33 Celebrity Names You Always Misspell
No, it's not Matthew McConuhey.
Actors and actresses are 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 celebrity names people always misspell. (Plus, you’ll also find some pneumonic devices to help you get them right next time.)
The Lost in Translation actress is of Danish descent, which could explain why her last name has mystified reporters 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 and Jake Gyllenhaal is further proof. No one in Sweden would dare misspell his name since he comes from a long line of members of the Swedish nobility. The actor is a descendant of Lieutenant Nils Gunnarsson Haal, who, after becoming ennobled in 1652, had his surname changed to Gyllenhaal.
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 “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.”
Unless you’re from Ireland, 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 could say).
Nashville alumna Hayden Panettiere’s Italian heritage is to blame for her tricky surname, which is actually Italian for baker. Fun fact: Panettiere almost married Ukrainian professional boxer Wladimir Klitschko in 2018. We can only imagine how difficult that hyphenation would have been.
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 religious cult 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.
Your pronunciation of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s name is probably similar to the way in which he uttered the now-famous Terminator line: “I’ll be back.” And by that, we mean you say it with emphatic gusto and just a hint of Austrian influence. But if you go syllable by syllable, that certainly can help you spell his last name to some degree (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. Actress 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.
Jewish actress Mayim Bialik’s name stands out in Hollywood. According to the Jewish Standard, the Big Bang Theory actress’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 30 years—including roles in some of the biggest movies ever (like 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 actress 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.”
If you’ve ever tried to spell the This Is Us star’s name, you might find yourself accidentally adding a few misplaced letters here and there. As you probably suspected, you can thank Milo Ventimiglia’s Italian-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).”
Actress 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 has his mother and father’s heritages to thank for his unique name. His 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.”
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 strangely-spelled first name.
As for her own children’s names, the actress has kept things—shall we say—unique. Deschanel and her husband, Jacob Pechenik, named their children Elsie Otter and Charlie Wolf. Hey, at least they’re easy to spell!
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. According to numerous instructional videos, 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 Sixth Sense 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. For those who already have difficulties spelling the actor’s first name, things might just get worse after Culkin officially changes his name to “Macaulay Macaulay Culkin Culkin.” He put up a public poll on his satirical lifestyle website, Bunny Ears, in 2019, asking fans to help him decide on a name change. “TheMicRibIsBack” came in second place, unfortunately—since that’s probably easier to spell than Macaulay.
This supermodel and actress 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 decided to name their daughter—actress Quvenzhané Wallis—a combination of the first syllables of their names to create “Quven.” The rest of her name is an altered version of the Swahili word “jini,” meaning “sprite” or “fairy.” The Into the Wild star has filmed an 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, Jayne Mansfield and Mickey Hargitay, a Hungarian-born former Mr. Universe. The actress’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”). So, 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 following tradition, Cox’s daughter, Coco, is named after her, 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. For this unique spelling, we can thank her heritage; 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 said that this name change was essential in order for her name to be pronounced correctly: 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 actress was born, her first name is incredibly traditional, she once explained on the late-night talk show 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 juxtaposition 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). And for more surprising celebrity factoids, check out the 100 Celebrities You Won’t Believe Are The Same Age.
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