Will Ferrell Recounts “Excruciating” Childhood Experience of Being Called By His Birth Name

Will Ferrell has revealed why he doesn’t go by his birth name.

At the end of the latest episode of Christina Applegate and Jamie Lynn Sigler’s podcast MeSsy, Ferrell participated in a game where his Anchorman co-star analyzed his personality according to his picks for his top five favorite movies. After noticing that Ferrell picked ensemble films like The Godfather and Shawshank Redemption, “where somebody would have your back,” Applegate noted that the actor may have felt that growing up, he didn’t have “a place of belonging in a group.”

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Ferrell confirmed there was “a lot of validity to that” and shared a story from his childhood. “You know what’s interesting about that [analysis]? This is like a minor thing—it’s not really even trauma. I remember being so embarrassed because my real name is John. John William Ferrell,” he said.

“The first day of school, it’d be ‘John.’ Like, John Farrell,” the Elf star continued. “It was so embarrassing to me to have to say, ‘Here, but I go by Will. I don’t go by John.”

Ferrell described the experience as “excruciating,” adding that he hated “having to remind the teacher that I’m not John.” He admitted that looking back, he was perplexed as to why it was “so embarrassing” to clarify that he went by Will.

When Sigler asked why he didn’t like his birth name, Ferrell explained it “wasn’t my choice,” as his parents called him Will despite picking John as his first name.

Ferrell previously revealed his birth name while appearing on The Late Late Show With James Corden in 2020. When asked by the late night host if his name appeared on his passport as “William Ferrell,” the actor responded, “Get ready—viral moment right here: John William Ferrell.” He also shared that his father, on occasion, would use the nickname “J.W.”

Elsewhere in the podcast, Ferrell talked about taking a chance on Elf as one of his first major projects following his Saturday Night Live exit. “The script really needed some work, so I left [SNL] with the concept [of Elf‘s story] but not necessarily a great script,” he recalled.

Ferrell reworked the script but still had concerns over whether the now-holiday classic would work. When Applegate and Sigler pointed out that the movie wouldn’t have been possible without him being the star and committing so much to the character of Buddy the Elf, the actor shared that James Caan would tease him on set for his performance.

“[Caan] would tease me. I like to do bits but I’m not like ‘on’ all the time. In between set ups, he would be like, ‘I don’t get you. You’re not funny.’ And I’m like, ‘I know. I’m not Robin Williams.,'” Ferrell remembered. And he was like, ‘People ask me: “Is he funny?” And I’m like, “No, he’s not funny.”‘

Ferrell continued, “It was all with love but at the same time [harsh].”

Though Caan, who died in 2022 at 82, didn’t get Ferrell’s humor at the time of filming, he changed his mind after watching the flick. “We were walking out of the theater at the premiere and he was like — and this was the best compliment — ‘I gotta tell you, everything you were doing during the film was way too over the top. Now that I see it in the movie, it’s brilliant,'” shared Ferrell.

“I love that the whole time, he’s not acting. He’s truly annoyed at me,” joked the Step Brothers star. “Like, ‘Can this guy shut the fuck up? Jesus!’ So I literally drove him crazy in that movie.”

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