At times celebrities with long names received pressure from studio executives and agents to change them. Other times, celebrities choose a stage name in order to better juggle the limelight and their private lives. You may be surprised to learn the real names of some of your favorite celebrities. Keep reading to find out!
Inspired by the WWE
Singer Bruno Mars was actually born Peter Gene Hernández. Mars took the first part of his stage name from his father’s interest in former WWE wrestler Bruno Sammartino. And, in a cheeky stroke of confidence, he chose “Mars” because he claimed that girls would mention he was “out of this world.”
Mars was intentional in changing his last name as he did not want to be stigmatized as a Latin artist because of his surname, Hernandez. It is difficult to picture him as Peter Gene Hernandez, isn't it?
A Russian Noble
You would probably never imagine Dame Helen Mirren could be anything but British, but she was actually born Ilynea Lydia Mironoff and has noble family roots that date far back in Russian history. Mirren’s Russian roots were eventually cast out after the Russian Revolution.
After the family moved to England, her father changed the family name to avoid any racist attacks. The new last name helped the family better adapt to their new country and fit in better with the British Community.
Sly As a...
Jamie Foxx probably doesn’t look like an “Eric” or an Eric Marlon Bishop, but that was his full name when he entered the world. In 2014, Foxx confessed that he had changed his name back in the 80s. The reason? Something rather clever.
As a comedian, Foxx knew that female comics (at the time) were called up to perform more often than male comedians, and, to not miss his chance to be seen, Foxx took on a unisex name to increase his chances of being called up.
Only In Jerusalem
Natalie Portman was born Natalie Hershlag in Jerusalem. The only child of an American mother and an Israeli father, it was her first agent, Aleen Keshishian, who suggested she take her mother’s maiden name if she wanted to pursue acting.
Neta-Lee Hershlag became Natalie Portman officially in 1994 when she starred in her breakout role, “The Professional.” The multifaceted actress holds dual citizenship for both the U.S. and Israel, speaks multiple languages, and reportedly has a very high IQ.
Best known for her stunning eyes and her role on “That 70s Show”, Milena Markovna Kunis (who the public knows as Mila Kunis) was born in Chernivtsi, Ukraine, to a Jewish family. Her parents thought that to give their children the best life, they should move to the United States.
Although it does not appear that she legally changed her name, when she chose to pursue acting, she shortened her first name to “Mila,” probably (as it was for many) to make it easier to remember.
Saying Goodbye to the Mess
To many, it’s obvious that performer Lady Gaga was born with a different name but would you have guessed that Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta would be on her birth certificate? We think not. Gaga chose her name from “Radio Ga-Ga,” by the British rock band Queen.
In 2013, she further explained the complex reason for her namesake, stating that “Stefani is—a perpetually tortured artist. That’s why I changed my name. I can’t be here in public. She would be a mess!”
The singer you’ve come to know as Shania Twain was actually born Eilleen Regina Edwards. Shania took the surname “Twain” from her stepfather after her mother got remarried.
Born in Canada, Twain moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to more passionately pursue her country music career and, when she did, music label executives suggested then-Eilleen change her first name to “Shania.” The name “Shania” means “I’m on my way” and was chosen in homage to her stepfather’s Ojibwa heritage. She’s been Shania Twain ever since!
Owning Her Roots
Another name that is probably assumed to be a stage name, Queen Latifah, was born Dana Elaine Owens. Queen Latifah actually changed her name at the ripe age of eight with her mother’s permission to “Latifah.”
She was attracted to the name “Latifah” since her neighborhood was sporting a trend in taking names with traditional Arabic roots. As she grew a bit older, she added the “Queen” to Queen Latifah, which became a very fitting stage name for the performer and actress.
A Love for Bogart
Maurice Joseph Micklewhite, or Michael Caine, first opted to have his stage name as “Michael Scott” back in 1954. The name was already taken as a, so Caine had to be a little more creative. He finally found the stage name he was looking for when he saw a poster with one of his favorite actors - Humphrey Bogart.
The poster for the film was “The Caine Mutiny.” He was inspired and decided to add “Caine” to his name, finally becoming Michael Caine, although not legally until 2016.
These days, the name Woody Allen is very recognizable and, some might say, iconic. But the comedian and director was first known as Allan Stewart Konigsberg. At age 17, Allen went on to rename himself in order to help establish a more marketable and memorable stage name for his entertainment career.
