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Why Willem Dafoe hasn’t gone by his birth name for decades: ‘It wasn’t me’

A Willem by any other name ...
/ Source: TODAY

Willem Dafoe is sharing the origins of his distinctive first name.

The “Platoon” star, 67, has gone by "Willem” ever since he launched his acting career, but that moniker is actually a twist on his birth name, William.

“I was always actively seeking a nickname when I was a kid,” Dafoe explained on TODAY with Hoda & Jenna Thursday, speaking with Jenna Bush Hager and guest co-host Willie Geist.

“It took me a while, it was like college or high school,” Dafoe said, explaining how a friend helped him develop his now-famous stage name.

“(He was) like, ‘Oh, Willem!’ and I kind of liked it,” he said. “It stuck somehow. I come from a big family. Billy didn’t suit me, William’s too formal.”

Jenna Bush Hager asked Dafoe if he’s ever considered going by Willie.

“I like Willie. Willie Mays … Willie’s a cool name,” he said. 

However, Dafoe said “Willem” has always felt right to him — to the point where he doesn’t really consider it a stage name.

“I stumbled on Willem, and then the irony is, I never — I don’t like the idea of a stage name, but then when it came time to put my name professionally forward, to do William or Bill seemed strange because it wasn’t me,” he said.

The “Spider-Man: No Way Home” star also discussed his name in a on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” in 2018, saying he partly chose “Willem” to distinguish his name from his dad’s.

“What happened is, big family, father’s called William. Love the guy, but you know, I don’t want to be Billy, I don’t want to be William Jr.,” he said. “You know, you want your own identity.”

Dafoe is currently starring in "Inside," about a thief who becomes trapped inside a luxury New York City apartment.