Stage names have been used since the birth of theater. You’ll be surprised to know this practice continues even today, with many of our favorite stars through history disguising their true names for one reason or another. Want to find out who they really are? Read on and find out.
Madonna – Madonna Louise Ciccone
For those of you who have long wondered about Madonna’s real name, wait no longer; for we have revealed the truth. To tell the truth, I’m actually quite surprised that Madonna is actually her real name and that she just decided to lop off the rest of it. I could have sworn Madonna would have been a stage name and nothing else.
Joaquin Phoenix – Joaquin Rafael Bottom
Stop the laughing back there. What are you, twelve? Alright, I admit I had a little giggle when I read this too. Joaquin Phoenix is one of the coolest people in Hollywood thanks to his ability to pick really exciting projects. Would he have been as cool with a last name like Bottom? Hell no! His brother, River, thought exactly the same, so they made a mutual decision to change it.
Portia de Rossi – Amanda Lee Rogers
Stage monikers usually act to flatten out any exoticness in an actor’s real name (See Martin Sheen and his family for details), but it seems Portia went entirely in the other direction. An exotic, enticing name like Portia de Rossi conjures up an image of glamor and stardom. Amanda Lee Rogers conjures up the image of a country singer, however.
Rooney Mara – Patricia Rooney Mara
It’s a small change, but it makes all the difference. Pat Mara sounds like a middle-aged mother in Boston, not a celebrity superstar and actress. Admittedly Rooney is kind of a weird name, but Hollywood loves weird. It practically thrives on it! Rooney’s much cooler than Patricia, and suits her down to the ground.
Natalie Portman – Natalie Herschlag
Fair play to Portman for changing her last name, it’s not exactly one you’d want even if you weren’t a movie star. If you say it quickly, it sounds like you’re saying something else! A portmanteau if you will… Anyway, it’s funny how just a slight change in your name can change people’s perceptions of you.
Whoopi Goldberg – Caryn Elaine Johnson
One of the hardest things to do in showbiz is to get people’s attention. Plain old Caryn Elaine Johnson wouldn’t get a second look, but Whoopi Goldberg? That’s a name you can remember. Whoopi got her namesake after the gag item the “whoopie cushion,” because of her, well, flatulence when backstage at comedy clubs before and after her sets.
Woody Allen – Allan Stewart Konigsberg
What was the famous New York funnyman’s reason for changing his name? He said it made him sound “too Jewish.” It’s a shame that in this day and age he would still see this as an issue, and the sad thing is that he’s not the first aspiring actor to change his name for similar reasons. The good news is that Woody Allen uses far less ink on a movie poster than Allan Stewart Konigsberg.
Blake Lively – Blake Ellender Brown
This rising Hollywood star avoided alliterative awfulness by changing it to something that helped describe her personality; Lively. The bad thing about alliterative names is that they are difficult to say and get tied up in the mouth too often. Also, you start sounding like a Marvel comic book character. Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, Reed Richards, Stephen Strange, need I go on?
Rihanna – Robyn Rihanna Fenty
Rihanna didn’t exactly ditch her real name, but she did decide that using just her middle name would help sell her image as a music star. She’s following in the footsteps of several successful musicians with a singular name, like Madonna, or Cher. With a switch up to acting being on her mind lately, you can imagine that Rihanna must be mulling over bringing the full name back.
Jamie Foxx – Eric Marlon Bishop
Foxx won’t be the first actor/comedian to change their name, and he won’t be the last. Foxx believed his ordinary name was stopping him from getting work in comedy clubs, and so he adopted a unisex moniker so that club bookers would think he was actually an alluring-sounding woman, and get him to perform his act. I can imagine a few of these bookers weren’t pleased.
Lady Gaga – Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta
Lady Gaga’s full name is kind of cool in an aristocratic way, but if you tried fitting it onto a CD case you’ve have to have it wrap around the whole thing. Musicians often take stage names that help accentuate and identify the music they’re trying to make, but also because it just makes them sound so much cooler too. Just ask “Elton John,” or “Freddie Mercury.”
Elton John – Reginald Kenneth Dwight
Most name changes in showbiz are just to make it easier to roll off the tongue. After all, are people really going to be talking about you if your name is too difficult to say? I don’t think so. This something Sir Elton John understood all too well, and confirmed his decision to say goodbye to his old name, and become the man we know today. It was quite a smart move, wasn’t it?
