How Did John Wayne Get His Nickname 'The Duke'? And What Was His Real Name?

Marion Robert Morrison, better known as John Wayne, was born in Iowa in 1907. His family moved west in 1914 and he soon went from "Marion" to "The Duke." So how did the future John Wayne get his unique nickname? It turns out that everyone called him "The Duke" because some firefighters in Glendale, California thought it would be funny to give Marion the same nickname of the young boy's constant companion —  an Airedale dog named Duke.

How John Wayne's Career Was Born

"The Duke" was a great athlete at Glendale High School and went to the University of Southern California on a football scholarship. He played the sport for USC until a bodysurfing accident forced him to retire from the game early. He then started working at a local movie station to support himself through the ever-challenging Great Depression.

As time passed, he found a job at Fox Film Corporation moving different equipment around for the studio and eventually began working as an extra in the films he was working on. Since the future cinema star had been a college athlete, he fit the role perfectly and was cast as an extra in Brown of Harvard and Drop Kick in the late '20s. Soon, Hollywood director John Ford noticed him and gave him the job of herding geese in the 1928 film Mother Machree. A lifelong bond was formed between the two men and The Duke kept appearing in Ford's movies.

Read More: There's a Reason John Wayne and Clint Eastwood Never Worked Together

Why He Didn't Use His Real Name

Ford introduced the aspiring actor to a director by the name of Raoul Walsh, who offered him his first starring role as Breck Coleman in the motion picture The Big Trail. During filming, the studio executives gave Marion "The Duke" Morrison a new name, hoping it would make him easier to market. The cowboy Breck Coleman was played by the best name the studio could think of — John Wayne.

How did that particular name come about? According to Scott Eyman, author of John Wayne: The Life and Legend, it had to do with a Revolutionary War general.

"Winfield Sheehan, who ran Fox Studios, was a big fan of 'Mad Anthony' Wayne, the Revolutionary War general — that's where the 'Wayne' came from, and 'John' just sort of came up in conversations because it seemed to fit with 'Wayne': 'John Wayne.' It had a nice symmetry to it," Eyman said (quote via Yahoo! Entertainment).

John Wayne spent the next ten years working with stuntmen and real cowboys to learn the tricks of the trade. In this time he developed things like his signature walk and his on-screen fighting style. In 1939, John Ford offered Wayne a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of starring as Ringo Kid in the western classic Stagecoach. John Wayne's career as a western star took off.

Other than being a huge movie star, John Wayne had seven children: Michael, Toni, Patrick, Melinda, Marisa, Aissa, and Ethan. Posthumously, John Wayne was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Aside from being a father and a star though, John Wayne was passionate about helping doctors fight cancer. The John Wayne Cancer Foundation was created in 1985, just six years after the screen legend died of cancer.

Over the course of John Wayne's career, he starred in some of the most beloved and celebrated films of all time including True GritThe Shootist, Rooster Cogburn, The Alamo, Big Jake, El Dorado, Rio Bravo, The Quiet Man, Rio Grande, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Sands of Iwo Jima, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and The Searchers.


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