Tuesday, June 29, 2010

From Yara to Yannick

On my Leonard Pennario Web log today I got thinking of musicians who changed their names. It is fun to horse around and list them.

It is a little sad when a performer feels he has to change his or her name. On the other hand it is understandable. There was a time in American music when if you were not Eastern European you were nobody. At least you had to try twice as hard to be taken seriously. Also face it, your name matters. You have to market yourself and a name is a big part of your marketing. I do not mind having this name Goldman, I will tell you that! Mary Kunz Goldman sounds a lot better than plain old Mary Kunz.

Let us return to the subject of musicians who had to Eastern European-ize their names:

Yara Bernette, born plain old Bernette Epstein.

Ms. Bernette served with Pennario on the jury of the Van Cliburn Competition, is why she is on my radar.

There is famously Olga Samaroff, pictured at the top of this post, born with the awkward, comical name of Lucy Hickenlooper.

And what got me started on this was the cellist Zara Nelsova, born Sarah Nelson. Here she is with Pennario on the program I was studying.

Most of the people doing the name changing seem to be women. Apparently they felt they needed that extra oomph. The men in general seem to have gone with what they were handed.

However when I was a kid at UB, we had the pianist Yvar Mikhashoff ...

... born Ronald Mackay, in Troy, N.Y.

Zara, Yara, Olga and Yvar! This is interesting: They all went for these four-letter names, so their names would be exotic but at the same time have a nice, easy ring to them. They wanted people to be able to remember their names and say them easily.

As opposed to another example I could name, and will. This is not Eastern European but one recent musician to glam up his name is the new conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, whose name I can never remember because it is so complicated. Let me look it up. It is Yannick Nezet-Seguin!

Apparently when he was born he was plain vanilla Yannick Seguin but he added his mother's maiden name and became Yannick Nezet-Seguin. That is the Catherine Zeta-Jones trick. Zeta was her grandmother's last name so instead of plain old Kate Jones she fashioned that long movie-star name.

All this name changing is really an old tradition going back to when Wolfgang Gottlieb Mozart became Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Ludwig van Beethoven signed himself Luigi van Beethoven.

What's in a name?

A lot!

1 comment:

  1. Does this mean my European name is Gustav Schneitz?