Olivia Wilde – Olivia Jane Cockburn
The star of Tron Legacy probably wouldn’t have gotten as far in life with her original last name. What I’ve noticed so far is that most name changes for celebrities involve drastic shortening or just removing a few syllables. Olivia is a case in point; Wilde is much shorter than Jane Cockburn, as well as reminding us of another certain famous O. Wilde. We’ve yet to see a celeb who’s made their name even longer, but there’s still more to see…
Helen Mirren – Ilyena Lydia Vasilievna Mironov
Talk about a mouthful. You can thank Mirren’s father for that exceedingly long name. As you may guess, he was Russian. He ended up in England while stranded during the Russian Revolution, previously being a diplomat for the old regime. Suddenly in a foreign country without a job and no prospect of safely making it home, he became a cab driver. Talk about an interesting story.
Tiger Woods – Eldrick Tont Woods
What on earth is a Tont? Regardless, Woods made a very conscious choice to change his name early on. He probably came to realize very quickly that people would have enormous difficulty pronouncing much of it, and instead went for something simple, yet memorable. Do you think he would have become the face of Golf if his first name was still Eldrick? Probably, yes, but Tiger has much more of a ring to it.
Lana Del Rey – Elizabeth Woolridge Grant
Look, it’s the world’s best Nancy Sinatra tribute act! No, I’m kidding. Lana Del Rey is a great musician in her own right, but her plain, wordy original name is hardly something you’re going to put on an album cover. When you sell a product like music, you’re effectively selling the artist behind it too. The music can be great, but if the name doesn’t capture attention, it’ll go nowhere.
Vin Diesel – Mark Sinclair Vincent
Vin Diesel was more of a nickname that stuck than a true name change, but you have to admit it definitely fits the Fast and Furious star’s tough guy persona much better than his real name. Diesel is actually a kind of dorky guy in real life, loving role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, comic books (before it was cool to do so), and fantasy novels.
Nicolas Cage – Nicolas Kim Coppola
I bet you didn’t imagine Nic Cage was the nephew of legendary director Francis Ford Coppola, did you? The Coppolas are pretty well spread out through Hollywood, though sometimes under different names. Nic Cage decided to change his last name to that of comic book hero Luke Cage because he wanted to avoid nepotism while trying to make it as an actor.
Reese Witherspoon – Laura Jean Witherspoon
Here’s something interesting. Usually, celebrities decide to change up their last names rather than their first. Laura Jean just doesn’t have the same spark to it as Reese, though. In some cases, actors pick their stage names based on Union rules about not having multiple members under the same name so it could be possible that Witherspoon changed her name to conform to regulation.
Aaron Paul – Aaron Paul Sturtevant
I can’t figure out how to say the Breaking Bad star’s real last name while reading it, which is probably the reason why he changed it in the first place. Aaron Paul rose to fame playing drug addict Jesse in the hit series Breaking Bad. As his partner in the meth cooking business Walter White (Bryan Cranston) went down a darker path, Jesse becomes more sympathetic.
Louis C.K – Louis Székely
You’d expect nothing less from one of the smarter comedians working today. Clearly, he realized his last name was giving Comperes at comedy clubs a hard time, so decided to take the main syllables from it to create a new stage name.
Bruce Willis – Walter Bruce Willis
We can see why this famous Hollywood tough guy decided to drop Walter from his name. It was before Breaking Bad showed that guys called Walter could indeed be badasses, so that’s understandable. Can you imagine a movie like Die Hard starring a guy called Walter, though? I certainly can’t.
Macklemore – Ben Haggerty
It should have been obvious this guy had a stage name, but sometimes it’s easy to overlook something that seems a given. Macklemore Smith? Macklemore Jones? Alas no, let me inform you with complete certainty that Mr. Haggerty’s parents did not name their baby Macklemore. There is, however, a chance that one of his fans name their children after him, though.
Jack Black – Thomas Jacob Black
Having Black as a last name is incredibly cool, and if I had to have guessed, I would assume that was the fabricated part of his stage name. How incorrect I was, though! Funnyman Black obviously couldn’t resist making even his name a joke and opted for a reversed pun for a stage name. No, it’s not highbrow comedy, but how funny can you make a joke with a name, really?
Tom Cruise – Thomas Cruise Mapother IV
Nothing says classy like having a Roman Numeral after your name. It implies a legacy or even a dynasty! Then again, I’ve never heard of the Mapother family, so maybe Tom and his ancestors just kind of got into a habit of naming of giving their kids the same name as their father. You have to admit, it takes a lot of pressure out of having to decide a baby name.
