you may like to check out my latest post, where I have written a poem inspired by your limerick. 😉

    • Gallivanta, I read “Trinity” and loved it! A have a friend who just began writing poems about the members of her family. She hasn’t missed a day of writing at least one poem so far this month, and the results are amazing. She says it’s taken on a rhythm and strength she never expected.

      • Thank you for your encouragement, Marylin. Your friend definitely has the right approach. How lovely. Something for me to work on. 🙂

      • Let me know if if works for you, Gallivanta, and I’ll tell my friend. I’m not a poet, but I find that if I work on writing fiction or nonfiction for at least 30 minutes a day–regardless if I feel inspired or not–somehow around the fourth or fifth day I’ll find the energy and enthusiasm kicking in.

  5. Don

    Interesting post Marylin. In South Africa, among certain groups of people, naming a person has serious implications and any form of name changing would be anathema. For them, a person becomes his/her name. Naming has some kind of creating power. I suppose a bit like the Biblical understanding of naming. I loved the little statue of the child carrying the books.

    • Don, when Alex Haley’s book ROOTS came out, several students in one of my English classes were fascinated by the “naming” rituals in Africa, the father lifting the baby up toward the moon and stars and speaking the name three times. One researched his great grandfather’s naming ritual and learned where his own middle name had come from. There is a strength that comes with knowing the source and reason of your name, I think.

  6. Such a sweet name Mary Ibbeth and how touching that in your using it, it brought a smile to your mother’s face.

    • It’s difficult with dementia to know when you might connect, Georgette. For several months my mom seemed to be existing in her childhood on the farm, and then her mind moved to a different time. When she smiled at the name Mary Ibbeth after I read the farm poem, I felt like it had been just the right moment to connect with that memory.

  7. Also Marion Mitchell Morrison would not have stood so tall nor appeared so tough in Hollywood as did as he managed after changing that moniker to John Wayne…

  8. Jim

    I think you are right, Marylin. Every kid wants to try out another name at some point during childhood. I remember thinking ‘Bobby’ was way more cool than Jimmy. So I announced to my mom that I was henceforth BOBBY. My mom answered, “Okay, Robert.” “No, I said, Bobby,” I quipped back. “You have to be Robert before you can Bobby,” my mom replied. My mom tried to explain. When I finally got it, I dropped Bobby because I didn’t like Robert. Oh, how difficult it was to be a child! 🙂

    • How traumatic would that be for a boy who wanted to be Bobby! I like Jim much better, so I’m glad your mom talked you out of making the change. She had a special way of calmly handling things, like when you went through the boyish “spitting” stage and she sat you on the sofa, handed you a bowl and said to “fill it.” 🙂 I love you lots, “Bobby”!

  9. Nancy Parker Brummett

    I was recently reading the verse in Revelation that says we will get a small white stone when we get to heaven–with our new name on it! Wonder what our names will be then? 🙂

    • I attended a birthday luncheon for an 80-year-old friend, and as we left, her granddaughter had us reach in a basket and take out a “blessing” stone to take with us. Each stone had a word carved in the center: love, peace, joy, faith, etc. It was a touching keepsake, Nancy; how wonderful to look forward to ultimately receiving the final stone with our new name on it!

  10. calvin

    We name everything don’t we. It all must have a label, an identifier. But that is basically all it is in language, a proper noun -an association. It is the contents of the vessel which matters.

    My sister at age eight, this was before I was even born, came home from school an declared from this time onward she’d be no longer known as Charlottie but rather Sherry. I think I was fifteen before I even knew her real name. Now in her Sixties, I sometimes throw out Charlottie just to see her cringe.

    Good shtufffs was this post. An one which volumes of books could be written. As it goes to so much of how we think and see of ourselves as well as others.

    • That’s so interesting, Calvin. Did she legally change her name, or was it something she just decided to call herself? You’re right, it is the contents of the vessel that matters over the label. But just ask any substitute teacher what happens when the students decide before class to trade names and answer to the wrong name when the substitute takes role. 😉

      • calvin

        Response to last sentence. Guilty as charged. Doubt if it comes as a surprise either.

        No she never has, She does use it on legal documents. ie birth certificate and passport, apparently in this country when one deals in banks they don’t care about your proper name just your Social Insurance number. So it seldom comes up.

