This is a post that has been germinating for years and will no doubt get added to as new inspiration strikes. In fact, the impetus probably goes back 20 years, when I first heard about Spike Jonze. My response was something like, “Hey! You can’t just call yourself that! We already have one of those!” In some cases, the second person in the series was born with the same name as someone already famous, and who didn’t opt to change it. (Unlike Albert Brooks, for example, who was born Albert Einstein, but changed it for show business. If he hadn’t done so, he’d go on this list). Many others changed their handle to that of an already existing famous person, whether in homage, or through ignorance or indifference. I’ve already written about many of these folks. Just click on links to learn more.
John Ford (1586-ca. 1639) and John Ford (1894-1973)
Jacobean playwright best remembered for ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore (1631) vs. the great Hollywood director, whose given name was John Feeney.
Ben Jonson (1572-1637) and Ben Johnson (1918-1996)
Francis Drake (c, 1540-1596) and Frances Drake (1912-2000)
Henry Morgan (1635-1688) and Henry Morgan (1915-1994)
The pirate from the rum bottle vs. the ascerbic radio humorist.
George Clinton (1739-1812) and George Clinton (b. 1941)
The Founding Father vs. the Funkadelicist. The former was U.S. Vice President, Governor of New York and a Revolutionary War General. The latter was one of the architects of funk as a key member of Parliament-Funkadelic.
John Paul Jones (1747-1792) and John Paul Jones (b. 1946)
America’s first naval hero vs. the bassist for Led Zeppelin.
Jane Powell (ca. 1761-1831) vs. Jane Powell (b. 1929)
The 18th century actress vs….the 20th century actress. The former one was Mrs. Powell by marriage. Amusingly, she initially went by stage name of Jane Shore, which technically makes her a double score on this list (the original Jane Shore lived circa 1445-1527 and was the controversial mistress to King Edward IV as well as numerous other English noblemen.
Richard Burton (1821-1890) and Richard Burton (1925-1984)
Fudged only slightly. Full rendered, the first is Sir Richard Francis Burton, but I’ve seen him called simply Richard Burton. He was an explorer, linguist, adventurer and author who spoke over two dozen languages. The second of course is the Welsh stage and screen genius, whose real name was — wait for it — Richard Jenkins! Thus if he hadn’t changed his name, he would have made this list anyway. In related news, see two Liz Taylors below!
Robert E. Lee (1807-1870) and Robert E. Lee (1918-1994)
The head of the Confederate army vs. the playwright collaborator of Jerome Lawrence on such well known works as Inherit the Wind and Auntie Mame. It has always seemed an act of perversity to me that he didn’t change his name.
William Morris (1834-1896) and William Morris (1873-1932)
The socialist, author, and designer of the Arts and Crafts Movement vs. the high-powered show biz agent, founder of the eponymous talent agency (real name Zelman Moses). There was actually also a third one, a vaudeville performer, father of Chester Morris.
J.P. Morgan (1837-1913) and Jaye P. Morgan (b. 1931)
David Copperfield (1850/ 1935) and David Copperfield (1956)
All Dickens fans have had occasion to curse magician David Kotkin for gumming up their Google searches. This is the only fictional character I’ll mention although I was tempted also to include 19th century novelist Ada Clare and heavy metal group Uriah Heep, who also took their names from Dickens’ characters. Frank Lawton (above, left) played the grown David in the 1935 film.
Engelbert Humperdinck (1854-1921) and Engelbert Humperdinck (b. 1936)
German composer vs. the singer of “Release Me” and “After the Loving”, whose real name was Arnold Dorsey. The vast majority of people know nothing of the existence of the original Humperdinck, making for much amused and amusing head scratching among pop music listeners. It’s often thought as one of the worst stage names ever. Then you learn there’s a reasoning and a joke behind it. And then it’s STILL one of the worst stage names ever!
