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Why Penus Van Lesbian Changed His Name

Netlore Archive: If you'd been born with the name "Penus Van Lesbian" you would have changed it too

Description: Viral joke / Satire
Circulating since: 2000 / earlier
Status: False (see details below)

Email contributed by Toma R., Oct. 10, 2000:

A strikingly handsome young man walked into the office of a Hollywood agent with his resume and portfolio in hand. The agent reviewed the young man's slim resume and small portfolio with the care that was deserving of this fine young specimen.

"You have the very obvious good looks and excellent demeanor of an actor. Tell me, have you had any roles that I might be aware of."

"Other than the requisite high school and college plays, no sir," said the handsome young man.

"I dare say I know the reason why, with a name like yours," said the agent.


"Your name. Penus Van Lesbian. That's not a name that will go far in Hollywood. I'd love to represent you, but you'll have to change your name."

"Sir," the handsome young man protested. "The Van Lesbian name was my father's, my grandfather's and his father's name. We have carried this name for generations and I will not change it for Hollywood or any other reason."

"If you won't change your name, I cannot represent you young man."

"Then I bid you farewell - my name will not change." With that, Penus Van Lesbian left the agents office never to return.

Five Years Later...

The Hollywood agent returned to his office after lunch with some producers and shuffled through his mail. Mostly junk mail, trade journals and the like. There was one letter. He opened the envelope and removed the letter. As he unfolded the fine linen paper, a check dropped from the folds and onto his desk. He looked at the check. It was for 50,000 dollars!

He read the letter:

Dear Sir:

Several years ago, I entered your office determined to become an actor. You refused to represent me unless I changed my name. I objected, saying the Penus Van Lesbian name had been carried for generations and left your office. However, upon leaving, I chanced to reconsider my hastiness and after considerable reflection, I decided to heed your advice and endeavored to change my name. Now I am a famous actor with many roles and known to millions worldwide. Having achieved this fame and fortune, it is often that I think back to my meeting with you and your insistence that I change my name. I owe you a debt of gratitude, so please accept this check with my humble thanks, for it was your idea which has brought me to such wealth and fame.

Very Sincerely Yours,
Dick Van Dyke

Analysis: Are we done snickering yet? I hope it isn't necessary to point out that this story is preposterous, basically an elaboration of an old joke exploiting some very obvious wordplay on actor Dick Van Dyke's name. The above variant, slightly bowdlerized by an anonymous sharer, substitutes the spelling "Penus" for "Penis," but the joke works in any case.

It probably dates from the 1960s, when Van Dyke's half-hour sitcom was one of the most popular shows on television. Reportedly, Mary Tyler Moore, who co-starred on that show, told a version of the joke on the David Letterman Show circa 1990.

It's not uncommon for jokes to metamorphose into urban legends over time if they're plausible enough to be passed along as true — the main criterion being that a few people, at least, have to find the story believable. I wouldn't have thought that's the case here, but hey, I've been wrong about that sort of thing before.

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