Tina Fey – Elisabeth Stamatina Fey
Stamatina? Jeez, no wonder she shortened it down. It’s not like Elisabeth Fey, or Lizzie Fey, or even Liz Fey has the same ring to it either. Tina definitely made the right choice lopping a good few syllables off her full name. The comedian is best known for her appearances on Saturday Night Live, and later 30 Rock. She also does a mean Sarah Palin impression.
Demi Moore – Demetria Gene Guynes
Well, at least she kind of kept the “Deme” part of Demetria. Moore’s choice of a stage name is more complicated than just making it easy to say, though I’m sure that played a part. Moore’s real last name of Guynes is actually the family name of her stepfather, who unfortunately died when Moore was 18. It may have just been too painful to carry his name any longer.
Bob Dylan – Robert Allen Zimmerman
Like a rolling stone! Bob Dylan is one of the best songwriters the world has ever seen, but would he have achieved such success as Robert Allen Zimmerman? Unlikely. There’s something about Bob Dylan’s name that speaks to people, it’s informal and friendly, helping draw in audiences who may otherwise have turned away his politically charged musical stylings.
Carmen Electra – Tara Leigh Patrick
Starting out as a dancer, and then moving into modeling, Carmen Electra realized very early on that an exciting name will get you further in life than you would expect. It wasn’t long before the unknown Tara Leigh Patrick became the famous Carmen Electra. She might not have gotten a part on Baywatch with her plain jane original name.
Ralph Lauren – Ralph Lifshitz
It’s not just actors or musicians that go under alternate names for the sake of their brand. Designer Ralph Lauren’s designs wouldn’t be considered nearly as cool if he hadn’t changed his name from Ralph Lifshitz. He sounds like an accountant rather than a fashion designer, let alone the unfortunate implications of having a last name like Lifshitz.
Oprah Winfrey – Oprah Gail Winfrey
Sometimes, all you need is a small change to make your name sound much better. You may shorten parts, drop syllables, or change the name altogether, but Oprah decided that just leaving her middle name out would do wonders for her brand. Given she’s now one of the richest people in the media with her own television channel, I’d say that move worked entirely.
Jessica Chastain – Jessica Howard
Jessica Chastain and Bryce Dallas Howard already get confused with each other, can you imagine how much worse it would be for these famous redheads if they shared a last name? Jessica Chastain made a smart move by adopting a different last name because even if most audiences find the two indistinguishable, at least casting directors can tell them apart.
Nicki Minaj – Onika Tanya Maraj
Minaj decided to keep it simple with her stage name, and avoiding stick with her real name which sounds almost like a garbled anagram for something else. Still, you have to wonder if she would have got as far with her music career using her original name. If you branded her as some kind of pop-punk performance artist, then she may have had a chance with her oddball name.
Julianne Moore – Julie Anne Smith
Moore has always been a smart cookie and is one of Hollywood’s most talented actresses. Still, even with all that talent, she knew she had to stand out, else she’d sink to the bottom. Lopping off Smith from her name was a good choice, as Smith is the most common name there is. Points for combining her first and middle names into something with a real ring to it.
Dr. Dre – Andre Romelle Young
Shocker, Dre’s name is actually short for Andre. I bet you thought he was a real doctor too, didn’t you? Dr. Dre is probably rap and hip hop’s most influential player, having come up in the club scene in the 80s, being a key figure in rap group N.W.A, and being a successful solo artist and businessman in his own right. There’s a reason this man is now a Billionaire.
Jay-Z – Shawn Corey Carter
You’d expect some trace of his stage name to be present in his real name, but I guess not. It poses some far-reaching questions about his professional moniker. Where did the Jay part come from, and what about the Z? What does it stand for? Does it even mean anything? Does anything mean anything? Do I mean anything? Are we alone in the Universe? Is anybody reading this?
Lil Wayne – Dwayne Michael Carter Jr
Well, the Wayne/Dwayne part makes sense, but what about the Lil bit? I guess you could say the Jr in his name technically makes him the lil’ version of his father, Dwayne Carter Sr. Maybe Lil Wayne is just short. Maybe he’s a robot being piloted by a group of hyper-intelligent mice. There are just some questions that cannot be answered in a list article.
Snoop Dogg – Calvin Cordozar Broadus
Everybody knew that Snoop Dogg was a street name, but few have educated themselves to what the man’s real name is. I have to say, I’m very impressed by it. I would consider it a step up from his street name, actually. Calvin Cordozar Broadus sounds like the name of a 17th-century land baron. It’s just that cool.
