How Marilyn Monroe Got Her Name

Marilyn Monroe was the persona or a generational Hollywood talent, but before her movie career, she was Norma Jeane Mortensen (though Biography explains that her baptismal surname was Baker). Norma Jeane was an aspiring actress who achieved early success as a model, not securing a movie role until 1946. According to Time, her deal with 20th Century Fox was an enormous moment, and the up-and-coming movie legend needed a new name that would become iconic. It took some time to arrive at the Marilyn Monroe name, however.

According to her official website, the Marilyn in her name was inspired by musical star Marilyn Miller, while Norma Jeane suggested adding the surname Monroe to honor her family on her mother's side. It's a simple and concise origin for the name, but just as so many people helped to shape Monroe's rollercoaster career, several others had a huge influence on her choice of stage name too.

The Irish Marilyn Monroe Fan Club states that Norma Jeane and Ben Lyon, the man who gave Norma her first contract, rejected a number of options that were briefly considered. It's fascinating to think that the pop culture superstar was nearly immortalized as Clare Norman or Norma Monroe, but both names were ultimately dropped.

Marilyn Monroe and Ben Lyon chose her name together

It seems that it was Lyon who was the most enthusiastic of the two about the name Marilyn Monroe. In "Marilyn Monroe: The Biography," Donald Spoto writes that Norma Jeane "was not immediately convinced," concerned that the name Marilyn "sounded strange, artificial." It was only when Lyon gushed about how popular Marilyn Miller had made the name that she agreed. "Well, I guess I'm Marilyn Monroe," she reportedly smiled, and so a legend was born. In late February 1956, per The Atlantic, the actress made this her legal name.

Lyon's pivotal role in naming Monroe is corroborated by the star herself, as evidenced by an elusive photograph. Time reported in 2018 that a shot of Monroe and Lyon, which had been taken while the iconic "The Seven Year Itch" was being made, had been signed by the star. The illuminating writing reads, "Dear Ben, You found me, named me and believed in me when no one else did. My thanks and love forever." She signed off with an affectionate, "Marilyn."

This photograph, Time goes on, was part of an exhibition at Las Angeles' The Paley Center for Media in August and September of that year. There can be no doubt that Lyon kickstarted her extraordinary career with that first contract, but it also seems evident that he literally "named" her too.