41 Celebrity Names You Always Misspell
From Nicolas Cage to Saoirse Ronan, here are some tips for getting it right the first time.
Celebrities are among the most photographed, talked about, and written about people in the world. And yet, we still can't seem to spell some of their names correctly. From Courteney Cox and Nicolas Cage, whose atypical spellings trip people up, to Saoirse Ronan and Chiwetel Ejiofor, whose names showcase their heritage, these are the most commonly misspelled celebrity names and the stories behind them. (Plus, you'll also find some mnemonic devices and other tips to help you get them right next time.)
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You may know Famke Janssen from the '00s X-Men movies, the Taken franchise, or How to Get Away With Murder, just to name a few projects. But it's understandable if you still struggle to spell the Dutch actor's name correctly the first try. The former model's first name is Dutch for "little girl," while Janssen is a common Dutch surname, equivalent to "Johnson" in English.
The good news is that, if you can master the spelling of Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgård's name, you're pretty much golden when it comes to the rest of his show business family, which also includes dad Stellan and brother Bill, among others. Skarsgård, who was born in Stockholm, made a humorous video with Stephen Colbert covering how to pronounce his last name—as well as some (probably fake) family history.
Oscar-winning actor Lupita Nyong'o is a woman of the world, and her name reflects her dual heritage. While her parents hail from Kenya, the 12 Years a Slave star was born in Mexico and was fittingly given a Spanish first name. Though her family returned to Kenya soon after her birth, Nyong'o still celebrates that part of her identity too, and was thrilled to be able to speak Spanish in the Marvel sequel, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. "Being born in Mexico and having that Mesoamerican culture represented, it's something that's very close to me," the actor told Entertainment Weekly.
Crimson Peak actor Mia Wasikowska was born in Australia, but her long and challenging surname comes courtesy of her Polish mother, photographer Marzena Wasikowska. She even lived in Poland for a period during her childhood, but back in Australia is where she got her start. As for the pronunciation of her name, you can get a lesson from Wasikowska herself in this interview she did with co-star Robert Pattinson.
Some fans may call him Timmy, but that's not short for Timothy. Dune star Timothée Chalamet's mother is American, but his father is French, which is how he got both his last name and his first—the French version of that name we hear more commonly in the U.S. Chalamet split his time between France and New York when he was growing up and is fluent in English and French. He told IndieWire that that led to "a little bit of ambiguity in the self-identity sense, which helps a lot creatively because I don't feel as constricted by who I am."
The Lost in Translation actor is of Danish descent, which may explain why her last name has had reporters triple-checking their work over the years. Johansson's father, Karsten Olaf Johansson, is originally from Copenhagen, Denmark. In the neighboring country of Sweden, Johansson is the most common last name, translating to "son of Johan" or "Johan's son." To this day, Scarlett Johansson still holds both American and Danish citizenship. And also to this day, we're still trying to get those double consonants right.
Double letters are common in Nordic languages, as Jake Gyllenhaal—and sister Maggie—also show. No one in Sweden would dare misspell their names since they comes from a long line of Swedish nobility. Both actors are descendants of Lieutenant Nils Gunnarsson Haal, who, after becoming ennobled in 1652, had his surname changed to Gyllenhaal.
On Dancing With the Stars, ballroom dancer Maksim Chmerkovskiy goes by Maks. But his full first name is also derived from something longer. Over generations, the Latin family name Maximus was converted into a first name (common spellings also include Maxim and Maksym), which is popular in several countries, including Chmerkovskiy's native Ukraine. In 2014, the dancer fulfilled the promise of his moniker. It means "the greatest," and in Season 18, he won the DWTS title with ice dancer Meryl Davis.
Who needs an extra vowel? Not Barbra Streisand. The legendary singer changed her name at the beginning of her career. But instead of altering things completely, Streisand simply removed the third "a" from Barbara. "I was 18 and I wanted to be unique, but I didn't want to change my name because that was too false. You know, people were saying you could be Joanie Sands, or something like that," said Streisand, whose middle name is Joan, in an interview with CBS News. "And I said, 'No, let's see, if I take out the 'a,' it's still 'Barbara,' but it's unique."
Born with the name Nicolas Kim Coppola, the nephew of famed director Francis Ford Coppola wanted to avoid the appearance of nepotism by changing his name to Nicolas Cage. The actor says that new moniker was inspired in part by the Marvel Comics superhero Luke Cage, according to USA Today. And it's because of his Italian heritage that his first name doesn't have the typical English "h" between the "c" and the "o."
She was one to watch on Game of Thrones and is now officially part of the Fast and Furious crew. And British actor Nathalie Emmanuel stands out also because of her name. It's a French spelling of Natalie, which may have to do her dad's heritage. Her father is half Saint Lucian, and while English is the official language of the island nation, most residents also speak Saint Lucian Creole French, or Patwa.
