Why Emilio Estevez And Charlie Sheen Have Different Names: Race, Hollywood And Complex Family History

Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez were quintessential teen heartthrobs in the 1980s. Via hit movies like Platoon and Wall Street (Sheen), The Outsiders and The Breakfast Club (Estevez), the two were among the most recognisable young faces of the 80s – and they conquered Hollywood without most people ever realising they were related.

Born to Apocalypse Now star father Martin Sheen and TV actor mother Janet Estevez, Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez are brothers. Martin, born Ramón Estévez of Hispanic heritage, named his future film star sons Carlos and Emilio – but while Emilio embraced his heritage, brother ‘Charlie’ chose a different path to fame.

Why do Martin Sheen and Charlie Sheen have different names from the rest of the Estevez clan? The answer lies in a complex tale of casting, racism and family pride.

Left to right: Emilio Estevez, Charlie Sheen and Martin Sheen. Credit: Alberta Ortega Online USA, Inc via Getty

Born Ramón Antonio Gerardo Estevez in Dayton, Ohio in 1940, Martin Sheen’s parents were first generation immigrants; his father Francisco Estevez hailed from Salceda de Caselas, Galicia, and his mother Mary Ann Phalen was from County Tipperary, Ireland.

In his early 20s, Ramón moved to New York City to become an actor – but he found that casting directors were prejudiced against him because of his Hispanic surname. Speaking to Inside the Actors Studio in 2003, Sheen recalled: “Whenever I would call for an appointment, whether it was a job or an apartment, and I would give my name, there was always that hesitation and when I’d get there, [the job] was always gone.”

“So I thought, I got enough problems trying to get an acting job, so I invented Martin Sheen,” he explained. He arrived at the name by merging the names of two men he admired: the supportive CBS casting director Robert Dale Martin, plus the Catholic televangelist Fulton J Sheen.

Sheen went on to star in dozens of TV shows under this new name, before the Emmy Award-winning TV film That Certain Summer (1972), the drama Badlands (1973) and especially Apocalypse Now (1979) made him a household name. But Martin Sheen deeply regretted changing his name to appeal to casting directors of the 60s and 70s.

“It’s still Estevez officially,” Sheen has since clarified. “I never changed it officially. I never will. It’s on my driver’s license and passport and everything. I started using Sheen, I thought I’d give it a try, and before I knew it, I started making a living with it and then it was too late. In fact, one of my great regrets is that I didn’t keep my name as it was given to me. I knew it bothered my dad.”

As a result, after he married Janet Templeton in 1961, Martin’s four children all received the surname Estevez. Emilio is the eldest, born in 1962. His brother Carlos was born in 1965.

Emilio Estevez got his first acting role alongside his father, in a 1980 stage production of Mister Roberts. However, Estevez didn’t want to become known in the industry as “‘Martin Sheen’s son'” – he wanted to find his own path, and so he chose to retain the lesser-known family surname. Sure enough, in the 80s, Emilio established himself as a key member of the Brat Pack.

In an interview with the Hudson Union Society, Martin Sheen commented that he and Emilio more closely resemble their Irish relatives than their Spanish relatives: “When I came to New York in 1959, there was a great prejudice against Hispanics, largely against the Puerto Rican community, which I adored – and I felt very much a part of the Hispanic community. But my look, they were telling me, was Irish.”

Emilio seconded this, noting that casting agents put pressure on him to change his name. “They said, ‘Well, it would be a lot easier, kiddo, if you went with Sheen. It’s a brand name… plus you don’t look Hispanic.’ Same issues as 1979, 1980.”

Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez. Credit: Carlos Alvarez via Getty Images

But Emilio was not swayed. “I chose to stay with my family name because, first of all, Emilio Sheen looks stupid. Right?” Estevez has said. “And it’s just not who I am, man. And I have to tell you, the Latino community has always been very supportive of that choice and very proud of me that I chose to go with that – and honour my Latino roots.”

What’s more, Martin Sheen convinced Emilio Estevez to stick with his original name: “[My father] said, ‘don’t make the same mistake I made. You will regret it for the rest of your life.’ Because he does. It was probably the best advice I ever got from my father.”

Emilio’s siblings Ramón and Renée both followed suit, retaining the Estevez name and becoming actors, too.

Charlie Sheen, on the other hand, was never enamoured with his birth name. Christened Carlos Estevez, he became known as Charlie from his earliest school years.

When Estevez was later asked if Charlie Sheen “identified with his Latino roots,” he replied, “I don’t know. He was never Carlos growing up – he was always Charlie. So, does he connect? It’s something he and I never talk about.”

Keen to follow in the footsteps of his eldest brother and his father, Charlie Sheen decided to adopt his father’s famous surname to boost his chances in a highly competitive industry.

“I think there’s a better balance with Charlie Sheen, the way it has a nicer ring to it,” Charlie commented on his anglicised name in 1986. He also felt a certain pride in the name of Sheen: “I figured that with how Pop has established Sheen in this business, I should probably carry it on after he has retired.”

There is one exception to Charlie Sheen’s filmography. In 2013, he starred as the President of the USA in Machete Kills. For this particular movie, he chose to credit himself with his birth name, Carlos Estevez, because the film features mainly Hispanic characters.

Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez in the 2000 TV movie Rated X. Credit: Ava V. Gerlitz Showtime via Getty

Under his better-known name, Charlie Sheen won fame for starring in Platoon, Wall Street and The Three Musketeers, as well as the TV shows Spin City and Two and a Half Men. By 2010, he had become the highest-paid actor on television.

Charlie and Emilio have collaborated on various movies over the decades. Young Guns, Men at Work, Rated X, Wisdom, Loaded Weapon 1, Badlands and Never On Tuesday are among their shared films.

Credit: Riccardo S. Savi via Getty Images

Likewise, Martin Sheen has regularly starred alongside his sons in Hollywood movies, often playing fictional fathers to them. Martin and Charlie both feature in Wall Street, Hot Shots! Part Deux, No Code of Conduct, Spin City, Anger Management and Two and a Half Men.

Meanwhile, Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen collaborated for The War at Home, In the Custody of Strangers and Bobby (which Estevez also directed).

In 2010, Emilio wrote, produced and directed The Way, a drama about the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in France and Spain. Martin Sheen starred as the lead, a grieving American father who follows the medieval route.

Emilio commented that the film was particularly relevant to his life, especially as his own US-born son, Taylor Levi Estevez, had moved to Spain. “So, with my son living in Spain, marrying a Spanish girl, my grandfather being Spanish – this film is very personal,” he said. “It takes on a whole other aspect to my life and my career beyond any other film I’ve done, frankly.”

Credit: Ilya S. Savenok via Getty Images for WE Day

Despite Charlie Sheen’s recent scandals regarding substance abuse and allegations of domestic violence and sexual assault, Martin Sheen has remained in staunch support of his son.

“I adore him,” Martin said of Charlie in 2021. “I’ve always, always adored him. His recovery and his life is a miracle and he’s an extraordinary man. We went through as you, as everyone knows I suppose, some very difficult times when he was out there…He’s come back, thank heaven”.