Thank you to the free family history research site Crestleaf for contributing this fun guest post.
It is not uncommon for people to believe that their ancestors changed their surnames upon arrival at Ellis Island. And although we now know that this tale is actually quite a tall one (see the fascinating article on the topic from Mental Floss), many of us do have ancestors that changed their names after coming to the US for a variety of reasons.
But changing one’s name is an even more popular occurrence among celebrities. Many Americanized either their first or last names, and sometimes both.
Check out the 10 well-known immigrants below who passed through Ellis Island and later altered their names.
Interested in researching your own Ellis Island ancestors? Check out Family History Daily’s helpful how-to on using the Ellis Island website.
Note: Following the linked last names in the post below will bring you to relevant records from Crestleaf’s free family history archives.
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.
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.
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.
Arthur Murray, or Moses Teichmann, was a famous dance instructor who taught 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.
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 might recognize this Academy Award-winning actress from her roles in, It Happened One Night, Private Worlds and Since You Went Away.
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.
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.
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 Americanized first name — Johann. You likely know him by another fictional name though: Tarzan.
Images from the Ellis Island website. Read more about famous Ellis Island immigrants here.
Read The Real Reasons Why Your Immigrant Ancestors Changed Their Names from Crestleaf.