Baby name story: Mahershalalhashbaz

Actor Mahershala Ali
Mahershala Ali

When actor Mahershala (pronounced mah-HER-shah-lah) Ali was born in California in 1974, his name was even longer: Mahershalalhashbaz Gilmore.

Where did that first name come from?

In the Bible, [Mahershalalhashbaz is] the name of the prophet Isaiah’s second son. He was instructed to write the name in capital letters on a rock, and it means “divine restoration” or “speedy to the spoils.” My mom, Willicia, had a dream about it and felt very strongly it should be my name.

He went by the shortened form Hershal until he was a young adult.

In the year 2000 — after he converted to Islam, but before he began acting professionally — he changed his surname from Gilmore to Ali. So, for the first decade of his career, he was credited as “Mahershalalhashbaz Ali.”

Eventually, though, he decided to shorten his first name. Here’s how he explained the choice:

I think if you have any desire to be a leading man or to really carry some of these stories, there’s this relationship that has to be cultivated with an audience. People have to be able to say your name.

I didn’t want a couple of syllables to get in the way of me having the fullest experience as an actor.


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