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John Wayne's Stage Name Inspired by His 'Favorite American Hero,' Director John Ford Said

John Wayne was not his real name. Wayne was born Marion Michael Morrison. Most fans of The Duke know that by now, but did you know it was Stagecoach director John Ford who named him? And did you know what his last name was based on? 

This is one of the stories revealed on a new 4K UHD edition of the classic western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, now available. In the bonus features, Ford himself tells the story of naming Wayne after Wayne’s own hero.

John Wayne was credited as ‘Duke Morrison’ before he got his name 

From 1926 – 1929, Wayne appeared uncredited in many movies. Only one, Words and Music, credited him at all and called him Duke Morrison. The Duke nickname, from his childhood, would stick. But, when Wayne got a lead role in The Big Trail, director Raoul Walsh wanted to rename him.

“He had an athletic scholarship but he had to work on the side,” Ford said. “That’s how he came into pictures. Raoul Walsh was doing a big western and he came to me and said, ‘I like your boy Wayne. Can he act?’ I said, ‘He’s a very, very good natural actor.’ He says, ‘I want to test him for the lead of this picture’ which he did. Duke got the part. Raoul and I talked about his name, which was Marion Michael Morrison.”

John Ford named John Wayne after Mad Anthony Wanye

“Mad” Anthony Wayne was a Revolutionary War general. Mad Anthony was so-called for his temper. He led troops in the Battles of Brandywine, Paoli, Germantown, Monmouth, Stony Point, Bull’s Ferry, and Green Spring. The actor Wayne would appear in a number of modern war movies amid his westerns.

“Duke says, ‘I’d like to have a name pretty much similar to yours,” Ford said. “I said, ‘Well, I don’t know any Fords who became famous except Henry. Who was your favorite American hero?’ This is before McArthur became famous, Douglas McArther. He says, ‘I’ve always liked Mad Anthony Wayne.’ I said, ‘That’s a good name, John Wayne.’ He says, ‘So be it.’”

The two syllables of a movie star 

John Wayne starred in many films of the ‘30s. It was Ford’s Stagecoach that made him a western icon in 1939. But, Ford had already given him his name a decade earlier. 

“So they advertise him as John Wayne,” Ford said. “He’s been John Wayne ever since. He wanted a name sort of similar to mine. I think I was more of a father image to him. He lost his father early in life. Instead of a big brother, I think I was more of a father image to him. He always said I direct him in pictures and I directed his life. Well, that’s a broad statement but it is partly true.”

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