“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.” In Act 2 of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” Juliet does eventually realize that the Montague name has less significance than her beloved Romeo, and alas, the two star-crossed lovers are doomed.
But it turns out, Juliet may have been wrong when it comes to what’s in a name. There actually is a lot of meaning behind what people are called. Naming traditions vary around the world, and some status-seeking individuals actually change their birth names for, gasp, self-aggrandizement. Celebrities seem to be the guiltiest in this name game. They have been giving their children bizarre names like Gravity, Kal-El and Apple since, well Frank Zappa named his kids Dweezil and Moon Unit. But these five famous people have names that go far beyond just quirky; their birth names are so long, just saying them will leave you breathless.
1. Salvador Dalí
The Spanish artist was born Salvador Felipe Jacinto Dalí y Domenech. Following the Spanish tradition, which takes surnames from both parents, he acquired Dalí from his father Salvador Dalí y Cusi and Domenech from his mother Felipa Domenech Ferres. After studying at Madrid’s Academia de San Fernando, from which he was expelled, Dalí visited Paris where he networked with the likes of Pablo Picasso and René Magritte. He became a well-known surrealist painter, and when the Spanish surrealists expelled him from the movement, he kept right on working in the style elsewhere.
In the early 1980s, Dalí moved for a short time to the Catalonia castle he had given to his wife Gala in 1969, which is located in Púbol. Upon Gala’s death, King Juan Carlos I of Spain dubbed Dalí Marquis of Púbol. That meant that from 1982 on, he was formally known as Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, 1st Marquis of Dalí de Púbol.
2. Joseph Mobutu
Dalí earned his title from the king, but when you are the guy in charge, you can give yourself any lofty name you want to. Consider Joseph-Désiré Mobutu who was born in Democratic Republic of the Congo when it was a Belgian colony. At independence in 1960, he served as a leader of the Congolese military, a position he used to his advantage as he turned against the country’s Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba in favor of President Joseph Kasavubu. In 1965, Mobutu declared himself president, taking down Kasavubu’s government and beginning a three-decade dictatorial reign perfectly defining kleptocracy.
In a move toward what he called authenticity, Mobutu sought to “replace tribalism and colonialism” with a “national conscience based on traditional Bantu values,” The New York Times reported in 1972. One shift was to change the name of the country from Congo to Zaire. He also updated his own name to Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu wa za Banga, which means “the all-powerful warrior who because of his endurance and inflexible will to win will go from conquest to conquest leaving fire in his wake.” So humble.
Like many modern celebs, the English singer-songwriter might be known by one name, but she actually has a much longer moniker. Born Florian Cloud de Bounevialle O’Malley Armstrong, she was nevertheless called Dido — the queen of Carthage in Roman poet Virgil’s epic, “Aeneid” — throughout her childhood. It seems that she was not a fan of either her birthname or her childhood nickname, stating that Florian is a German man’s name, and calling her Dido and expecting her to deal with it was cruel.
“‘To give your child a whole lot of odd names. They were all so embarrassing,'” she told The Guardian in 2001. Instead, she sometimes referred to herself as Chloe or Claire. Today, her full name is listed with the addition of her nickname as Dido Florian Cloud de Bounevialle O’Malley Armstrong. You can just call her Dido, but she’ll be annoyed if you pronounce it “Dee-doh.”
Another one-name singer, Akon’s birthname according to IMDb is Aliaune Damala Bouga Time Bongo Puru Nacka Lu Lu Lu Badara Akon Thiam. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1973 to Senegalese parents Mor and Kine Thiam, Akon split his childhood between Senegal and New Jersey.
The R&B singer shared his full name with audiences on The Ellen Show in 2009 and offered $1,000 to anyone who could repeat it correctly. He told Ellen that his 12 names had something to do with African traditions but didn’t seem clear himself about the explanation. He did make use of one of his other names to title his upscale clothing line Aliaune.
5. Kiefer Sutherland
When Canadian actors Donald Sutherland and Shirley Douglas had twins in 1966, they named the son Kiefer William Frederick Dempsey George Rufus Sutherland who became the beloved star of ’80s flicks like “The Lost Boys” and “Young Guns,” as well as contemporary faves, such as “24” and “Designated Survivor.”
Sutherland told the Independent, “I was named after friends and family and I think it’s pretty funny that I have such a long name, it doesn’t really fit on the Green card. I think the only documents my full name fits on are my British passport and birth certificate.” In case you are wondering, Sutherland’s twin sister is named Rachel.