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 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • 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>