The real reason Leonardo DiCaprio was told to change his name

You’ve heard of Lenny Williams, right? He’s an Oscar-winning actor with good looks and money to boot. Doesn’t it ring? He starred in one of the highest-grossing films of all time before he was 30 and has put in a number of career-best performances, including The Departed. Still nothing?

Then how about Leonardo DiCaprio? The actor has gone through many transitions from teenage heartthrob to lead to character actor during his career. In a 2000 interview with Rolling Stone, he once described his views on fame: “I didn’t know what it meant to be someone so recognizable. I didn’t know what it means. And Titanic is something that will never happen again. And neither do I. Never try to repeat it.”

DiCaprio has a name that is instantly recognizable to many. It supposedly means “lion” and “brave” if that’s what you’re into. It may surprise you that an agent once told DiCaprio he needed to change his name.

Leonardo DiCaprio was almost Lenny Williams instead

When Leonardo DiCaprio started out as a kid, one agent felt the young actor needed a makeover if he was going to make it in Hollywood. He suggested DiCaprio change his name because it sounded too “ethnic” to do.

“Yes, when I was 11 when I first wanted to be an actor professionally. We went to an agent and they wanted to change my name to Lenny Williams,” DiCaprio told the Short List in 2015. “They felt my name was too ethnic and I wasn’t going to get as many jobs. That prevented me from being an actor for a few years. I tried again two years later when I was 13 and got an agent to accept me by my name.

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DiCaprio refused to change his name and waited to become an actor. As for the origin of DiCaprio’s name, it turns out that the actor’s title was inspired by Leonardo da Vinci, history’s other great Leonardo. DiCaprio told NPR in 2014, “My dad told me they were honeymooning at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence I think. They were looking at a da Vinci painting and they say I started kicking angrily while my mother was pregnant. And my dad took that as a sign, and I suppose DiCaprio wasn’t that far from da Vinci. And so my father, the artist that he is, said, ‘That’s our boy’s name.’”

Leonardo DiCaprio finds success in acting

Sometimes you look back on things with regret, but it’s easy to say that Leonardo DiCaprio isn’t losing any sleep when he refuses to change his name. While the world may never know Lenny Williams, they definitely know who DiCaprio is. The star made a name for herself early in his career by starring in both What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and Romeo + Juliet. But it was the “Titanic” that shaped cinema history.

Still, DiCaprio struggled to achieve what many considered acting’s crown jewel — the Oscar. Despite his best efforts, DiCaprio’s roles on The Wolf of Wall Street, Django Unchained, and The Departed didn’t earn him an award. That all changed in 2016, when DiCaprio suffered for his art and starred in the dark The Revenant. The film and the award that followed was the icing on the cake of his already impressive career.