Jane Addams (1860-1935) and Jane Adams (b. 1965)
Social reformer and pioneer of urban settlement house movement vs. the contemporary movie actress.
Tony Pastor (1837-1908) and Tony Pastor (1907-1969)
The father of vaudeville vs. the popular big band leader and singer of the 1940s, whose real name was Antonio Pestritto.
I’m overdue to write about BOTH of these gents. The first was an English actor-manager of the late 19th and early 20th centuries; the second was a gay British screen comedian from the Carry On films, whose real name was George Hartee, and who falsely claimed to be the son of the first.
Steve Brodie (1861-1901) and Steve Brodie (1919-1992)
The legendary Brooklyn Bridge jumper and saloon keep vs. the movie actor.
Gertrude Hoffman (1871-1968) and Gertrude Hoffman (1883-1966)
Having lived almost contemporaneously these two are often confused. The former one was a Berlinese actress who later had a career in Hollywood. Her real name was Eliza Gertrude Wesselhoeft. The latter was the American born dancer who popularized the Salome dance. Thus the order of the pictures above should be reversed. Even I’ve confused them!
The amusement park and theatre impresario vs. the star of silent westerns. And let’s not forget the THIRD Fred Thompson (1942-2015), Republican Senator from Tennessee who later became one of the stars of Law and Order!
Maude Adams (1872-1953) and Maud Adams (b. 1945)
Edith Wilson (1872-1961) and Edith Wilson (1896-1981)
The First Lady of the United States (and for several months, the effective President) vs. the blues singer.
Joe Jackson (1873-1942) and Joe Jackson (b. 1954)
The great bicycle clown vs. the English new wave musician and singer of tunes like “Is She Really Going Out With Him” and “Stepping Out”
Billy Murray (1877-1954) vs, Billy Murray (b. 1941)
The Jazz Age Mayor of New York City v.s J.J., the “Dyn-O-mite” star of Good Times.
Billie Burke (1884-1970) and Billy Burke (b. 1966)
Glinda the Good and wife of Ziegfeld vs. the guy from the Twilight movies
Tom Kennedy (1885-1965) and Tom Kennedy (1927-2020)
Charley Chase (1893-1940) and Charley Chase (b.1987)
The classic comedian vs. the porn actress, who frankly has made googling the comedian a fraught business.
Thomas A. Dorsey (1899-1993) and Tommy Dorsey (1905-1956)
The Father of Gospel vs. the trombone player and big band leader
Michael Collins (1900-1922) and Michael Collins (1930-2021)
Leader in Irish independence movement vs. Apollo 11 astronaut
Kitty Kelly (1902-1968) and Kitty Kelley (b. 1942)
Chorine and character actress vs. sensationist show biz biographer.
John Williams (1903-1983) and John Williams (b. 1932)
English actor in things like Hitchcock’s Dial M, for Murder vs, the great movie composer.
Peggy Shaw (1905-1990) and Peggy Shaw (b. 1944)
Silent movie actress vs, groundbreaking performance artist, member of Split Britches.
The great Hollywood director, screenwriter and occasional actor vs. a Canadian Charles Dickens impressionist of my acquaintance. To be fair, the latter often adds the middle initial “D.” to his name to avoid confusion. Hi, John!
The B movie actor vs the founder of Texas Roadhouse. read about them both here.
Spike Jones (1911-1965) and Spike Jonze (b. 1969)
The comical bandleader, radio star and maker of novelty records vs the contemporary producer, writer and director best known for his association with Charlie Kaufman and the Jackass movies
Elizabeth Taylor (1912-1975) and Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011)
The English author vs. one of the greatest Hollywood stars of the mid 20th century.
Kevin McCarthy (1914-2010) and Kevin McCarthy (b.1965)
The star of Invasion of the Body Snatchers vs. the House Minority Leader. “Stop the Steal”, indeed.