Friends claim that the name “Woody” was from the dog of Allen’s high school crush. His name change was a good idea as there is no other name in the industry like Woody Allen!
The legendary musician was first known to some as Declan Patrick Aloysius MacManus - that’s a mouthful. He was raised in a home of Elvis Presley fans, and, adopting their love for the musician, he decided on “Elvis” for his first name and took his mother’s maiden name – “Costello” – for his surname.
He legally changed his name in 1977, but the switch was short-lived when, just nine years later, he returned to his birth name of Declan Patrick Aloysius MacManus.
A Regular Ol' Karen
Articles joked that the “Pretty Little Liars” star, Lucy Hale, was a liar in real life. She was given the name Karen Lucille Hale when she was born, but, as a number of modern celebrities, she chose her middle name of “Lucy” for her stage name.
Fans would probably never have guessed her real name to be Karen, but when asked on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” about her real name, she publicly admitted that her first name was, in fact, Karen.
Tina Fey, who was born Elizabeth Stamatina Fey, knew that she wanted to be a comedian in middle school. Her Greek mother gave her the middle name Stamatina, which she shortened to “Tina” when she began her career in comedy.
She went on to be the first woman to be named head writer on “SNL.” Close friend and former “SNL” castmate Amy Poehler calls her “Betty,” also a nickname for Elizabeth. But she did purposely name her character “Liz Lemon” in “30 Rock” as a nod to her first name.
Not So Normal
Many may not know that the beauty icon Marilyn Monroe first entered the world as Norma Jeane Mortenson. After marrying James Daughtery, she was Norma Jeane Daughtery, and she finally became Marilyn Monroe legally in 1956, although she had been going by the name for some years before.
Her image and name would grow to be one of the most iconic in celebrity history, but Monroe had a tortured personal life, wanting the public to appreciate the person of “Norma Jeane Mortenson” apart from the objectification of “Marilyn Monroe.”
Riding That Brooklyn Subway Line
Performer Jay-Z was actually born as Shawn Corey Carter. He developed the moniker “Jay-Z” by combining the names of his childhood inspirations and memories. Jay was a derivative from the name of his mentor, Jaz-O (a rapper and producer), and he took the letter “J/Z” from the Brooklyn subway line, but in the formative, he was known as “Jazzy, also his childhood nickname.
In the end, “Jay-Z” became a more marketable name for the music industry and the one that fans would know him by. Born Shawn Carter, Jay-Z is a mix of two iconic influences from the artist's childhood. Jaz-O was the name of a past mentor and “Z” from the Brooklyn subway line.
The name “Rita Wilson” may sound simple enough to be the actress’s birth name, but that’s not the case for this one! Rita was born as Margarita Ibrahimoff to a Greek mother and Bulgarian father in Hollywood, California.
To make things easier for the immigrant family, the Ibrahimoff’s decided to switch the surname to a local street name. Margarita then chose to go by “Rita,” and so the name Rita Wilson was born. Rita is also a dual citizen of both the U.S. and Greece.
The “This Is Us” star decided to go by her nickname “Mandy” instead of her full name of Amanda Leigh Moore. Mandy had somewhat of a negative association with her full name, saying that her parents would often use her full name of “Amanda” only when they were upset.
So, when she began stepping into the spotlight, she decided to go with her nickname as the name the public would know her by. The name “Mandy Moore” also became a name that was easy to remember and even “catchy” for both her acting and singing careers.
Trying to Integrate
The comedic actress was born Vera Mindy Chokalingam in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She chose to change her name to both further assimilate to American culture (although she was born in the U.S.) and to hopefully avoid any stereotyping by Hollywood.
She purposely gave her children very “American” sounding names (Katherine and Spencer) but chose to honor her Indian heritage by giving her daughter the middle name “Swati” in honor of her mother and her son the middle name “Avu” in honor of her father.
He Took a Gamble
Before he became Frank Ocean, he was just Christopher Edwin Breaux. The musician first tried to switch his name to Christopher Francis Ocean, with the name “Ocean” having been taken from the original 1960s film, “Oceans 11”. Originally inspired by jazz music and musicians like Frank Sinatra (who also starred in the original “Oceans 11” film.)
Ocean thought it would be a good stage name. So, although the process took about a year, he was finally able to legally change his name to Frank Ocean in 2015.
