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10 Movie Star Strategies for Changing Your Name

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In the Golden Years of Hollywood, it was almost essential for any movie star to change their name—unless they happened to be born with an instantly cool name like Errol Flynn or Clark Gable. Even Janet Cole, who had a perfectly good name, had it changed to Kim Hunter. (It’s less of an issue in the past few decades, when actresses usually don’t choose to change their name, even if their surname is Bullock.) So if you’re a movie star, how do you choose your new name? Here are some tips.

1. Name yourself after one of your characters.

Dawn Paris presumably wasn’t a good name for an actress, so 16-year-old Dawn renamed herself Dawn O’Day. Perhaps realizing that this was no great improvement, she re-renamed herself after her first big movie role in 1934: Anne of Green Gables. To be exact, she named herself Anne Shirley, the same name as the title character—and kept the name for the rest of her career. Gig Young also named himself after his character in The Gay Sisters (1942), and Donna Lee Hickey renamed herself May Wynn after her character in The Caine Mutiny (1954). Please don’t try this if you ever get cast in a Hobbit movie.

2. Don’t be too obvious.

When Australian actress Louise Carbasse came to Hollywood, she was renamed “Louise Lovely.” She hated the name, and as you’ve probably never heard of her, it didn’t do her much good. Sure, rock stars can have names like Johnny Rotten and Alvin Stardust, but it just looks ridiculous if a film star chooses a name like Doris Beautiful or Jimmy Terrific or (if you want to win an Oscar) Al Pretty-amazing-actor. Subtlety works better. Frances Gumm, for example, was renamed Judy Garland – a name connected with flowers, but not one that’s too blatant.

3. If your first name isn’t so good, just use your middle name.

Terence McQueen had a name that made him sound like a Latin scholar, but as he wanted to be known as an all-American hero, he used his middle name: Steve. Ernestine Russell wanted something sexier, so she took her middle name: Jane. Eldred Peck wanted a name that sounded less like “Eldred,” so he used his middle name: Gregory.

4. Or use your mother’s maiden name.

Joan Fontaine did this, so that nobody could confuse her with her older sister (and fierce rival) Olivia de Havilland. Shirley Maclaine did this to tell her apart from her brother, Warren Beatty. Rita Hayworth, Diane Keaton, and Simone Signoret also renamed themselves after their mothers.

5. Use the same name as a movie star from the past.

Bette Midler named herself after Bette Davis, without realizing that most people pronounced her idol’s name “Betty”, not “Bet.” Most people didn’t know, however, that Bette Davis herself pronounced her name “Bet.” So Bette Midler got it right, accidentally. (Bette Davis, for the record, took her name from Balzac’s Cousin Bette. I’m not sure how Balzac pronounced it.)

6. If you don’t like any past movie stars, name yourself after one of your heroes.

Nicolas Coppola obviously decided that nobody with his surname was going to get anywhere in the film business. Fortunately, he was a devoted comic book reader. Depending on whom you ask, he might have called himself Nicolas Cage after Luke Cage, alias Power Man, a tough superhero in 1970s Marvel Comics blacksploitation comics who would go around wearing an unbuttoned silk shirt and a silver bandanna, and beating up villains while calling them names like “You freakin’ mealymouth!” Always a comic-book geek, Cage was later tapped to play Superman (which never happened) and another 1970s Marvel Comics hero, Ghost Rider (which did happen, sadly).

7. If you still can’t think of anything, hold a contest.

MGM arranged one of these in 1925 for Billie Cassin, a promising 19-year-old actress whom they were grooming to be the next big thing. Billie Cassin didn’t sound special, so she had renamed herself… Lucille Le Sueur! Exactly how that was meant to be pronounced, it’s probably best not to know. Instead, MGM ran a contest in a fan magazine to give her a new name. The winning name was … Joan Arden! Unfortunately, the name was so good that an actress in Hollywood already had it. MGM settled on the name that was runner-up in the contest: Joan Crawford. The actress kept this name for another 50 years.

8. Avoid a name that will provoke embarrassing questions.

Well, you can if you like. Caryn Elaine Johnson got the name Whoopi Goldberg, after her long-standing nickname—but while she came up with stories in interviews, she didn’t admit the real reason for that first name for several years: “I get gassy.” If this is how you got your name, you might prefer to keep it to yourself. Up to you, of course.

9. Make it gender neutral.

At first glance, this question doesn’t make a great deal of sense. Obviously, if your name is “Miriam” or “Anthony,” the pundits know what they’re getting—or your gender, at least. Stars like Drew Barrymore, Daryl Hannah and Cameron Diaz, however, make it slightly more unpredictable—and perhaps that might help your career. Jamie Foxx (real name: Eric Marlon Bishop) tried for years to break into the entertainment business, going to open-mike nights in a standup comedy venue in Los Angeles. The thing is, every other aspiring comedian had the same idea, so he had to struggle for a space. After a while, it was obvious that most of the comics had one thing in common: testosterone. If a female comic was found on the list, she could jump the queue. While he could have changed his name to Penelope or Rosanna to make it clear, he decided to call himself Jamie just to provide a shadow of doubt. Soon, his acting career was well on its way—all because of the chance he might have been a woman.

10. Shorten your name.

Is your name Rudolpho Guglielmi di Valentina d’Antonguolla? Funnily enough, we’ve seen this problem before. The name was changed to Rudolph Valentino. Sorry, but it’s going to have to fit on the poster.

All photos courtesy of Getty Images.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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