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Archive for the ‘what’s in a name’ Category

what’s in a name?

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ok, it’s 1:00 am, and i can’t get to sleep.  so i’m sitting here with my laptop, and rambo: first blood part II is on cable.  i haven’t seen this flick in, ooh, about two decades.  really makes me miss the reagan era.  back then, a magazine day rate was probably really worth something.

watching the flick, i noticed this actor:


he’s british actor/director/playwright steven berkoff.  at left as general orlov in octopussy, at right as victor maitland in beverly hills cop.  in rambo he was stallone’s nemesis lieutenant colonel podovsky of the soviet army.

as a teenager in the 80s, his face is not unfamiliar to me.  i mostly remember him from beverly hills cop, because i frigging loved that movie when it came out.  i forgot that he was also a bond villain.

he’s definitely a google candidate, filed under “what ever happened to…”  victor maitland was such a great bad guy.  why he didn’t reprise his role in any of the 17 lethal weapons is beyond me.  i fault the casting director for that one.

fishing thru his wikipedia bio, turns out he’s still quite prolific — mostly in the respectable london theatre scene.  no doubt he took his 80s villain money and ran back to the london east end.

** OOH OOH!!!   he just got blown up by rambo via a head-to-head helicopter game of chicken and an rpg in the face… **

his wikipedia bio lists his birth name as leslie steven berks.  now, “leslie berks” or “steven berks” is a perfectly fine name for an actor.  but i wonder what the thought process was behind his metamorphosis into “steven berkoff”?

i mean, it’s not a bad name.  “berkoff” hints at a pan-euro heritage, somewhat similar to that confusingly euro-ish accent christiane amanpour has (not quite british, not quite anything specific, just “european”).  no doubt “berkoff” does something similar for the former mr. berks.  i’m sure cultural ambiguity makes for lots of varied acting gigs.

so mr. berkoff’s name change gets me thinking about branding and why people change their names to something more commercially acceptable to their industries.  seems that lots of people do that.  ralph lauren was born ralph lifshitz, but there was no way the upper east side set was going to pay top dollar for waspy haberdashery from a semite.

photogs do that too.  lots of em.  and many seem to go by one name.  i know a photog in chicago named dimitre.  hell, some photogs just double up their first name (horst p. horst).  there’s also a local sf photog who goes by anon, although i think it’s actually a two-photog operation.  pretty efficient to compress two full names into one word.

maybe i should change my name.  john lee is a stupidly common name.  take one of the most common male first names in the english-speaking world, and jam it next to the absolutely most common last name in asia.  there were four john lees in my high school graduating class.   i was once mistaken for a john lee who headed a local korean street gang (i’m not korean, btw).

just try googling “john lee” and see what you come up with.  luckily, i usually come up around #3 or #4, and i’m usually above john lee hooker.

but the problem happens when you google “john lee photographer”.  some farm high school senior portrait/wedding photog from rural iowa comes up.  he’s figured out how to work the google crawlers to his advantage.  luckily, he seems to only get these benefits when one adds “photographer” beside his name.  otherwise i usually come up before him.

i’ve had a couple of issues pop up so far because of this google mixup.  i’ve had an offended nyc photo editor sternly proclaim to my former agent that they didn’t think it was funny that he was introducing high school senior portrait photographers to them, only for the editor to realize a few minutes later that she had googled the iowa john lee instead of me.  mistake cleared up, and i got the gig.  but how often does that happen and i don’t know about it?

at last count, there were at least 4 john lees working as photogs in north america.  bad news.

even worse, a few years ago there was some random beijing-based chinese photog who decided to pick a western name.   any dumb name, just something that he probably thought would be easy for westerners to remember.  he picked john lee.  dick.  to make matters worse, the newspaper i was working at happened to run one of his photos 4 columns across the front page.

so this gets me thinking that i should probably contemplate an appropriately witty pan-asian pacific rim byline.  maybe i should go by my chinese name.  or maybe i should think up a company name?  anybody got any suggestions?

i recently shot a portrait of this sf interior designer whose company is called “mr. wonderful.”  what a goddamn brilliant name.


Written by John

March 23, 2009 at 12:35 am