Short, Sweet, and Available
Elizabeth Maresal Mitchell (or Elizabeth Banks as she is now known) was more or less forced to change her name when she joined the Screen Actors Guild. Apparently, there was another Elizabeth Mitchell already registered, and she needed to have a different name to avoid being confused with the other actress.
Banks admits that she didn’t put a lot of thought into the selection of her new last name. She just wanted something simple and short, and that’s just what she got with Elizabeth Banks.
The name Katy Perry is easy on the tongue, which is perhaps one of the reasons why the mega pop star changed her name from Katherine Hudson to the moniker that millions now know her by.
Another reason for her name change was so she would never have a connection to the actress of the same name (Kate Hudson). So, the simple fix for Perry was to keep her first name but take her mother’s maiden name for her surname.
Celebrities with longer names often choose to shorten them if they think it will better their career. Nina Dobrev, the actress best known for her role in “Vampire Diaries,” was born in Sofia, Bulgaria as Nikolina Konstantinova Dobreva.
After immigrating to Canada and pursuing ballet, dancing, gymnastics, and a career in acting, Nikolina decided to shorten her name so it might be easier to remember and spell. Her older brother (Alexander Konstantinov Dobrev) decided to keep his original name.
Not Just Nickname
The actor best known as “Jon Snow” on “Game of Thrones,” Kit Harrington was born as Christopher Catesby Harrington, but didn’t know his full name until he was eleven! His family had always called him by his nickname, “Kit,” but he did not realize it was a nickname until his teachers corrected him at school.
He was actually shocked to know his full name was Christopher! The nickname stuck with him, however, and he decided to keep it as his name when he went into acting.
Of course, it might be fairly obvious that a name as cool as Vin Diesel is a stage name, but it was certainly a unique choice. Diesel was born as Mark Sinclair but chose to leave his given name behind in favor of the name Vin Diesel.
The name was a bit more steely and intimidating for his job as a bouncer at various New York nightclubs. His choice of “Vin” for a first name came from his mother’s maiden name of “Vincent.”
Over the Hill
The country songstress was first known as Audrey Faith Perry. She then chose her middle name as part of her stage name, but the surname “Hill” actually came from her first marriage to Daniel Hill. It was after her first marriage that her career was really solidified so, even after her first marriage dissolved, she didn’t want to change the name that fans knew her by.
These days, she is enjoying marital bliss with fellow country music star Tim McGraw and has been for over two decades!
Alicia Aguello Cook was looking to change her name and resorted to the dictionary for help. She knew that she wanted a name that reflected her love for music, but her mom ultimately impacted her final decision.
Her mom did not approve of her first choice. Eventually, she stumbled upon the word “Keys” and was inspired. “It’s like the piano keys. And it can open so many doors.” And so Alicia Aguello Cook became Alicia Keys.
Some may be familiar with the origin of Miley Cyrus’s unique name. She was given the name Destiny Hope Cyrus because her father (Billy Ray Cyrus) thought she would have a remarkable future. She was given the nickname “Smiley” as a toddler, but it was then shortened to “Miley” when she had trouble pronouncing it.
In 2008 Miley legally changed her name to Miley Ray Cyrus at just the age of 15. When she was married to actor Liam Hemsworth, she was also briefly Miley Ray Hemsworth.
The Shampoo Ad
Demi Moore was first known as Demetria Gene Guynes (yes, Guynes) and her first name was supposedly chosen from a shampoo ad. As she grew up, Demi discovered that the man she believed to be her father was not her biological father.
The news didn’t impact Demi’s name-changing decisions, and she chose to keep her last name as “Guynes'' until she married musician, Freddy Moore. It was then that she finally became “Demi Moore”.
Name The Rocker
KISS frontman Gene Simmons was born Chaim Witz in Haifa, Israel. Simmons didn’t think “Chaim Witz” sounded like much of a rocker name, and while true fans will probably know Simmons’s birth name, they probably don’t know that he actually changed his name twice.
When he first moved to the U.S., Gene Simmons was first Gene Klein. But, as his rock career began to skyrocket, he changed his surname to Simmons. Despite his name changes, today, fans probably couldn’t see him as anyone else but Gene Simmons!
The Irish Hero
Another overt stage name, Hulk Hogan, is personally known as Terry Bollea. Terry Bollea became “Hulk Hogan” after he made a talk show appearance with the original Hulk from the TV show, Lou Ferrigno. He was actually physically larger than the actor and decided he would take the iconic name for himself.
