Why Was Marilyn Monroe Named “Norma Jeane” at Birth?

We already know how Marilyn Monroe, born Norma Jeane Mortenson, came up with her stage name — “Marilyn” was from Marilyn Miller, and “Monroe” was her mother’s maiden name.

But why was she named “Norma Jeane” as a baby?

In 1922, her mother Gladys, originally from California, moved to Kentucky to try to get her first two children (Robert and Berniece) back from her former husband’s family.

While there, Gladys worked as a housekeeper in the home of Harry and Lena Cohen of Louisville. She also helped care for the couple’s young daughters, Dorothy and Norma Jean.

norma jean cohen, namesake
The Cohen family of KY, 1930 U.S. Census

She eventually returned to California, alone.

In 1926, Gladys had her third and final baby. “She named the child after the little girl she had looked after whilst in Kentucky and, for the sake of respectability, also gave the surname of her former husband, hence naming her Norma Jeane Mortenson (she added an ‘e’ to Norma Jean and changed Mortensen to Mortenson on the birth certificate).”

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Source: Morgan, Michelle. Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed. London: Little, Brown Book Group, 2012.


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