Unless you're from Ireland or are very tuned in with your own Irish heritage, you might find Saoirse Ronan's name to be next to impossible to spell correctly on the first try. The combination of vowels in her first name leads to many mispronunciations, too. When she appeared on The Ellen Show in 2016, the Lady Bird star wore a sign around her neck that read: "Hello, my name is Sur-sha." (Hint: It rhymes with inertia).
British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, a child of Nigerian immigrants, admitted that people in the film industry once pressured him to change his name. "People were like, 'It's going to be quite difficult for you to make any money as an actor,'" he told The Guardian in 2015. Decades later, with a number of distinguished roles under his belt, the Oscar-nominated 12 Years a Slave actor is proud to still bear his given name—and you should probably learn how to spell it.
Even if you've spent countless hours Googling Matthew McConaughey (and hey, we don't judge), it's likely that you've relied on the internet to fill in the gaps once you got to his last name. You can thank McConaughey's Irish ancestry for his tough-to-spell surname (and his classic good looks, one might say).
Nashville alumna Hayden Panettiere's Italian heritage accounts for her tricky surname, which actually translates to "baker" in that language. Panettiere almost married Ukrainian professional boxer Wladimir Klitschko in 2018. (The former couple has a daughter together.) We can only imagine how difficult that hyphenation would have been to get right on the first try.
Joaquin Phoenix has always marched to the beat of his own drum—and his name is just part of his uniqueness. Phoenix's parents changed their last name from Bottom to Phoenix (the mythical bird that rises from its ashes) after they decided to leave a fringe religious group called Children of God, according to an interview Phoenix's late brother, River, gave to Premiere in 1988. As a child, Joaquin wanted an earthier name like his older siblings. So, for a few years at the very beginning of his career, the Walk the Line actor went by the name Leaf Phoenix. Admittedly, that would've been easier for many of us to spell.
If you go syllable by syllable, it's a little easier to spell Austrian-American bodybuilder-turned-actor-turned-politician Arnold Schwarzenegger's surname. Although you'll probably still need Google to help fill in a few of the letters.
For a rather conventional-sounding name, Pfeiffer proves to be incredibly difficult for many people to spell, thanks to the repeated consonants. Actor Michelle Pfeiffer shares this German name with a number of notable people and institutions, including Johann Pfeiffer, an 18th century German violinist and composer, and Pfeiffer University in North Carolina.
According to the Jewish Standard, the Big Bang Theory actor's first name translates to "water" in Hebrew, and her last name is well-known in Israel. She's actually a descendant of the famous Jewish poet Hayim Nahman Bialik.
Originally born in present-day Benin, a country in West Africa, actor Djimon Hounsou admitted in a 2018 interview at the Miami Film Festival that he didn't know the true origin of his name until he began working on In Search of Voodoo: Roots to Heaven—a film exploring the origins of the voodoo culture in West Africa. After extensive research, Hounsou discovered that his last name originally translated to "one born in the shrine of voodoo." And considering he's been acting for over 30 years—including playing roles in some of the biggest movies ever (Amistad, Gladiator, and Guardians of the Galaxy)—it's about time we learn to spell his name, too!
In addition to having difficulty spelling the Big Bang Theory star's Italian surname, many people stumble over its pronunciation. The actor even called in to On Air with Ryan Seacrest in 2018 to correct the radio show's pronunciation of her last name. To be clear, it's "Kwo-ko"—not "Ko-ko" or "Koo-oh-ko."
You likely recognize Rachael Harris from movies like That Hangover or TV shows like New Girl and Lucifer. But if you try to write her name without checking, you may not get it right on the first try. Rather than the traditional Biblical spelling of Rachel, her parents went with the more modern version, ending in "ael."
If you've ever tried to spell the This Is Us star's name, you might find yourself accidentally adding a few extra letters here and there. As you probably suspected, you can thank Milo Ventimiglia's Sicilian heritage for this challenging string of vowels and consonants. If you break it down in Italian, Ventimiglia literally translates to "20 (venti) miles (miglia)."
Actor Rachel Weisz is proud to bear this name that represents so much history for her family. Around 1938, her mother and father emigrated from Austria and Hungary to the United Kingdom to escape persecution from the Nazis during World War II, she said in an interview with Tablet Mag.
Controversial star Shia LaBeouf's mother is Jewish and chose his first name, which means "God is salvation" in Hebrew. And his father's Cajun-French ancestry accounts for his last name, which means "beef" in French. So yes, the actor's name basically means "Thank God for beef."
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At the time of Zooey Deschanel's birth, her parents were big fans of the novel Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger, hence her unusually spelled first name.
As for her own children's names, the actor has kept things—shall we say—unique. Deschanel and her ex-husband, Jacob Pechenik, named their children Elsie Otter and Charlie Wolf. Hey, at least they're easy to spell!