The last name “Hogan” was chosen when WWE CEO Vince McMahon said he wanted a name for the wrestler that sounded Irish. A simple choice perhaps, but it became the WWE superstar’s stage name for the length of his career.
The Bahamian pop star was born Robyn Rihanna Fenty in Saint Michael, Bahamas. Those close to her call her Robyn but she decided to go Rihanna for her stage name.
It’s not entirely clear why she wanted to go by her middle name (which is Arabic for “sweet basil”), but her interviews would insinuate that keeping her first name as her personal name helps her hold onto her private life. She’s also been using her last name as the brand name for her beauty products, “Fenty Beauty”.
Has a Ring to It
Perhaps one of the most famous stage names is Beatles member Ringo Starr Born as Richard Starkey, the future, the world-famous musician decided to change his name while he was in the band before the iconic Beatles, Rory Storm, and the Hurricanes.
The frontman of the band, Rory Storm, noticed Richard’s affinity for rings (per all of the rings on his fingers) and decided to give him the nickname “Ringo” while “Starkey '' came from his last name. The world may know him as “Ringo Star” but his wife still calls him Ritchie.
His Royal Highness
This one may qualify for more of a title change than a full name change, but it’s still a sizable one. Interestingly enough, Harry technically does not have a last name as a royal, but he had the following title when he was born: HRH (his royal highness) Henry Charles Albert David, Prince of Wales. Another title was added to his full name after his marriage to Meghan Markle.
The title of “Duke of Sussex” was added to his name by the the late Queen. This leaves his full title as His Royal Highness Henry Charles Albert David Duke of Sussex.
It's All About Branding
Onika Tanya Maraj (who is now known as Nicki Manaj) changed her name after a producer early in her career strongly suggested she do so. She has confessed that she didn’t like changing her name at first but it has now become part of her brand as a performer.
She has gone by other stage names (just for her own entertainment) such as Harajuku Barbie and Roman Zolanski to list a few, but it’s Nicki Manaj that fans know and will remember best.
Clearly, a stage name (and truly a rapper’s name) Ice Cube was born as Born O’Shea Jackson in Crenshaw, California in 1969. His stage name actually has a funny origin. His older brother would catch him flirting with the girls he would bring to the house.
His brother threatened his precocious sibling, saying he would put him into the freezer and turn him into an ice cube if he didn’t back off. O’Shea liked the name and started using the moniker until it stuck well into his career.
Following His Father's Footsteps
The controversial actor was born Carlos Irwin Estévez. Similar to his father, Martin Sheen (born as Ramón Antonio Gerardo Estévez), Charlie decided to adopt the same stage surname as his dad. His brother, Emilio Estevez, chose to keep his birth name which may have helped distinguish him from his father and brother in the film industry.
In more recent years, Charlie decided to try and return to his birth name of Carlos Estevez, but it seems the name change didn’t stick because he is still known (and will probably forever be known) as Charlie Sheen.
It seems that changing your name can be one of the sacrifices of being in Hollywood. Julianne Moore, the academy award-winning actress known for her emotionally charged performances, also underwent a name change. Her real name is Julie Ann Smith so, how did she become Julianne Moore?
Although she didn’t want to change her name, she reluctantly combined her first and middle names to create “Julianne” when it was discovered that there was another Julie Anne Smith in the Actor’s Guild. She then took her father’s middle name of “Moore” for her last name.
Winona Laura Horowitz took on the decision to change her name to Winona Ryder in homage to singer Mitch Ryder. Her first name came from the town in which she was born (Winona, Minnesota) and her middle name, “Laura” came from a family friend.
She didn’t think to change her name until she was already acting and was asked how she wanted her name to appear in the credits for her first film, “Lucas”. It was then she decided upon the surname “Ryder”.
The Book Lover
You may think you know Olivia Wilde but do you really? Did you know that she used to be Olivia Jane Cockburn? Like most aspiring actors and actresses, the now “Wilde” decided to change her name in light of heading to Hollywood. She made the change in high school and chose “Wilde” for her surname in homage to famous author Oscar Wilde.
She also chose the name to not only set herself apart from her family but also to honor the heritage of writers in her family line.
Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor, or Lorde as she’s known by fans, was born in New Zealand and had an interest in royal history and aristocracy - which is how she chose her stage name. When she finally settled on “Lord”, she decided to add an “e” at the end to make the name more feminine.