  11. I love that your mother was called, Mary Ibbeth. My good friend is named, Pilar. People always struggled with her name, so she goes by Pili. 🙂

  12. Smiles – all smiles – as I remember wanting a different name. My maiden name was short, only three letters. Many of my children had long last names and I always wanted a longer last name. There were many polish people living in the neighboring communities and they all had “ski” at the end of their last name. I would add the “ski” to the end of my name to extend it…so silly. My favorite first name has always been Elizabeth. When playing “school” or
    “house” growing up I was always Elizabeth. And then came my little sister, who my mother, after many requests from me, named Elizabeth. Great post Marylin! Thank you for jogging the memories! XO

    • You’re very welcome, “Elizabeth Grahamski”! 😉
      My mother had planned to name her daughter Karen, but two years before I was born Mom’s sister named her daughter Karen and Mom didn’t think the family should have two of us with the same name. But three years after my brother David was born, my other aunt named her son David. I never figured that out, how favorite names were dropped because of some perceived proper way of doing things.
      In fact, just talking about this now makes me feel like I’m in kindergarten again! 😉

      • No, this is not a good idea (naming girls after cars!) but I do think there is a vehicle named “Dakota” which comes, I believe from Native Americans, and like this for a boy’s name, Marylin.
        Another thought I should have looked his ‘real’ name up, but Bob Hope sure did have a great name for the kind of man he seemed to be. He spread hope among the soldiers for years, along with helping us to enjoy his light-hearted characters, too.

  13. I like this post, Marylin for so many reasons. I wish people would be able to continue to be called their ‘real’ names, but do feel that stars and other reasons may have to intervene and make the nicknames or stage names come about. I think it is fascinating when you read about how different famous people’s names are. I went for a summer as “Beth,” since my middle name was Elizabeth. Robin is a great name, but I do tire of the jokes, even adults ask me silly questions. . . “Do I fly south in the winter?” “Where’s Batman?” and my least favorite, while in kindergarten, I would turn bright red! “Do you have a redbreast?”
    I like that by calling your mother “Mary Ibbeth,” she smiles. Perfect!

    • Robin, you really took some teasing! I always liked “bird name” references. I knew a girl named Robin, and she had two younger twin sisters named Wren and Sparrow. It sounds hokey now, but they were happy, bright girls who had the rest of us wishing we had such great names. It wasn’t until many years later that I I learned that the twins had both hated their names, so you just never know.

      • I like the idea of Wren and Sparrow, too. I hope I have never shared this before, maybe afraid of being repetitive. My aunt named her girls for the flowers or berry of the season they were born. I admired their names and so far, they are in their 50’s I have never heard they didn’t like their names, Marylin. (Holly was born in December, Heather in August and Laurel Hope was born in the Spring.) I am glad you shared the twins’ names and like them very much. I always felt that River, Joaquin and the other members of the Phoenix family sounded like ‘hippie’ children. Was so sad when River died. Not sure if it was an accident? Anyway, this was a lively conversation opener, Marylin!

      • I like what your aunt did, Robin, and it sounds like your cousins didn’t complain, either. My father owned several car dealerships, and as much as he appreciated cars, he felt bad for the daughters of a family who named them Cadillac and Pontiac (and their last name rhymed with the first name).

  14. juliabarrett

    I love Ibbeth! What a wonderful name! I detest my name- my real non-author name. Have I ever grown accustomed to it? Nope. It’s not me. Therefore I ignore it emotionally although I answer to it physically.

    • I love your pseudonym, Julia, and it seems to fit you so well. The name on your non-fiction book doesn’t strike the same chord with me, but that’s probably because I think of you as Julia Rachel. I’ve known only two friends who actually legally changed their names, and one chose a perfect “fit” with her new name. I’m still getting used to the other’s new name, and it’s been almost ten years, but I knew her for a very long time with her original name.

      • juliabarrett

        I’d change my real name but there’s no other name I prefer. I’m sorta used to my name, I guess, despite my dislike.

      • You’re right, Julia. As much as I protested my name, now it’s been mine so long that it’s “me” and I wouldn’t change it.

  15. It’s both eerie and delightful that you and I have chosen to write about the same theme today, mine entitled “What’s in a Name?” Apparently we are both fascinated by the power of names and implications of naming.

    Who knew that Cary Grant’s birth name could summon the memory of his writer counterpart, Archibald MacLeish!

  16. This has happened to us several times, Marian. I think we’re on the same wave length. 😉

  17. I always disliked my name and wanted something more interesting, but I grew to like it and now I wouldn’t change it. My parents were so sure I’d be a boy they hadn’t picked a girl’s name – I was going to be called John Ronald. Andrea was the result of trying to think of something once I was born 🙂

    • For parents set on naming a baby son John Ronald, they made a good fast switch and named their baby daughter Andrea! One of my teachers told us her parents expected a boy and had chosen John Louis as the name; when she was born they made a few changes and named her Johnna Louisa. She was not happy, she said, and told us that when she was in 3rd grade she started calling herself “Johnna the Loser”!

