Oscar name meaning: why are Academy Awards called Oscars, where does the name come from - who is Oscar?

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The history behind the famous statue is almost as interesting as the awards ceremony itself

Everything Everywhere All At Once, the multiverse comedy-drama, is at the top of the list, followed by 11 other movies with multiple nominations each, including The Banshees of Inisherin, All Quiet on the Western Front and Top Gun: Maverick.

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The acting categories are also exciting, with the number of Asian nominees at the ceremony in 2023 today (12 March) at an all-time high thanks to nominations for Stephanie Hsu, Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Wan, and Hong Chau.

But while “Oscar” is the popular nickname for the statuette, which is officially known as the Academy Award of Merit, from where did that more casual name originate? Here is everything you need to know.

Why is it called an ‘Oscar’?

The name’s exact origins are unknown, but a well-known urban legend holds that Margaret Herrick, an Academy librarian who would later serve as executive director, said that the trophy reminded her of her Uncle Oscar.

Even though the moniker wasn’t adopted by the Academy until 1939, Sidney Skolsky, a Hollywood columnist, used the term in a piece about Katharine Hepburn’s first Best Actress victory in 1934.

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What does the Oscar’s design mean?

(Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)(Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
(Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images) | Getty Images

Shortly after it was established in 1927, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hosted a dinner in the Crystal Ballroom of the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles to outline its goals.

One of the topics discussed that evening was how to best recognise exceptional filmmaking achievements and promote excellence in all areas of motion picture production. After deciding to launch an annual award, the group concentrated on creating a suitably regal trophy.

MGM art director Cedric Gibbons created a statuette of a knight holding a crusader’s sword and standing on a reel of film. The Academy then hired Los Angeles sculptor George Stanley to realise the design in three dimensions.

Writers, producers, technicians, directors, and actors are the five founding branches of the Academy represented by the statue’s film reel’s five spokes. The statuette still retains its original design, but before the current standard was adopted in 1945, its base size did vary.

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The statuettes have a solid bronze interior with a 24-karat gold finish. The trophies are 13.5 inches tall and weigh 8.5 pounds - or just under four kilograms - making them fairly substantial to carry, especially if you have won multiple awards in one night.

The awards have always been made in this way, with the exception of a three-year period during World War II when they were made of painted plaster due to a lack of metal. Academy Award-winning filmmakers at the time had the option to trade in their plaster statues for gold-plated metal versions after the war.

Because each nominee signs a contract prohibiting them from ever selling their prize in the event that they win, each Oscar statuette is only worth $1 (83p).

The statuettes’ symbolic value was previously set at $10, but it was decided to lower it to $1 and to also forbid the winners’ heirs from selling the awards. The trophies for the Oscars are manufactured at a cost of $400 (£332) each.

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