|Photo signed "Ehrich"|
Or to be more precise, the spelling of his real name.
Houdini's real name was Ehrich Weiss. Note the spelling: E-H-R-I-C-H. There's an "H" in there. That is how he spelled his real name throughout his life. We know this because with have numerous examples of his Ehrich Weiss signature. It appears on the postcard he sent his mother when he ran away from home. It appears on love letters to Bess. It appears in signed books and photos. It appears on some contracts and legal papers. Ehrich Weiss. Show me an example of his name spelled any other way in his own hand and I will eat my straitjacket.
His name was never Eric or Erich. These are the most frequent misspellings that find their way into print. "Eric" might come from accounts of him billing himself as "Eric The Great" as a boy. (Although I think this might have been a misspelling by early journalists who only heard the name and assumed the most obvious spelling.) But even if this spelling is rooted in a stage name, it's just as wrong as saying Bess's maiden name was Raymond (which also happens).
There's no excuse for ever using Erich. It's just wrong, wrong, wrong. However, it certainly looks more correct than Ehrich, so it's understandable how this misspelling can stick in the head and flow off the hand. Even the 1960 biography Houdini: Master of Magic misuses Erich throughout. But there is no justifiable reason for ever using it. So…
The only exception is the spelling Erik Weisz. Now, I don't like seeing this anymore than Eric or Erich, but this is the spelling that appears on his actual birth certificate. However, Houdini himself never spelled his name this way. When the Weiss family came to the U.S. when Houdini was 4, the spelling became Ehrich Weiss and remained so for the rest of his life. This Erik spelling shouldn't be used at all, in my opinion. It just muddies the waters. But the main source of lazy journalists, Wikipedia, lists Erik Weisz as his "real" name, so it is frequently written as such (and I'm afraid I'm responsible for introducing the birth certificate to Wikipedia -- wish I hadn't now).
Using a combination spelling his new world first name with old world last name -- Ehrich Weisz -- is a new phenomena that only belongs in fiction. And while it's said his first name evolved from Ehrich to "Erie" to "Harry" (and some boyhood friends remember him as "Harry"), I've never seen Harry Weiss on any documentation, so one has to be careful with that one.
So with this 2000th post, let's all get firmly behind Ehrich Weiss. It's the spelling Houdini used. It's the spelling Bess used. It's the spelling everyone used. It was Houdini's real name.
What's that name again?…
Photo from the collection of John C. Hinson. Signature image from a 1901 legal paper reproduced in The Original Houdini Scrapbook by Walter B. Gibson.