  18. I have changed my name. More about that in a future post.

  19. When I was young and single, I often gave out a pseudonym to strangers. My favorite was: Ariane Siobhan. “Ariane” was Audrey Hepburn’s name in “Love in the Afternoon” when she costarred with Gary Cooper and Maurice Chevalier. “Siobhan” is Irish for Joan. Once I was sure the stranger was OK, then I’d tell them my real name.

    I also used “Sue Danim” for pseudonym. That was a real giggle, especially if someone ‘got it.’ 😉

    Cary Grant’s real name, Archibald Leach, was the name of a character in the movie, “A Fish Called Wanda.” It was played to perfection by John Cleese.

    • Only you, Judy, could come up with such pseudonyms to use until you’d checked out strangers! Did you ever forget or mix up the names you used?
      A Fish Called Wanda did that intentionally, didn’t they, using Cary Grant’s real name? I think I read that somewhere.

      • About “A Fish Called Wanda,” that might have been an intentional reference to Cary Grant. I don’t remember. I just thought it was funny.

        Living by myself for awhile, I also used a dodge of “I can’t invite you up. I live with my grandmother.” I don’t know if they bought it. 😉

  20. When I was learning to speak, I couldn’t say ‘Grandma’ – it came out as ‘marga’ – my father’s mother was from that point on known to everybody as Marga. She loved it!

    • I’m still smiling that your “Marga” becoming her name from then on, Jenny. When our first grandchild was born, she had 7 living great-grandparents, and so all the usual grandparenting labels were taken. I loved it when our daughter said she wanted me to be Mor-Mor (Swedish for mother’s mother), and even my mother jumped right in and said that made her Mor-Mor-Mor as the mother’s mother’s mother.

  21. I’m loving “Mayno!” I sure can relate to all this! LOVED my high school nickname of “Abe” (a shortened version of my last name) – all the more so when I found out that’s what my father was called in high school. When I moved away from my home state to a place where no one knew me, I shed some of my middle child persona by leaving the name “Michelle” in Michigan and taking on the new made-up (trying to incorporate an ocean connection) name of “Shel” in Oklahoma – which I found empowering. Three decades later it IS who I AM!

    • Shel, you have the most fascinating progression of name choices, especially the “Abe” that your father had also been called in high school. And all of your choices were empowering, which is a story in itself. I’m glad Shel is who you feel you really are, and as an outsider looking in, Shel does seem to be a good fit, unusual and classy.

  22. Hi Marylin, this is a very cool idea for a post. My husband and close friends call me Jo, which I love. What I did not like was JOAN, which my seventh grade teacher called me on a regular basis. He was one of the few teachers I didn’t care for and his calling me Joan made it slightly worse. 🙂
    My favorite nickname is my daughter’s- NINI- which my son John dubbed her early on when he could not pronounce Michelene. We all still call her Nini.

  23. As a retired teacher, I cringe at the years when I had multiple students in one class who had the same name, Joanne. One year I had 5 Michelle female students in one sophomore class, and all of them were blonde and blue-eyed…and none of them wanted to go by a nickname. Three of them had last names that started with the letter “S” and sat in the same area. So I’m not sympathetic to the teacher who kept calling you JOAN even when you didn’t want him to. He had it easy, and he still blew it. 😉
    I love Nini as a nickname. There’s something endearing about the cute nicknames siblings give to the younger children.

  24. Hi, Mayno, (I like that name, Marylin). When you read to your mom this last time, your heart must have sung seeing you mom smile. The photo of her is so lovely too. 🙂

  25. Thanks, Tracy. I like Mayno, too. It was so much easier to write than Marylin. I once had a substitute teacher asked why I was spelling Marylin wrong, that it should be Marilyn. It’s hard enough learning to write your name without that! 😉

  26. I like George Eliot’s words : What are we here for if not to make the lives of others easier? I might not have all of the words correct at this present time of writing, but I’m sure you understand what I mean. Now to names, my nickname is Patsy, I suppose short for Patricia, but my given name is Elaine. How did that happen? In Guyana, back in the day, children were often given a ” calling name” that was used at home by friends and family😄

  27. One summer I went to camp and told everyone my name was Randi. No one knew my real name, and for a whole week, when I was 13, I was Randi.

    The amazing thing is — Randi was a great softball player. Tracy had always been a mediocre softball player, timidly afraid of the ball. Changing my name changed my confidence.

    By the way — Marylin is the right way to spell your name, I’m sure.

  28. This affirms what I’ve always suspected, Tracy. We connect confidence and strength with certain words and names, and when we connect those words and names to ourselves by choice, we actually become stronger and more confident, at least for awhile. Way to go, Randi!
    Have you ever spent a day in another town being Randi again, and seeing how it works on your adult self? It seems like a good thing to try.

