11 Pairs of Unrelated Famous People Who Share a Name

History has some interesting coincidences.
Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0 // Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0
Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0 // Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0 / Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA 3.0 // Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA 2.0

By choice or by chance, a number of actors, directors, and other celebrities share a name with another famous person. How many conversations proceed blithely along before the participants realize they’re talking about two different people with sound-alike names?

1. Anne Hathaway

Anne Hathaway (1555 or 1556 – 1623) was 25 or 26 and pregnant with their first child when she married 18-year-old William Shakespeare. Anne was stuck in Stratford with the kids while Will spent most of his time in London pursuing a career in the theater. In Will’s will he left his wife only his “second-best bed with the furniture.”

Anne Hathaway is also the birth name of the award-winning American actress (1982 - ) known for her performances in movies including Brokeback Mountain, The Devil Wears Prada, and Les Misérables.

2. Jane Seymour

Jane Seymour, (1951 - ) the English actress (born Joyce Penelope Wilhelmina Frankenberg), played James Bond's love interest in Live and Let Die (1973) and the title role in the American TV series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman  from 1993 to 1998. She took her stage name from the third wife of Henry VIII. That Jane Seymour died in 1537, two weeks after giving birth to a son, Edward, who was King of England and Ireland (under a Regency Council) from the age of nine until his death at age 15.

3. Steve McQueen

Don’t be surprised if Netflix says, “Recommendations for [your name] include The Thomas Crown Affair, Bullitt, and The Towering Inferno … because you liked 12 Years a Slave.” Netflix works in mysterious ways, but it’s easy to figure out what’s happening here: It’s got the American actor and “King of Cool” Terence Steven “Steve” McQueen (1930 – 1980) confused with the British director, screenwriter and video artist Steven Rodney “Steve” McQueen (1969 - ).

4. Peter Sellers

Another actor-director pair with sound-alike names is Peter Sellers (1925-1980), the British comedic actor and star of the Pink Panther movies, who played multiple roles, including the title one, in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb; and the equally oddball Peter Sellars (1957 -  ), American director of theater and opera known for casting and staging Mozart’s Don Giovanni as if it were a blaxploitation film.

5. Nick Cave

Two artsy types giving a shout-out to the inventive sounds of Nick Cave may find their voices echoing in two different caverns. Australian rocker Nicholas Edward “Nick” Cave (1957 - ), best known as the front man for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, performs the Higgs Boson Blues.

Nick Cave (1959- ) is an American fabric sculptor, dancer and performance artist known for his blend of sculpture and costume called Soundsuits.

6. Graham Greene

Although they’re both listed in the Internet Movie Database, you’re not likely to confuse (Henry) Graham Greene (1904 – 1991), the British author of The Third Man, The End of the Affair, and The Quiet American with the native Canadian actor Graham Greene (1952 - ) who appeared in The Green Mile, Dances with Wolves, and Die Hard:With a Vengeance. If you’re wondering why the writer is in IMDb, it’s because 66 movies were based on his works.

7. John Ford

How about a director and a playwright? American film director John Ford (born John Martin Feeney) (1894 –1973), cast an unknown John Wayne in Stagecoach, the first of several classic Westerns the two made together. Ford went on to win a record four Academy Awards for Best Director.

John Ford is also the name of a British playwright (1586 – c. 1639) whose plays have regained popularity in the last 20 years, after centuries of obscurity. Anticipating revivals of his “two best plays,” The Broken Heart and ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, in 2012, Alexis Soloski wrote in the New York Times, “John Ford never met a character he didn’t want to kill: gruesomely, ingeniously, poignantly.”

8. Sam Shepard

Sam Shepard (1943 - 2017) was an American playwright, actor, and director. He also published books of short stories, essays, and memoirs. His plays have garnered many awards, including the 1979 Pulitzer Prize in Drama for Buried Child. Although he played legendary test pilot Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff, Shepard had an aversion to flying.

Life was not so kind to Sam Sheppard (1923 – 1970), a physician from Cleveland, Ohio, who in 1954 was found guilty of murdering his pregnant wife after a sensational trial that drew nationwide media attention. The media circus attending his trial was comparable to the one surrounding the O.J. Simpson trial about 40 years later. After nearly a decade in prison he was retried and acquitted. A few years later, he made his debut as a professional wrestler known as “The Killer.”

9. Spike Jones

Lindley Armstrong “Spike” Jones (1911 – 1965) was an American bandleader who specialized in performing novelty arrangements of popular music, complete with bells, whistles, gunshots and zany vocals. One of his most famous spoofs was “Cocktails for Two.”

Spike Jonze (born Adam Spiegel in 1969) is an American director, producer, screenwriter and actor who directed Her as well as the 1999 cult classic Being John Malkovich (which gave him a nomination for Academy Award for Best Director). He was also a co-creator of MTV's Jackass. Apparently his eccentricity began early; when he was growing up in Bethesda, Maryland, a local store owner dubbed him "Spike Jonze" after the bandleader.

10. Francis Bacon

Sir Francis Bacon, (1561 – 1626) was an English philosopher, statesman, and scientist best known for establishing and promoting inductive methods of scientific inquiry that became known as the Baconian method, or simply the scientific method. While driving in March of 1626, he was struck with an idea for an experiment concerning the effects of freezing on the preservation of meat.  He stopped the carriage, bought a fowl and stuffed it with snow. He caught a chill and died the next month of a lung infection, but no one has put the cause of his death to fowl play.

Francis Bacon (1909 –1992) also experimented with meats—as a subject for his painting. One of the most famous works by the Irish-born British expressionist painter, "Figure with Meat," shows a ghoulish Pope Innocent X framed by two hanging sides of beef. Although some viewers find Bacon's raw, aggressive style unsettling, many critics consider him one of the major painters of the 20th century. Last November, his triptych "Three Studies of Lucian Freud" sold for  $142,405,000, the most expensive piece of art ever auctioned.

11. Erik Erickson 

Erick Erickson (1975 - ) is an ultra-conservative American TV pundit and blogger known for inflammatory tweets about a Supreme Court Justice, President Obama, and "feminazis."

Erik Erikson (1902 – 1994) was a German-born American developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst known for his theory on psychosocial development. The product of an extramarital affair, he never knew his father. In an apparent rejection of both his natural father and the stepfather who raised him, he named himself Erik Erikson, symbolically becoming his own father. Not surprisingly, he is famous for coining the phrase "identity crisis."

Want a longer list of namesakes? Find 44,639 confusable people at the “Category: Human name disambiguation pages” in Wikipedia.