John Kennedy (1917-1963) and John Kennedy (b. 1951)
The martyred President (who is normally rendered with the middle initial “F.” included) vs. the loathesome Senator from Louisiana, who has a lot of nerve not tweaking his name. Dishonorable mention also to Kennedy (Lisa Kennedy Montgomery, b. 1972), the MTV and Fox News personality. The name of her show (Kennedy), like that of Spike Jonze, was one of the spurs to the creation of this post. You don’t get to just be “Kennedy” in a world of famous Kennedys you have nothing to do with! In the end I bump her down to “also” status, because Senator John Kennedy’s name is so specifically egregious.
Mike Wallace (1918-2012) and Mike Wallace (b. 1942)
The CBS news giant and father of Chris Wallace vs. the Pulitzer Prize winning co-author of the indispensible Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898
George Wallace (1919-1998) and George Wallace (b. 1952)
This may be our most hilaiously jarring juxtaposition, but a poetic one somehow. The segregationist Govenor of Alabama/racist Presidential candidate vs. the African American stand-up comedian.
The singer and talk show host (real name Michael Dowd) vs. the tv and movie actor, son of Kirk Douglas
John Anderson (1922-2017) and John Anderson (1922-1992)
1980 third party Presidential candidate vs. character actor best known for appearing in westerns. There’s also a third one who’s a country singer, but he’s a Johnny-Come-Lately, born 30 years after the other two!
Peter Sellers (1926-1980) and Peter Sellars (b. 1957)
The chameleon-like radio and screen comedian vs. the theatre and opera director. When I first heard of the latter’s existence, back in the ’80s, I was like, “Dude! You can’t just be named Peter Sellars — I don’t care if it IS spelled with an A. Confusion is the only result!” To add to the mishmash, Sellars often worked with Pulitzer Prize winning composer John Adams (b. 1947) of Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer. I gave Adams a pass on this list because, given that he’s from Worcester, Mass and his full name is John Coolidge Adams, he is likely a relative of the President. If we started listing relatives with the same name, the list would have no end (and what’s the point of bringing to your attention such kernels of wisdom as “Frank Sinatra, Jr. has the name same name as Frank Sinatra“?)
Patrick O’Neal (1927-1994) and Patrick O’Neal (b. 1967)
Film and television actor vs. sportscaster son of Ryan O’Neal.
Tom Jones (b.1928) and Tom Jones (b. 1940)
The latter swinging Welsh pop star was really Thomas Woodward; he clearly changed his name to associate himself with the hit 1963 film version of the Fielding novel. The other Tom Jones, writer of The Fantasticks, was born with the fortunate name.
Steve McQueen (1930-80) and Steve McQueen (b. 1969)
Hollywood hearthrob and action star vs. the West Indian-British director of 12 Years a Slave (2013).
Dave Thomas (1932-2002) and Dave Thomas (b. 1949)
Founder of Wendy’s vs. head writer and one of the stars of SCTV
Jim Hutton (1934-1979) and Jim Hutton (1949-2010)
The star of light comedies and Ellery Queen vs. the significant other of Freddie Mercury from Queen.
Paul Simon (b. 1941) and Paul Simon (1928-2003)
The pop singer-songwriter vs. the Senator from Illinois.
Bruce Lee (1940-1973) and Bruce Li (1950)
Chinese-American martial artist and movie star…vs. a Taiwanese star in the same field who shamelessly stole his name!
James Taylor (b. 1948) and James Taylor
Just for fun, I’ve thrown in some movie titles of classic comedies whose name ought to stand for all time, inviolable, but were later eclipsed by interlopers, screwing up google searches like an invasive species. Just a few I thought of:
The Butcher Boy (1917) and The Butcher Boy (1997)
Grandma’s Boy (1922) and Grandma’s Boy (2006)
The Navigator (1924) and The Navigator (1988)
The Freshman (1925) and The Freshman (1990)
Animal Crackers (1930) and Animal Crackers (2017)