Whoopi Goldberg, Shania Twain, and Jamie Foxx are all household names that anyone with a television set or access to a radio will immediately recognize. Caryn Johnson, Eilleen Edwards, and Eric Bishop on the other hand? To most people, these names mean nothing—but shockingly, they’re actually just the birth names for the same A-list stars listed.
Yes, it’s not just stars like Madonna and Cher who use stage monikers: Even celebrities with run-of-the-mill names, like Martin Sheen and Gene Simmons, are secretly living a double life. Keep reading to find out which stars use a made-up name—and for more celebrity news, check out the 30 Celebrities With Amazing Hidden Talents.
Believe it or not, Schindler’s List and Iron Man 3 actor Sir Ben Kingsley’s real name is actually Krishna Pandit Bhanji. The star changed his name long before making it onto the A-list, using his dad’s nickname (Ben) and his grandfather’s nickname (King Clove) to create his moniker.
Portia de Rossi
Though born Amanda Lee Rogers, Arrested Development actress Portia De Rossi legally changed her name at the young age of 15. In an interview with The Advocate, she explained that she chose the name “Portia” after the Shakespeare character in “The Merchant of Venice” and “de Rossi” because “I was Australian and I thought that an exotic Italian name would somehow suit me more than Amanda Rogers.” And for more Hollywood trivia, check out the 20 Celebrity Couples Who Have Been Together Forever.
His real name is Maurice Micklewhite, but actor Michael Caine has been going by his stage name since 1954. And recently, the screen legend actually made the name change official, noting that airport security was becoming too much of a hassle with two separate names.
As for the inspiration behind his name? Well, the thespian originally wanted to be Michael Scott, but when someone of that name was already prominent in London where his career began, he changed his to “Caine” after spying a poster for the Humphrey Bogart vehicle The Caine Mutiny.
Once upon a time, this comedienne was known by friends and family as Caryn Elaine Johnson. However, when she decided to try her luck in Hollywood, Caryn changed her name entirely, with “Whoopi” coming from her fondness for flatulence and “Goldberg” because her mom felt that being perceived as Jewish would give her a leg-up.
Hulk Hogan actually began his wrestling career by using his real name, Terry Bollea. It was only once the wrestler appeared on a talk show alongside Incredible Hulk star Lou Ferrigno that he adopted his nickname, after the host of the show noted that Hogan was actually bigger than the actor who played the green giant. The last name “Hogan” came a bit later, when wrestling guru Vince McMahon told Bollea that he should have “an Irish name.”
It was in 1991 that Tara Patrick became Carmen Electra. That year, the aspiring actress met Prince, who told her that “you look like Electra.” Though she was hesitant to use the name at first—”it sounded kinda like a superhero type of name”—Carmen Electra stuck, and the rest is Hollywood history. And for more on the rich and famous, check out the 25 Celebrities Who Live in Surprisingly Modest Homes.
Ramon Gerard Estevez decided to adopt the professional moniker of Martin Sheen when he entered the acting world and realized that he was being typecast into ethnic roles with his birth name. As for where his appellation derives from, Estevez chose “Martin” after his agent and “Sheen” in honor of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. (And in case you’re wondering, this does mean that Charlie Sheen’s real last name is also Estevez, and that Martin’s other son, Emilio Estevez, stuck with a natural-born name.)
“[The stage name] ‘Bruno’ is after Bruno Sammartino, who was this big, fat wrestler,” Bruno Mars, born Peter Gene Herandez, has explained. “I was this chunky little baby, so my dad used to call me that as a nickname.” And his surname? “‘Mars’ came up because a lot of girls say I’m out of this world!”
When his family immigrated to America from Israel, Simmons changed his name from Chaim Witz to Gene Klein. Eventually, Klein decided to take on “Simmons” for professional purposes.
Pop icon Eilleen Edwards, better known as Shania Twain, chose her last name in honor of her Ojibwe stepfather, Jerry Twain. And allegedly, “Shania” is an Ojibwe name meaning “on my way,” though the singer has neither confirmed nor denied the connection. And for the history behind more famous names, Here’s Where These Famous Companies Got Their Famous Names.
As you might have already guessed, Snoop Dogg isn’t the rapper’s real name. Born Calvin Broadus, Jr., his “Snoop Dogg” nickname stems from the fact that as a child, his mother used to say that he looked like Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s canine sidekick. “I used to love Peanuts and Charlie Brown—Snoopy was my favorite cartoon character growing up,” Snoop told Esquire. “I watched so much, I started to look like him.”
