The name John Wayne is closely associated with his Western and war movie career, as well as his tough cowboy image. However, that’s not his legal name. Children can be cruel, and Wayne certainly had to experience that from a young age due to his real name. But, in true Wayne fashion, he proved that he wasn’t willing to go down without a fight.
John Wayne’s real name was Marion Michael Morrison
Pilar Wayne and Alex Thorleifson’s book, John Wayne: My Life With the Duke, revealed that his parents called him Robert Michael, which was originally put on the birth certificate. However, his mother, Mary Morrison, had a “sudden change of heart” and renamed him Marion Michael Morrison. Mary had a wealthy relative named Marion and wanted to attempt to acquire her child a future inheritance with the name change.
The history of Wayne’s real name comes from a mix of Scottish, English, and Irish pioneers. His great-great-grandfather, Robert Morrison, fled to America after the British crown accused him of plotting against the country. However, the family would prove to have loyalty to the American work ethic as farmers.
John Wayne was relentlessly bullied for his real name
Pilar and Thorleifson wrote about how Wayne was uncomfortable discussing his real name and the childhood that came with it. However, he revealed stories about his youth over the years with Pilar. Wayne had to cope with bullying over his name and feeling unloved by his mother.
“Being called Marion made me a target for every bully in town,” Wayne once said. “They called me little girl–asked why my mother dressed me in pants instead of skirts–did everything they could to make my life miserable.”
At 6 years old, he decided to fight back to stop the torment. He was smaller than other children, so he often took beatings on the streets when he retaliated. As a result, his mother was angry that her son would come home dirty and bloodstained with torn clothes. Mary wanted Wayne to be a “gentleman,” but saw fighting as an indicator that he was a “hoodlum.”
The actor’s father encouraged him to stand up for himself
John Wayne: My Life With the Duke dug into how his father, Clyde, handled his name bullying quite differently. The actor was always much closer with his father than he was with his mother. After Mary finished lecturing Wayne, Clyde pulled him aside to give him advice that he would carry with him for the rest of his life. His father praised him for his bravery and championed the fact that he stood up for himself and didn’t run from a fight.
“Mind you, don’t go looking for fights, but if you find yourself in one, make damn sure you win,” Clyde told Wayne.
Wayne would ultimately take those very words to heart, as he always stood up for what he believed in. As he grew up, he towered over most people, but he held onto the values that he learned from his childhood.