Lorde – Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor
In a revelation that has surprised literally nobody, Lorde is not this music star’s real name. We can definitely see the appeal in shortening her real name, but it seems she went all out and opted for a singular almost titular stage name. Hey, it’s probably way easier to get printed on banners and posters for concerts, so at least she’s saving paper and ink.
Alicia Keys – Alicia Augello Cook
All it takes is a simple bit of tweaking to get a name fitting a celebrity. Alicia Cook isn’t a bad name exactly, but it doesn’t scream “Superstar.” Alicia Keys is a name you can print on a poster. Then again, it could be we just think that because we’ve gotten used to the stage name of the celebrity that we couldn’t imagine them with any other name. Really makes you think, doesn’t it?
Katy Perry – Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson
We’ve already well established that music stars in particular like to shorten their names, so it’s no surprise Katy Perry was hiding a more verbose name behind her stage moniker. Katy Perry also came from a fairly prominent religious family, so it may also have been an attempt to shield her parents from any “blame” for her less-than-Christian music videos
Charlie Sheen – Carlos Irwin Estevez
Sheen’s name change is a legacy thing, dating back to his father changing his name from Ramón Antonio Gerardo Estévez to Martin Sheen at the behest of his agent to help him earn parts. Charlie’s grandfather was Spanish, leading to the highly Latin-flavored family name. To help make himself distinct from his brother and father, actor Emilio Estevez went by his birth name.
Bruno Mars – Peter Gene Beyot Hernandez
You really have to wonder how many musicians made the decision to change their names themselves, and who had to cave due to pressures from their agent or a record label. There’s no telling which was the case for Bruno Mars, but we have to assume he’s had a long time to think about the issue. Bruno Mars is just so much cooler than Peter Hernandez, though.
Iggy Azalea – Amethyst Amelia Kelly
The pop singer must have been a big fan of flowers and Iggy Pop to come up with that stage name. Okay, so that probably wasn’t the case. You have to wonder why exactly she changed her name, though. Amethyst Kelly sounds as much of a pop star name as Iggy Azalea. It could have been a privacy concern to help her family avoid being spied on by tabloid “journalists.”
Stevie Wonder – Stevland Hardaway Judkins
Now that’s a mouthful and then some. It was obvious that Stevie’s last name was fake, but I never expected him to be called Stevland too. We’ve got to say, Stevie made the right decision to go by a stage name. Can you imagine having to sign Stevland Hardaway Judkins in autographs? You’d have a cramp in your hand before you’ve even signed into double digits.
Miley Cyrus – Destiny Hope Cyrus
If you thought Miley was kind of a weird name, think again. I guess her country star dad Billy Ray Cyrus thought her full name sounded pretty deep and spiritual, or something like that. The story goes that when she was a baby she used to smile all the time, so her father nicknamed her ‘Miley’, and it stuck. Cute, huh?
Queen Latifah – Dana Elaine Owens
You didn’t think she was a real Queen, did you? God, this is turning into Dr. Dre all over again, isn’t it? Anyway, you can’t blame her for deciding on a name change like this. If you’re looking at a casting sheet and see a name like Queen Latifah, you’re at least going to stop to give it a second look. It’s the oldest trick in the book for getting noticed in Hollywood.
Meg Ryan – Margaret Mary Emily Anne Hyra
Try saying Meg Ryan’s full name as fast as you can, and see how long it takes for you to get totally tongue-tied over it. It’s not easy, is it? It’s no big surprise she decided to go for an incredibly simple three syllable name. It’s so easy, a dog could probably bark it. Not that dogs go to the movies, though, so it doesn’t really matter.
Kit Harington – Christopher Catesby Harington
You know nothing, Jon Snow. Don’t worry, we’ll be keeping the Game of Thrones spoilers away in this section of the list. It’s actually surprising to me that Kit isn’t his first name. I know in retrospect that it clearly couldn’t have been his given name, but you should never underestimate the capability for parents to give their kids unusual names.
Andrew Lincoln – Andrew Clutterbuck
The Walking Dead’s own Rick Grimes decided to change his last name to advance his career, and we can’t say that we blame him. Clutterbuck is rife with opportunity to mangle the name up in your mouth. Clutterbuck is actually a Flemish name, and means something along the lines of “to shovel excrement.” At least now linguistics fans aren’t laughing every time his name appears on screen.