When And Why Did Norma Jeane Change Her Name to Marilyn Monroe?

Image Credit: Modern Screen/Wikimedia Commons

As a biographical drama that blurs the lines of fact and fiction to explore the intriguing life of Hollywood legend Marilyn Monroe truly, Netflix’s ‘Blonde’ can only be described as hauntingly riveting. That’s because this Andrew Dominik-directed original openly, boldly reimagines nearly every aspect of her tumultuous experiences to give us an unprecedented insight into who she really was. But for now, if you simply wish to learn more about the reality behind her name — the naturalistic stage name still synonymous with allure, beauty, as well as fame — we’ve got the details for you.

How Did Norma Jeane Become Marilyn Monroe?

Although born as Norma Jeane Mortenson (on June 1, 1926) and later baptized Norma Jeane Baker, the magnetic model turned actress never once went by either in the entertainment industry. In fact, by the time she began her career as a pin-up model around 1944, she was using her married last name despite her soon-to-be ex-husband James Dougherty’s (1942-1950) lack of support. It was thus an issue related to the same that prompted the 20-year-old to take on an entirely new stage name shortly before she signed a contract with 20th Century Fox on August 24, 1946.

Image Credit: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

According to Donald Spoto’s ‘Marilyn Monroe: The Biography,’ studio executive Ben Lyon was the one to urge a change since there were just too many possible pronunciations for “Dougherty.” Norma Jeane thankfully not only understood the gravity of the situation, but she also immediately suggested an alternative last name — Monroe, as an homage to her mother’s side of the family. The executive loved it, yet they then had to come up with an equally easy first name as well because “‘Norma Jeane Monroe’ was awkward, and ‘Norma Monroe’ was almost a tongue twister.”

The duo did decide on Jeane Monroe for a brief while, as per the book, but Norma Jeane wasn’t completely happy with it as she wished to switch everything and start over in front of the cameras. The most significant reason for the same was seemingly her difficult, traumatic personal life growing up, most of which she candidly opened up to Ben about during their brainstorming session. These included the fact she never knew her biological father, was sexually abused as a child, and her high school years were full of her being bullied/objectified due to her appearance.

That’s when Ben reportedly made the connection between Norma Jeane and Marilyn Miller, a talented Broadway star of the 1920s as well as 1930s who herself had quite a tough personal life. More notably, there was an undeniable physical resemblance since they both bore the same soul-piercing blue-green eyes with shiny blonde hair, which drove the executive to suggest her name. Their comparable passion, compassion, and ambition to be successful on their own was just another added element, pulling everything together for Norma Jeane to become Marilyn Monroe.

Image Credit: Marian Nixon Seiter//Time Magazine

We should mention that despite Marilyn’s extensive efforts to change her identity before even stepping foot into the Golden Age of Hollywood, she took a decade to make it legal (in 1956). It’s also imperative to note she once inscribed a photograph of her and Ben Lyon — taken while filming of ‘The Seven Year Itch’ (1955) was going on — to thank him for everything he’d ever done. It was on display at The Paley Center for Media in Los Angeles back in 2018, and it read: “Dear Ben, You found me, named me. and believed in me when no one else did. My thanks and love forever, Marilyn.”

Read More: Who was Marilyn Monroe’s Dad? Did She Meet Him in Real Life?