When West Wing star Martin Sheen was a young aspiring actor in the ’60s, things were very different for people of color in the entertainment industry. Many of his peers, like Danny Thomas and Danny Kaye, were forced to Anglicize or Westernize their names in order to get acting gigs. Born to a Spanish father and Irish mother, both immigrants, the ‘Apocalypse Now’ star decided early on in his foray into acting that if he wanted to take his career to the next level in a racist society, he would have to change his own Spanish name to a very English sounding name.
“That’s one of my regrets,” he told Close Weekly in June 2022 about his decision to go with a western stage name. Although the public knew him as Martin Sheen, he told the outlet he was careful never to legally change his name to that, noting that his birth name is still on his birth certificate, driver’s license, passport and other documents . “Sometimes if you don’t have enough insight or even enough courage to stand up for what you believe in, you get persuaded and you pay for it later,” he added. “But of course I only speak for myself.”
So what is Sheen’s real name? You may be surprised to learn that you may already know it and have heard it many times.
Martin Sheen’s famous son kept his family name
Does the name Estévez sound familiar to you? Ramon Estévez is the birth name of legendary actor Martin Sheen, and you’ve probably heard this surname many times. Sheen’s son Emilio Estévez decided to use the family name professionally, and when Emilio rose to fame as part of the Brat Pack in films like ‘St. Elmo’s Fire’ and ‘The Breakfast Club’ in the ’80s, suddenly the family name was on everyone’s lips.
“The only influence I had on Emilio was keeping his name,” Sheen told Closer Weekly. “When he first started, his agent advised him to change his name to Sheen and he wouldn’t do it. And I thank God he didn’t.” The ‘Mighty Ducks’ star told The Guardian in 2020: “There was a lot of opposition to my decision at the time, but I knew very well that my father deserved his name and I did didn’t.” Explaining the greater importance of honoring his Spanish heritage on Talk Stoop With Nessa, Emilio shared, “The Hispanic community has embraced me… and I can’t tell you how many people on the street stopped me on the street and said, “You know, seeing your name on a poster, seeing your name on the screen meant so much to me.”
The Ramon Estévez name lives on with Emilio’s eldest brother, who also bears his father’s name, but what about Charlie Sheen?
Charlie Sheen gave a strange reason for changing his name
Hot Shots star Charlie Sheen is the son of Martin Sheen and brother of Emilio Estévez, but like his father, he chose the nickname Sheen. He was born Carlos Estévez and anglicized his first name. As he told Fox News in 2017, he had a pretty weird reason for changing it, and it was all because of his uncle Carlos. “We’d both respond to the name Carlos, so I changed my name,” the “Major League” star told the outlet, but also noted that his upbringing “was never steeped in Spanish culture, language or heritage.” was. However, for his role in Robert Rodriguez’s 2013 film Machete Kills, Charlie was billed by his birth name, according to CNN. So maybe he’s not averse to acknowledging his origins.
The Sheens aren’t the only actors who have been vocal about the pressure to change their names in Hollywood. Keanu Reeves revealed that in the early days of his career he considered changing his name to Chuck Spadina (after the Toronto avenue where Reeves grew up), per Exclaim! Similarly, Leonardo DiCaprio was told his name was “too ethnic” and was advised to change it to Lenny Williams, according to the shortlist. Actor Fuad Ahmed wrote an op-ed for CBC in 2021 detailing why he was hiding his Arab ethnicity and changed his name to Gabe Gray to get work in TV and film.