Bono may only have one name now, but the U2 frontman was born with three: Paul David Hewson. As for his cognomen, the musician found his inspiration in his hometown of Dublin—from the name of a hearing aid shop, of all things.
When Stevie Wonder first signed with Motown, he legally changed his name from Steveland Judkins to Steveland Morris, taking on his mother’s maiden name. However, when Motown record executive Berry Gordy started calling him “Wonder,” Stevie changed his name yet again, and thus the musician’s stage name was born.
When he had ambitions of playing for the Dallas Cowboys or becoming a professional pianist, Eric Marlon Bishop had no problem using his given name. It was only when Bishop began to perform at comedy clubs in 1989 that he took on the name Jamie Foxx (after Redd Foxx), hoping to be mistaken for a women. See, at the time, women were often called to the stage ahead of the male comics, and Foxx just didn’t have the patience to wait until a later slot. And speaking of comedy, check out the 30 Worst Times Comedians Bombed on Stage.
For many years, Israeli actress Natalie Portman did some acting work under her given name, Natalie Hershlag. It was only while filming Luc Besson’s Leon in the early 1990s that she decided to go by “Portman,” taking on her paternal grandmother’s maiden name.
Her real name is Ella Yelich-O’Connor, but unless you’re her close friend or classmate, it’s more likely that you know her by her stage name, Lorde. The singer concocted the moniker at just 16 years old, explaining on 60 Minutes that she “loved the way” Lord sounded, but wanted to “add an e to feminise it.”
This Atlanta-based rapper’s real name is Nayvadius DeMun Wilburn, but he prefers to go by Future. According to the artist, the name was given to him by G-Rock, a member of the musical collective Dungeon Family, when he told a young Wilburn, “You’re the future. You’re the future. You’re a young man. You got energy. You’re ambitious. You’re the future of the Dungeon Family.”
Actor Jonah Hill’s last name is actually Feldstein—but why he chooses not to use his given surname is something of a mystery. When one journalist from the Guardian asked Hill about his decision, “his palpable self-control [broke] down” and he simply replied, “Can we just not?” Yikes. And if you want to shape up as well as Hill has in recent years, steal his Secrets For Getting Leading-Man Lean.
Born Allen Stewart Konigsberg on December 1, 1935, Woody Allen didn’t get his stage name until he was in his early teens. It was at that time that, according to Allen’s childhood friend Jerry Epstein, the Annie Hall director became infatuated with a girl named Nancy Kreisman who had a dog named Woody, thus giving him the nickname.
As you might imagine, the King of Rock and Roll has something to do with Elvis Costello’s stage name. Born Declan Patrick McManus, the maestro originally went by D.P. Costello, with the last name coming from his father Day Costello. When he went solo, the rocker changed “D.P.” to “Elvis.”
“When I went to join the Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) as Julie Smith, they were like, ‘There’s a Julie Smith, there’s a Julie Anne Smith. You have to choose another name,'” the actress explained to the Hollywood Reporter. “My dad’s name was Peter Moore Smith, and my mother’s name was Anne Smith, [so] I used both their names so I wouldn’t hurt anybody’s feelings.” And for more celebrity trivia, check out the 30 Celebrity Couples from the ’90s You’ve Totally Forgotten About.
When registering for SAG, Margaret Hyra ditched her last name in favor of her maternal grandmother’s maiden name, Ryan.
Lawrence Zeiger became Larry King while working at a small radio station in Miami Beach. While there, the general manager of the station told him that his last name was too ethnic, and so minutes before going on air, he chose the surname “King,” borrowing it from an advertisement in the paper for King’s Wholesale Liquor.
Calvin Harris has taken quite a bit of flak for the reasoning behind his stage name. The DJ, born Adam Wiles, told Digital Spy: “My first single was more of a soul track, and I thought ‘Calvin Harris’ sounded a bit more racially ambiguous. I thought people might not know if I was black or not. After that, I was stuck with it.”
Though actress Mindy Kaling was born Vera Chokalingam, she always went by her middle name, Mindy, even before stardom. And when she started taking on big acting roles, Mindy decided to shorten her last name down to “Kaling,” giving her the moniker she uses today.
Supposedly, Stefani Germanotta got the inspiration for her stage name, Lady Gaga, from the Queen song “Radio Ga-Ga” after music producer Rob Fusari told her that her voice reminded him of the song. However, Fusari sued Gaga in 2010, claiming that he was solely responsible for her stage name. (According to the lawsuit, Fusari’s cellphone autocorrected “Radio Gaga” to “Lady Gaga” and birthed the nickname.)
