Identifying actors -- The Screen Actors Guild insists performers add middle names to their monikers

By Tim Purtell
Updated March 26, 1993 at 05:00 AM EST

It’s not your imagination: Movie marquees are starting to read like letterhead for a law firm, with more and more classy-named actors such as Samuel L. Jackson and Robert Sean Leonard in the movies. But don’t blame them: The Screen Actors Guild made them add middle names or initials to satisfy a rule that two performers can’t use the same name. With Guild membership at a record high, middle names (initials became so confusing they were banned eight years ago) are increasingly common, particularly for males. (A SAG source theorizes that men have more straighforward names, like Robert.) Some of the better-known examples:

Revised Name: Michael J. Fox (Back to the Future trilogy, Doc Hollywood). So he wouldn’t be confused with: Michael Fox, who appeared as Dr. Roth in the 1970 Roger Corman quickie, Bloody Mama.

Revised Name: Samuel L. Jackson (Jungle Fever, Amos & Andrew). So he wouldn’t be confused with: Sammy Jackson, who didn’t fly as Frisby in the 1971 Disney turkey, $1,000,000 Duck.

Revised Name: Robert Sean Leonard (Swing Kids). So he wouldn’t be confused with: Robert E. Leonard, who portrayed Board Member in the 1978 Warren Beatty comedy, Heaven Can Wait.

Revised Name: Craig T. Nelson (Poltergeist, TV’s Coach). So he wouldn’t be confused with: Craig Richard Nelson, who was Harry in the 1980 clunker, A Small Circle of Friends.

Revised Name: Harry Dean Stanton (Paris, Texas). So he wouldn’t be confused with: Harry Stanton, who played President Warren Harding in the 1975 TV special, The Legendary Curse of the Hope Diamond.