I just finished writing a Monday Movie Trivia article for James Cameron, but the last fact involved Sigourney Weaver and while fact checking it I discovered she was actually born Susan Weaver. A nice little piece of trivia that’s not too shocking, but when I discovered why she changed her name my jaw dropped much farther, so I thought I’d share it with everyone. Hit the jump for the full story.
It’s confirmed many places online that in 1963, at the age of 14, Susan began using the name Sigourney after reading The Great Gatsby. Two questions immediately arose in my mind. The first was “What did the character Sigourney Howard do in the novel that inspired Susan so much?” The second curiosity was if she just used Sigourney as a pseudonym or actually changed her name. After a short hunt online I found a CNN interview that answered my second question:
COREN: You were born “Susan” but you changed your name to “Sigourney” when you were 14. How did your parents feel about that?
WEAVER: They called me “S”. My parents called me “S” for a long time, because they thought I might change it again to “Sarah” or “Sally” or something. They knew I liked the initial. And yet, when I thought about it, my mother`s name was Desiree. She was British. She changed her name to Liz, which was her mother`s name. And then my father`s name was Sylvester, after his father, but everyone called him Pat, because he had red hair.
So, I thought this is genetic. If I`m changing my name, it`s really their fault and I think I just was always called Sue. And I was this tall, I was six feet tall, I needed a longer name. So, I didn`t ever mean to really change my name, but now that I look back, I think that is the age where kids try to reinvent themselves.
She had also grown to despise her own name. Sick and tired of being called Sue or Suzie, names which were far too plain and better suited to little girls, she desperately wanted to find a replacement, something a bit more grandiose, a name befitting her personality. One night, while reading F. Scott Fitzgerald´s The Great Gatsby, Susan found the perfect name. During a plush party scene, a flirting Jordan Baker asks Nick Carraway to contact her later under her aunt´s name, Mrs Sigourney Howard. The name is mentioned only once and the aunt never actually appears, yet the impassioned reader was captivated by the sound and mystery that the word evoked. “To my ear Sigourney was a stage name, long and curvy.”
The very next day Susan rounded up her best friends and announced that henceforth she was to be referred to as Sigourney. When her parents found out about the name change they were fairly upset and shocked; it had all happened so quickly and without warning. In the end they were most reasonable and respected their daughter´s wishes, although Sylvester stressed the fact that in his opinion Sigourney was more of a man´s name, and for a while both he and Elizabeth insisted on calling their daughter “S”, just in case she changed her name again. Sigourney was named after her mother´s best friend in England, Susan Pretzlik, an explorer of some note and repute. Once, at a reflective moment, the actress confessed that if she had met Pretzlik before switching over to Sigourney she probably would have kept her original name. “I think I´m very definitely a Suzie”, she later admitted to Interview magazine in July 1988.
So there you have it. Can you imagine changing your name at 14? Even scarier, if F. Scott Fitzgerald had chosen a different name — or had lost his train of thought while writing that scene — then Sabrina Weaver could have been the star of Alien, or perhaps her name wouldn’t have been memorable enough for a make-or-break moment in her youth that decided what her first film role was, and perhaps she never would have gotten the chance to rise to fame.
Three more pieces of trivia until next week! At the Yale School of Drama, one of Sigourney’s classmates was Meryl Streep. Also, her father was an NBC TV President from 1952 to 1955, and he’s the guy who came up with the desk and couch stage setup for late night television. Lastly, her salary for Alien: Resurrection (1997) was more than the entire cost of the original Alien (1979) film.