The porn identity

From Lisa Ann to Dale Dabone, performers choose their names for a reason. We spoke to the experts about why

Topics: Salon -- After Dark, Pornography, Sex,

The porn identity (Credit: Salon)

What makes a good porn star name? As the childhood game goes, you can combine your first pet with the street you grew up on to find yours. (In my case, it’s Max Harvard.) But the truth is, some names just sound porn-y: For women, it’s names like Amber, Tiffany and Britney. For guys, it’s Lance, Brock and Butch. But what makes these names pornier than, say, Edith and Barnaby? What makes a porn name work?

While pornographic film has ostensibly been in existence since the birth of the moving image, the porn star name did not take hold until the 1970s, when the rise of adult theaters and the emergence of full-lenth mainstream porn films such as “Deep Throat” (1972), “The Boys in the Sand” (1971) and “The Devil in Miss Jones” (1973) created a new space for pornographic actors and actresses to become popular icons. Some argue “Deep Throat’s” Linda Lovelace was America’s first household “porn name.” Other porn stars like Bambi Woods, Seka and Johnny Wadd followed suit.

Porn icon Annie Sprinkle, who has been in the industry for the past 38 years and has worked in films big and small with costars such as Sharon Miller, Harry Reems and Vanessa Del Rio, remembers the process of shedding her old name for a new porn one and a new persona in 1973. “I didn’t want to use my real name, Ellen Steinberg. That was not sexy,” Sprinkle recalled. “I was lying in bed, I needed new name, and I heard a voice that said, ‘Sprinkle.’ I liked that word because I’ve always liked swimming and I fancied myself a mermaid,” Sprinkle remembers. This porn-name-as-rebirth story is common among the stars who choose to leave their old identities behind and rechristen themselves. The most practical reason for the porn name, however, is to keep family and friends unaware of the porn star’s new line of work, one that would be an unwelcome surprise to many family members.

“My name helped me to totally change who I was, what I didn’t like about myself, and become who I wanted to be. You can change your consciousness by changing your name and you can change other people’s perceptions about you.” For Sprinkle, the name also preceded her onstage reputation. “I didn’t pick my name because I like golden showers, but I came into that. People assumed that I was golden shower girl because I had a name like ‘Sprinkle.’”



But the porn industry, and porn names, have changed drastically since the 1970s. Annie Sprinkle recalls trends in the names of female porn stars through the ’80s, ’90s and 2000s. “The big trend was doing a takeoff on celebrity names like Angelina or Jennifer, but that came in the ’80s and ’90s. Many girls take on celebrity names, funny names, super-explicit names, elegant classy names, or girl-next-door like ‘Sunny Leone.’ But all of these names imply sexual fantasies.”

Today the major names in porn include Jenna Jameson, Alexis Texas, Sunny Leone, Joanna Angel and Lisa Ann. Female porn star names often subtly or not-so-subtly indicate aspects of a performer’s sexuality or physical characteristics, using puns, tongue-in-cheek allusions or direct references to famous porn stars of the past. They can be serious or funny, sultry or playful, original or generic. In the straight and gay porn world, men tend to go for hyper-masculinity. Famous male performers include Nick Manning, Francois Sagat, Jack Lawrence, Lexington Steele, Dale Dabone and Tyler Knight.

The Internet shifted the way adult film stars named themselves. Steven Hirsch, founder and co-chairmen of Vivid, explains that today domain names have serious influence over what an adult film star will choose to be called.  “This is not 20 years ago. These girls have agents and managers and their names are well thought out,” Hirsch explained. “The actresses understand the value of websites, they understand the value of social media, and nowadays they want to own the dot-com equivalent of their name.” The studio rarely if ever intervenes in the process. “In the past we have helped a few of the girls pick their name, but at this point most of the girls that come into the studio are fairly well set on a name before they even meet with us.”

For Arnold Zwicky, a professor of linguistics at Stanford University who writes and blogs about the linguistics of porn, a porn star’s name is a huge part of his or her persona. “[In the case of men] the names will most commonly have a one-syllable first name ending in a consonant and a two syllable, initially accented last name,” said Zwicky. Think Buck Williams or Scott Hardon. “A lot of those first names are chosen to evoke social domains of high masculinity, like cowboys, or they are more directly phallic, like Lance and Rod,” Zwicky explained.

Jack Shamama, a porn writer and producer who has seen many young gay male stars through the process of choosing a name, believes there is a direct correlation between trendy baby names and porn stars’ names. “One of my nieces’ names was a really popular baby name, and two or three years later suddenly all of these porn stars started cropping up with the same name. Afterwards I looked up statistics on the popular babies’ names for that year, and I noticed that a lot of porn stars had mirrored those statistics pretty closely. For gay men, since they are not having children, they take the names that their family members are giving their kids.” Shamama also noticed that gay porn stars tend to reappropriate the names of important people from their past, “someone who they either had a crush on, or someone who has impacted them positively or negatively,” said Shamama. “It can even be the name of a guy who picked on them in school.”

But a porn name is, in the end, just a marketing gimmick — and a successful porn performer needs to be a good, well, performer. As Hirsch puts it, “Ultimately it’s about the girl; how good she is, if she can act, how good the sex is, and how she connects with the audience. It’s less about the name than any of those other things.”

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>