She has stated that, although she was just sixteen when she chose the name that she would be known by in the spotlight, she was glad that she chose a stage name that wasn’t just trendy at the time but had a noble sound.
The Little Wonder
A name as enchanting as Stevie Wonder has to be made upright? The legendary singer and songwriter was born Stevland Hardaway Judkins and received his first alternate moniker, “Little Stevie Wonder”, Motown founder and executive, Berry Gordy.
As his fame increased, the “Little” soon fell off of his nickname leaving “Stevie Wonder” behind. Although “Stevland Hardaway” sounds like an R & B singer’s name, the name “Stevie Wonder” has a few more ounces of flair and charm to it.
Little Drummer Boy
Aubrey Drake Graham, or “Drake” as he is known professionally, grew up in a musical family. His father was a drummer for Jerry Lee Lewis and, when Drake finally stepped into his own music career, he chose his middle name for his stage name.
He says he felt more of a personal connection to his middle name than his first name, seeing the first name as his more “proper” side and his middle name as who he is on a daily basis.
Actor Joaquin Phoenix was born to hippie parents (John Lee Bottom and Arlyn Dunetz) who lived an unconventional lifestyle and had even more unconventional names. Along with kids Rain, Liberty, Summer, and River were born Joaquin Rafael Bottom.
His siblings changed their last name to Phoenix and Joaquin also decided then to change his first name to “Leaf” because so many people struggled to pronounce “Joaquin”. As his acting career took off, however, he eventually settled again on “Joaquin Phoenix”.
Whoopi Goldberg was born Caryn Johnson. So how did she ever become the “Whoopi Goldberg” so many came to know her by? The truth is less than delicate. The first name (which reads more like a nickname) came from her jokes about “if you’re gassy, you’ve got to let it go”.
People told her she was “like a whoopee cushion” and the name stuck. Her mother figured that she might do better in Hollywood with a Jewish surname, so she chose Goldberg and the rest is history!
Many might be surprised, but Ben Kingsley was actually born as Krishna Pandit Bhanji. His father was of Indian descent and his mother was English. He was born in Yorkshire, England, and decided to take the surname “Kingsley” from his grandfather’s trade (“King Clove”) name when he worked as a spice trader.
His first name also was a sort of adopted nickname. The change officially came after he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company and started to, quite literally, make a name for himself as an actor.
DJ Calvin Harris is known privately as Adam Richard Wiles. The Scotland native decided to change to the stage name of “Calvin Harris” after releasing his first song, which had more of a “soul” sound. His motivations for selecting a new name almost got him into trouble.
He has since worked alongside some of the biggest hitmakers like Rhianna, Ne-Yo, Florence Welch, Ellie Goulding, John Newman, Frank Ocean, Ariana Grande, and many more.
Portia de Rossi sounds like a very Italian name but the star was first known as Amanda Lee Rogers. How did she come to choose “Portia de Rossi” as her stage name? She took the first name from the character in one of her favorite Shakespearian plays, “Merchant of Venice”.
The “de Rossi'' portion was just to add a bit of flair to the already Italian-style name. But these days, she is known as Portia Lee James DeGeneres.
A Fresh Start
The iconic singer had the name Reginald Kenneth Dwight on his birth certificate but the title wouldn’t suit him for very long. He changed his name in 1967, selecting the names of his saxophone player and the lead singer of his band at the time, Bluesology, for his new identity.
Reportedly, he wanted to change his name, primarily to distance himself from a difficult past and start fresh. He said that taking on the name “Elton John” gave him the new beginning he was looking for.
Pick a Name
The name Meg Ryan may sound very ordinary but it is actually the actress’s stage name. Ryan was born as Margaret Mary Emily Anne Hyra (perhaps her parents simply...couldn’t decide on a name?). When she entered the Screen Actors Guild, she shortened her first name to “Meg” and took her grandmother’s maiden name of “Ryan”.
The name made it easier for her name to be remembered in Hollywood’s executive’s minds far more than say, Margaret Mary Emily Anne Hyra.
The Middle Name
Meghan Markle started out in life as Rachel Meghan Markle. Although she never made a legal change to her name, during her acting career she went by her middle name, Meghan. It has never been explained as to why she chose to go by her middle name, but it may have been a way for her to hold onto her private life.
When she married Prince Harry, she added to her name and became Meghan Markle the Duchess of Sussex.