Before He Was John Wayne, Marion Morrison Insisted People Call Him by His Dog’s Name


The name John Wayne still holds weight in Hollywood. It’s impossible to think about the Western genre without bringing up the iconic actor. However, John Wayne is not his real name. John Wayne also had another nickname that he went by based on the dog he had growing up.

John Wayne’s real name was Marion Michael Morrison

John Wayne in Shepherd of the Hills
John Wayne | AS400 DB/Bettmann Archive

The book John Wayne: My Life With the Duke by Pilar Wayne and Alex Thorleifson reveals that John Wayne was initially named Robert Michael, printed on his birth certificate. However, his mother had a change of heart and changed his name to Marion Michael Morrison. His mother had a wealthy relative named Mary and wanted her child to gain a possible future inheritance.


Pilar and Thorleifson wrote about how Wayne was uncomfortable with his real name and the rough childhood that came with it. Wayne would supposedly get bullied by other kids due to his name.

“Being called Marion made me a target for every bully in town,” the actor 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.”

John Wayne adopted a nickname based on his childhood dog

To combat the bullying he experienced due to his name, he adopted a nickname. Growing up, Morrison was very fond of his family’s Airedale Terrier, named Duke. According to Mental Floss, his family called the dog “Big Duke” and Marion “Little Duke.” Morrison later adopted the nickname of Duke Morrison, and many referred to him as “The Duke.”

While he would become known to the world as John Wayne, the actor said he preferred the nickname instead. He believed his real-life persona was not the one portrayed on screen.

“The guy you see on the screen isn’t really me,” Wayne said in 1957. “I’m Duke Morrison, and I never was and never will be a film personality like John Wayne.”

His stage name is based on one of his heroes

John Wayne came up with his stage name with help from western director John Ford. The two collaborated on many westerns, including StagecoachThe Searchers, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Wayne, who went by the nickname Duke Morrison at the time, wanted a name similar to Ford. Ford came up with the name by asking Wayne who his hero was.

“Duke says, ‘I’d like to have a name pretty much similar to yours,” Ford once 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.’”

Mad Anthony Wayne was a Revolutionary War General known for his notoriously bad temper. He led troops in the Battle of Brandywine, Germantown, Monmouth, Bull’s Ferry, Stony Point, Green Spring, and Paoli. Wayne did star in several war movies, in addition to his numerous westerns.

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