The world knew her as Naomi Judd, but did you know that the Judds matriarch was born under a completely different name? That’s right: The country superstar was originally Diana Ellen Judd.
She legally changed her name to Naomi early on in the Judds’ career, and she’s not the only one: Her daughter and Judds band mate Wynonna Judd also legally changed her name from her birth moniker, Christina Claire Ciminella.
That last name comes from Naomi’s first husband, Michael Ciminella, who Naomi married in 1964. Ciminella isn’t Wynonna’s biological father — that would be Charles Jordan, who abandoned Naomi while she was pregnant — but Naomi did give her daughter the Ciminella name for a few years, before reverting to Judd after Naomi and Ciminella divorced in 1972.
After Naomi — then known as Diana — split from Ciminella, she didn’t think twice about changing her name back to Judd. “If I called for pizza or dry cleaning, they’d put it under S or Z,” she said of that decision, according to correspondent and author Bob Millard’s 1988 Penguin Random House biography, The Judds. “I was having a time with this long name. Whatever I did, it gave me troubles, and I did not feel like a Ciminella. I was a Judd and darned proud of it.”
At the same time, she decided to look for a new first name, too. According to Millard’s book, Naomi felt that the name Diana didn’t fit “her own spiritual, rural Kentucky conception of her true heritage.” She searched the Bible for women whose stories bore similarities to her own, and settled on Naomi.
Known best as the mother-in-law of Ruth, the Biblical Naomi moves to a foreign land with her husband and two sons. While away from her native home, Naomi’s husband and both sons — who’ve gotten married in the meantime — die, and Naomi is left with her two daughters-in-law, with whom she has grown very close. Naomi ultimately makes her return to Bethlehem with one of her daughters, Ruth, while the other, Orpah, stays in the family’s adopted homeland of Moab.
Naomi Judd was the mother of two daughters — Wynonna, with whom she would go on to form the Judds and become legendary in the country sphere, and actor Ashley Judd — and it’s easy to draw parallels between her life and the biblical Naomi. But those parallels were largely prophetic: At the time Naomi Judd legally took her first name, her two daughters were still young.
After Naomi’s name change, Wynonna��— then Christina Ciminella — decided to take on a new identity of her own.
“Ciminella was so Italian, and it always sounded like that disease salmonella,” she says in Millard’s book, adding that she got the idea for her first name as she was embracing a life in music, and looking for a moniker that would reflect that.
“I got the name from a song called ‘Route 66,'” Wynonna explains. “There’s a line that says, ‘Flagstaff, Arizona, don’t forget Wynona.’ So I just decided to change it. I know people probably think I changed for professional reasons, but that’s not why.”
Additionally, according to Millard, Naomi suggested that her second daughter, Ashley, consider changing her name — she even suggested that she go by Ramona to rhyme with Wynonna. Ashley declined, but did decide to start going by Ashley Judd, though her legal name remains Ashley Ciminella.
Naomi Judd died on Saturday (April 30) after a long fight with mental illness. The Judds were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame just one day later, on Sunday (May 1). See pictures from across the Judds’ career in the gallery below.