There are some textbook traits that will mark a kid as a nerd in the eyes of his or her young contemporaries. Things like looking different, speaking strangely, getting really good grades or being “too into something” are characteristics, and it’s especially bad if you exhibit more than one of these. But have hope, young nerds of the world! Take pride in your weirdness! And parents, know that you are doing the right thing in raising more nerds. They will be the complicated, interesting, cool adults of the future.
Need evidence? Here are five really awesome people who had archetypal nerdy beginnings.
1. James Earl Jones
This veteran actor has one of the best-known voices of our time, one that was used for one of the most menacing characters of our time: Darth Vader. He’s done a trillion other reputable things too, but … Darth Vader! As a kid, Jones suffered a bad stutter. He rarely spoke around other kids. He also loved poetry. Oh man, I bet he had it rough. The poetry is, ironically, what eventually brought him out of his shell. A high school teacher noticed Jones’ poetic predisposition and coerced him into reciting out loud. Jones conquered the stutter, and later the acting world.
2. Sir Ian McKellen
This guy loved theater, even as a kid, and we all remember from high school what that’s like for your reputation. He also went to a school camp where he learned to critique theater productions. Besides that, McKellen had a close relationship with his stepmother, and liking your parents is pretty damn dweeby. McKellen did really well in school — bring on the taunts — and even became head boy, (a position of responsibility and uber-nerdiness in British schools.) But now he’s a magic badass. What you got to say about that?
3. John Wayne
This symbol of tough-guy-ness and calm cool was actually born Marion Michael Morrison. Marion, people! You know how cruel kids can be. Wayne also had excellent grades and was a member of the drama club. It seems he may have tried being a jock for a bit, but he was cut from the football team after freshman year. That’s right: Nothin’ says rugged, capable cowboy like drama club.
4. Sophia Loren
This whip-smart beauty has enjoyed a stellar acting career of more than 50 years. She’s been the recipient of multiple lifetime achievement awards. But she was born out of wedlock in Italy, in a time when it was really taboo, and was teased mercilessly throughout school for being illegitimate. Loren was also tall and gangly, and endured the nickname Sophia Toothpick. She never fit the mold. Later, after puberty, a filmmaker told her that she should lose weight and get a nose job. Luckily, she had the confidence to refuse to change her looks. For the record, the filmmaker was Carlo Ponti who would fall desperately in love with her and whom she would eventually marry. Burn.
5. Sigourney Weaver
Born Susan Alexandra Weaver, this actor wasn’t always a hardcore alien butt kicker. She was painfully shy as a child. She also happened to tower over fellow kids, growing to a self-conscious 5’11’’ tall by age 12. At 14, she decided her name wasn’t long enough, and picked a new one out of the novel The Great Gatsby. If that wasn’t fodder for some serious teasing, she employed the classic defense move: She became the class clown, and by the end of high school had found her performing niche.