John Wayne Earned Nickname ‘The Duke’ as Kid: Here’s How

by Emily Morgan

For decades musicians’ and artists’ nicknames remained constant even when the icon left us: Elvis is The King, George Jones is The Possum, and John Wayne is The Duke.

For years, fans of westerns always recognized John Wayne as ‘The Duke’ – but not many realize why. 

The western star wasn’t born with the label we’ve known him as. When he was born, his parents dubbed him Marion Morrison.

However, the name Marion wouldn’t be around for long. At 11-years-old, he jumped at the chance to take on a new, grizzly moniker. 

The Friendship That Gave John Wayne The Iconic Nickname

His nickname of Duke originated thanks to the family’s large Airedale dog named Duke, who would walk with him to and from school each day. 

As the two walked past their neighborhood fire station every day, the firefighters would call him the dog “Big Duke,” and then, jokingly, call Wayne “Little Duke” out of fondness for the pair. 

Soon after, Wayne grew fond of the nickname, eventually telling people, “Just call me Duke” whenever someone introduced him. 

Even though Wayne was credited with the name “Duke” in just one of his many westerns, he played five different roles with Duke’s character. Moreover, in six of his films, his horse was also dubbed Duke.

What started as a loving friendship between a boy and his dog resulted in a decades-long nickname that eternalizes Wayne’s memory, and his dog, forever. 

Even though Wayne began his film career in California, his memorabilia collection celebrating his life resides in Fort Worth, Texas. 

The location is appropriate as Wayne had an appreciation for the Lone Star State, says Ethan Wayne, Wayne’s youngest son.

“The one film he put his heart and soul into was The Alamo,” he says. “He backed that film personally and professionally and ended a decade-long relationship with Republic Pictures with it. It’s a very American story and a very Texas story. There’s a long and deep connection with the West and some of the characters he portrayed onscreen.”