Thursday, October 13, 2011

"She changed her name!"

I am a credit scourer. I scour credits.

My guess is that film fans divide themselves into two categories: trivia-oriented types who like to ferret out every name they recognize in the opening credits, and those who just want to get lost in the visuals and the world of the story, considering words on the screen to be a distraction.

Although the composition of shots is incredibly important to me, so is it important to know who was involved in the making of the movie -- especially the actors. If only because I'm more likely to know more of their names than I am to know all but the last few credits behind the camera.

And so I was credit scouring last night, not on a movie, but on a TV show. (The person I'm talking about here has thus far been primarily a movie actress, so the relevance to this blog is clear to me.)

We were watching the season premiere of House, eight days after it originally aired. We were teetering on the verge of giving up House last season, but have decided to stick with it, and were immediately rewarded upon seeing Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) start the season in prison. (He drove a car into the house of his ex-girlfriend, Lisa Cutty (Lisa Edelstein), at the end of last season).

When I saw only two names appear as the stars, I knew it was going to be a different kind of episode, minus most of the normal cast. The rest of the actors fell into the guest star section. (Among the guest stars were Jaleel White, otherwise known as Urkel from Family Matters. As a prisoner!)

Anyway, the two names were Hugh Laurie and Odette Annable.

My mind immediately went to work imagining who this "Odette Annable" might be. Likely to be important this season, anyway, I figured. Especially since there's a gaping hole in the cast now that Edlestein has departed the show.

When she showed up on screen about 10 to 15 minutes later, I realized that Odette Annable was Odette Yustman.

"She changed her name!"

If you don't know Yustman/Annable from the photo above, she has appeared in such films as The Unborn, You Again and Cloverfield. I was struck enough by her appearance -- and to a lesser extent her talent -- after seeing Cloverfield, that I learned her name.

Part of the reason it was easy to remember, however, was that her name was Odette Yustman. Memorable first name, memorable last name. Not Jane Smith or Sarah Wilson. Odette Yustman. And, pretty clearly not a stage name, which is kind of refreshing.

Well, apparently, her commitment to real-world naming conventions extends beyond the decision not to give herself a movie star name. She also took her husband's last name when she got married last October. Dave Annable is an actor who appears on the show Brothers & Sisters, but I just google-imaged him, and he's not familiar to me.

Now, this is not unprecedented. Phylicia Ayers-Allen became Phylicia Rashad when she married Ahmad Rashad. (And is still Phylicia Rashad, even though they've been divorced for ten years.) However, the fact that the mom on The Cosby Show was the first example that came to my mind is telling: Not many actresses want to give up the brand name they were associated with when they became famous.

Slightly more common is to give yourself a new name that incorporates your original last name (even if it's a stage name). Examples of this phenomenon include Courteney Cox Arquette, Jada Pinkett Smith and Rebecca Romijn Stamos. Then, when you kick John Stamos to the curb, his name easily falls off the end so you're no longer stuck with it. (Interestingly, though, Rebecca Romijn has remarried actor Jerry O'Connell, but has not named herself Rebecca Romijn O'Connell. Lesson learned?)

Can you think of another recent example where an actress sacrificed the identity by which the public knows her? I'm having real difficulty here.

In fact, I considered it so unusual that I thought it was important to actually mention it to my wife, while the show was actually going on. This should have been a no-no for a couple reasons. My wife is in the opposite of the two categories of fan I delineated at the start of this post -- she doesn't care what other TV show/movie so-and-so was in, because it takes her out of the moment of this TV show/movie. (And I must say, that's probably the more pure approach to this whole thing.) Not only that, but by telling her I knew that this actress used to have a different name -- and considering that an important thing to bring up during the show -- I was potentially tipping my hand that I found Odette Yustman/Annable attractive enough to learn her name in the first place.

It's made me think about the whole practice of changing your last name in general. My wife did not change her name, and I was fully on board with that, in part because her first name does not flow well with my last name. But I also think there's something about a person's original identity that is sacred in some way. At my job, I have to change people's last names when they get married, so their new name appears in the global email list. It can be confusing to remember that this person has now become this person, even for me -- and I'm the one who actually made the change. Imagine how confusing it is to people who don't even know her name has changed. They might look for this person in the email list, not find her, and assume that she had been fired. My company is big enough that even some pretty uncommon first names are shared by multiple people. Michelle Jones could just as easily be a new hire, or someone they don't know who works in a different part of the company, as Michelle Brown's married name.

The idea that a woman's original last name is sacred is actually kind of a reversal of what I once felt. When I was growing up, I was very slightly envious of the girls, because they had something I didn't: the thrill of the unknown. The mystery of one day having a different last name. I suppose if I were really evolved/new-agey, I might take a different last name under certain circumstances. But that never occurred to me when I was a kid, and frankly, I don't think I could ever go through with it. So when I was a kid and first learned that girls changed their names when they got married, this fascinated me terribly. I loved the idea of having no idea, at that stage, what your last name might be for the last 50-60 years of your life.

Apparently, Odette Yustman loved that idea, too. So when she married Dave Annable, she was only too pleased to become Odette Annable.

I only hope Dave Annable didn't make her do it out of some kind of domineering patriarchal spirit. That would be unacceptable. Changing it by her own choice, however, seems kind of lovely to me. On the one hand, it's against the spirit of both feminism (which I support) and career practicality (which I am somewhat indifferent to). But on the other, it's so unusual that it has its own kind of rebelliousness -- a rebelliousness rooted in one of the world's oldest marital conventions.

I have to consider it telling, however, that I am choosing only one label for this post: "odette yustman." I thought of including both "odette yustman" and "odette annable," or possibly just "odette annable." But then I ultimately thought about the function of the labels we tag our posts with, and it's this: to help a reader quickly identify a topic that interests them among our extensive list of archives. And I considered the reader more likely to want to read an article about Odette Yustman than Odette Annable, because that's the name they know -- if they know her at all.

But I guess we'll really have to see how long my blog goes, and if Odette Annable goes on to significantly greater fame. She's only 26. Maybe in five years, after five years on House and five more prominent movies, Odette Annable will be the only name anyone even remembers.


Thaddeus said...

Wow, you really, really care about this woman...

On a side-note, "the credit scourer" would find a place on the cbs lineup.

Vancetastic said...

Nah, I don't care about this woman per se -- I care about the phenomenon. She just happens to be the example at hand!

Vancetastic said...

Also: Funny!

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your post! I didn't know her until I was "researching" other actors/actresses and came across her name. I too thought it odd and yet endearing that she would change her name in her industry. I think this was a well composed post with great points!