Model and actor Cara Delevingne certainly has a name you won't forget—though it is entirely understandable if you don't pronounce it correctly on the first try. Even fellow celebrities Reese Witherspoon, Zooey Deschanel, and Kate Upton struggled to pronounce her name in these hilarious Instagram videos from the Met Gala in 2014. For those of you looking to fare better than these celebrities at the name game, it's "Cahr-uh Del-a-veen."
Admirers of this indie film star often can't piece together the tricky syllables of her surname without a bit of trouble along the way. Sevigny is pronounced like "Seven-e"—like the number seven and the letter "e." It's really that simple. And of course, don't forget that umlaut in her first name!
Actor Joe Manganiello (pronounced "Man-guh-nello") has a name that requires more than a simple breath to utter. But if you want to be sure you're getting it right, he breaks it down for you in this video.
M. Night Shyamalan
Sure, the common pronunciation of the Knock at the Cabin director's last name, "Shah-ma-lan," is not represented in its spelling. But the Hollywood heavyweight changed his name from Manoj Nelliyattu Shyamalan to M. Night Shyamalan while attending New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, according to New York Magazine. He already made the first part of his name easier for you to spell. Perhaps it wouldn't hurt to learn the correct spelling of his unaltered last name. Just saying.
Macaulay Culkin's first name pays tribute to Thomas Babington Macaulay, a British historian. And he almost doubled down on it after putting up a public poll on his satirical lifestyle website, Bunny Ears, in 2019, asking fans to help him decide on a name change. "Macaulay Macaulay Culkin Culkin" won out. "TheMicRibIsBack," which is arguably easier to spell, came in second place.
This supermodel, actor, and writer is sympathetic to those who may have trouble spelling and pronouncing her Polish name—which is why she broke it down for readers during an interview with Rolling Stone. "The 'j' is silent. That's the trick. Occasionally people get it right on the first try, just through random luck," she explained. "People have told me to change it over the years, but my dad is always saying, 'Never change your name!'"
Qulyndreia and Venjie Wallis, Sr. Wallis got the first syllable of their daughter's—actor Quvenzhané Wallis, of Beasts of the Southern Wild—first name out of a combination of the first syllables of their names. The rest is an altered version of the Swahili word "jini," meaning "sprite" or "fairy." The star filmed a helpful instructional video that explains how to pronounce it ("Kwah-van-ja-nay"). And if you can't get that last name right, you're on your own!
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit star Mariska Hargitay was given this unique name by her legendary parents, actor Jayne Mansfield and Mickey Hargitay, a Hungarian-born former Mr. Universe. The TV icon's first name and middle name—Mariska Magdolna—pay tribute to Mary Magdalene, according to a 1964 Cumberland News article on her birth.
It's not hard to pronounce this Canadian-American star's last name ("Ack-roid"). And all you need to do to spell the Ghostbusters actor's name correctly is remember that the first "y" is totally silent.
Courteney Cox, an Alabama native, was named after her mother. And that first "e" is what's deceiving about her name.
In keeping with tradition, Cox's daughter, Coco, is named after her, as Cox's ex-husband, David Arquette, once explained on Lopez Tonight. It's the first syllables of her first and last names combined. And lucky for Coco, there's no extra vowel to confuse people.
Despite the fact that you pronounce her name like any other "Juliana" in the world, Giuliana Rancic's name tends to cause a little bit of confusion. As for the unique spelling, Rancic emigrated to the United States from Naples, Italy, with her family when she was seven years old, according to TV Guide. And "Giuliana" is the traditional Italian spelling.
Ginnifer Goodwin, born Jennifer Goodwin, legally changed her name in 2011 to better reflect the regional pronunciation of her name in her home state of Tennessee. On The Late Show with David Letterman in 2009, Goodwin explained that, where she's from, the first syllable in her name is pronounced like the liquor "gin"—not like how "Jen" is typically pronounced.
Malin Åkerman (pronounced "Mah-lin Ack-er-man") may be a perplexing name to digest for Americans. But in Sweden, where the actor was born, her first name is incredibly traditional, she once explained on Conan.
"It's a very Swedish name," Åkerman told Conan O'Brien. "It's actually such a traditional name that it's like a 'Gertrude' or a 'Rose' here. So, literally, when I'm in Sweden, you hear the name 'Malin,' but it will be me and five 85-year-old women turning around at the same time."
As with many Greek names, actor Zach Galifianakis' proves to be quite a challenging combination of letters. For those who would like to master its spelling, Stephen Colbert and the actor came up with a useful (and hilarious) song on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
Since her acting debut in 2009's Precious, Gabourey Sidibe's Senegalese name has tripped up more than a few of us. Fortunately for the poor spellers among us, Sidibe simply goes by the nickname "Gabby" these days—but that doesn't make her given name any less beautiful (and worthy of being spelled correctly).