He may go by Ringo Starr, but the Beatles drummer’s real name is actually Richard Starkey. As for the origins of his chosen title, “Ringo” was inspired by the gold ring he always wore, and “Starr” came from his former colleagues, who used to call his drum solos “Starr Time” (as a play on his last name).
After playing Gwendolen in her high school’s production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, Olivia Cockburn decided to change her last name to “Wilde.”
While “Fey” is her real last name, “Tina” is actually a shortened version of her middle name, Stamatina. Funnily enough, the actress’ given first name is Elizabeth, which she used as the inspiration for the name of her 30 Rock character, Liz Lemon.
On January 7, 1972, Reginald Dwight legally changed his name to Elton John, paying homage to former Bluesology bandmembers Elton Dean and Long John Baldry. And for more interesting tidbits about your favorite stars, don’t miss the 40 Stars Who Started Out on Soap Operas.
It actually wasn’t Onika Tanya Maraj’s idea to change her name to Nicki Minaj. “One of the first production deals I signed, the guy wanted my name to be Minaj and I fought him tooth and nail,” Minaj told The Guardian. “But he convinced me. I’ve always hated it.”
Christopher Edwin Breaux changed his name to Christopher Francis Ocean in 2014. Later, the singer shortened it to Frank Ocean. He said of his decision, “It just felt cool. None of us are our names. If you don’t like your name, then change your name.”
Katheryn Hudson adopted the moniker Katy Perry because she didn’t want to be confused with Kate Hudson.
The Game of Thrones star’s real name is Christopher Catesby Harington, but he didn’t know his name wasn’t Kit Harrington until he was 11 years old. He told Glamour: “Kit is traditionally an offshoot of Christopher, it’s just not used that often. My middle name is Catesby.”
Neighbors of Shawn Corey Carter called this little boy with big dreams “Jazzy”—and so when he decided to become a rapper, he became Jay Z.
Born Thomas Mapother IV, this action star was happy to shed his estranged father’s last name and instead use his middle name when he rechristened himself Tom Cruise. And for more on our greatest living action star, check out these 50 Crazy Tom Cruise Facts You Won’t Believe Are True.
Christopher Brian Bridges reportedly took the stage name Ludacris to honor the name his parents chose for him.
Though born Robyn Fenty, this soulful singer goes by her middle name, Rihanna. However, if you’re a fan of the Barbadian-born beauty, then you probably already knew her last name, given that it’s also the name of her cosmetics line.
Somewhere along the way, Jennifer Linn Anastassakis became Jennifer Aniston. How? Her family changed their surname to “Aniston” on the on the advice of Jennifer’s godfather, actor Telly Savalas.
When Destiny Hope Cyrus was a baby, her family called her “Smiley.” She dropped the “S” and legally changed her name to Miley Ray Cyrus in 2008, both keeping her family name and honoring her father, singer Billy Ray Cyrus, in the process.
Though her real name is Jelena Hadid, this supermodel has been going by Gigi since elementary school. She explained to Vogue: “In first or second grade, there was a girl named Helena and it got confusing with the teacher who had to call out our names. So the teacher asked my mom, ‘If I needed to call Jelena a nickname, what would it be?’ And my mom was like, ‘I call her Gigi sometimes,’ and the name stuck.”
“My real name is Emily Stone, but when I started acting, that name was already taken by another actress, so I had to come up with a different one,” Emma Stone explained to W Magazine about her moniker. Originally she opted for “Riley,” but after hearing the name out loud on the set of Malcolm in the Middle, she “realized that I just couldn’t be Riley.”
There was nothing wrong with the name Winona Laura Horowitz, of course, but the Girl, Interrupted actress decided to take on the surname “Ryder” anyway. The decision came rather serendipitously for Horowitz/Ryder, as her father happened to be listening to a Mitch Ryder album when her agent asked her how she wanted to be credited in the 1986 film Lucas. Oh, and by the way, here’s visual proof that Winona Ryder Is Aging in Reverse—and We Can’t Handle It.
John Legend’s real name is actually John Roger Stephens, which is why the singer’s daughter Luna’s last name is Stephens. Apparently, Stephens’ friends called him by “Legend” so often that “it grew to the point where more people in my circle would know me by that name than by my real name,” he told MTV News. “I had to make a decision.”
When she began to make a name for herself in Hollywood, Nikolina Konstantinova Dobreva shortened her name to Nina Dobrev, hoping to make it more pronounceable and Americanized. And for more celebrity news, don’t miss the 15 Most Lavish Celebrity Weddings of All Time.
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