  29. And Michael Caine’s real name was Maurice Mickelwhite. Why do some names stick in our minds years after we first hear them?
    My only problem with names was that as a young woman growing up in London I was often asked my surname – Rita – and the response often was “yes miss, but what’s your surname, your last name etc etc”. I changed from Rita to Baxter when I married and have kept that name even long after my husband died. I think it’s a strong name and gives me feelings of strength.
    Thanks for this post. It sent me off to other blogs from people who had responded to you.

    • Thanks for joining us in this conversation, Judith. Your comment about a surname, Rita, that seemed to be your first name, reminded me of a lady I worked with in college. Shirley Shirley (Shirley married a man whose last name was Shirley.) Then a fellow teacher, last name of Judy, married a woman whose first name was Judy. Judy Judy. Both women seemed to like their double names, and seemed to enjoy people’s reactions.
      I agree that Baxter is a strong name, and I’m glad it gave you strength after your husband died. Names do have the ability to change us, don’t they?

  30. ‘Renee’ is actually my middle name, but the one I was always called by. During school years, it was a horror, as all records were filed by first and last names and nobody ever knew who I was. But it is my name and now makes for a rather groovy pen name should I publish in another genre–which is the only reason I would ever choose a different name to publish under.

    • Hi, Renee. My husband’s father was overseas in WWII when Jim was born. When he returned, he had to go to the courthouse to change the name on his son’s birth certificate to reverse the two formal names so Jim would be the first name instead of the middle name. His dad knew he’d be correcting it throughout his life if it wasn’t legally changed right away.
      Renee is a good pen name if you publish in another genre…that’s planning ahead! 🙂

  31. Love this post…what’s in a name indeed! I wrote a story recently about my name being chosen by my Irish grandmother during a family visit just before I was born…and yes, other than my mother, they were enjoying a glass of Sherry 😉 My name was unusual in England when I was growing up and people always got it wrong: I’ve been called Sheryl, Cheryl, Cherie, Sharon, you name it. And I don’t have a middle name so I couldn’t even use that. So I made one up and started telling people my name was Sherri-Anne, but then I didn’t like that after a while.
    Now I just tell people so that they get the spelling right the first time my name’s spelt like the drink but with an ‘i’ at the end 😉
    My mother, on the other hand, was Christened Elisabeth Wendy Taylor but she went by Wendy all her life until a few year’s ago as she hated being called Liz. I love the name and my daughter has Elisabeth as her middle name and funnily enough, we used to call her Lizzy as a nickname which turned into Lilly or Lil and that has stuck all these years.
    So I read your post with huge smiles Marylin,learning about your family’s nicknames and how they came about. I learnt something about Dean Koontz and I agree, a rose definitly wouldn’t be the same with ‘any other name’. And I laughed out loud at the River Marked quote. Thank you so much for that today my friend 🙂

    • Sherri, I’m just relieved they weren’t drinking Jack Daniels when they were discussing names. Somehow I can’t see you as Jackie D. 😉
      But actually, you would be a treasure no matter what your name, and if you want to write as Sherri-anne or use Lizzy or Lilly or Lil as your pen name, your writing will always be wonderful.
      I’m so glad this post made you laugh out loud today, my friend. You deserve a brilliantly happy day.

      • Oh Marylin, I can always count on you to make me smile and laugh out loud 😀 Haha…Jackie D! That has got a ring to it…
        You are so kind and sweet and your words are just what I needed this Monday morning. Now I am on catch up once again and will be visiting your latest post for the latest…and I thank you again so much my friend for ‘being there’ . I hope you had a lovely weekend a week ahead filled with blessings in abundance xo

      • Or Chevas Regal, Sherri. Now THAT’s a writer’s pen name. 😉

  32. That is a very sweet post Marylin. I can see that you brought up a story in a lot of people. My name is also not easy for some people and leading an international life I have heard some interesting versions of my name. But I am fine with that – as long as no-one calls me skunk cabbage 😉

  33. Interesting…I attended a women’s group a couple of years ago in which I was the only person who had retained my given at birth. All had chosen names that they felt suited them.
    …Although, my mother and father each spelled my name differently. Dad won on the birth certificate. Mom won on usage. I doubt if “i” or “y” in Lynda changes the smell. And, there you go…I took my husband’s name when I married.

    • Even your parents each spelled your name differently? Wow. And I thought I was confused because all my teachers spelled my name differently than I did! When you were with all the women who’d changed their names, were you ever tempted to choose one spelling of your own and say, “This is IT” ?

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