William Shakespeare famously asked in Romeo and Juliet, “What's in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” For these 36 celebrities, what to call themselves was a real issue, especially as they made their way in the fickle waters of Hollywood. Actors, actresses, singers — heck, all artists — have used stage names since the beginning of the theater.
In Hollywood today, your name opens doors … but it also can close them. So, what you choose to be called is all important. We found three dozen celebs who changed their birth names to a more marquee-friendly name.
Who are these stars? Some are obvious, such as Lady Gaga. Do you know what the Oscar and Grammy winner’s given name was? How about Brad Pitt or Jamie Foxx? Those two share something, other than appearing in Quentin Tarantino movies! Those are stage names! Sit back and get ready to play the celebrity name game.
Portia de Rossi
Birth name: Amanda Lee Rogers
Deets: For Portia de Rossi, her decision to take a stage name happened before she even knew that she would be pursuing a career in film. She had an inkling that acting was going to be her future, but at the age of 15, how many of us know anything that’s certain when it comes to what lies ahead? For the Arrested Development actress, she reported in an interview with the Advocate that changing her name came from a different place. “I think it was largely due to my struggle about being gay,” she said. “Everything just didn’t fit. I was trying to find things I could identify myself with, and it started with my name. I picked Portia because I was a Shakespeare fan (she loved the character Portia, who is in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice). When it came to a new surname, Portia selected de Rossi because “I was Australian, and I thought that an exotic Italian name would somehow suit me more than Amanda Rogers. When you live in Australia, Europe is so far away and so fascinating, so stylish and cultured and sophisticated."
Birth name: Abel Makkonen Tesfaye
Deets: When The Weeknd left home at the age of 17, he had dropped out of high school and believed that taking a stage name would benefit him professionally and subconsciously provide him with a clean break from the past. The “Can’t Feel My Face” singer addressed the name change in a Reddit Ask Me Anything. “I hated my name at the time,” he admitted. “So, I tried a stage name. It sounded cool.” Why take out the “e” in weekend? “I took out the "e" because there was already a Canadian band named The Weekend." The rest is history.
Birth name: Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta
Deets: If your name had 13 syllables and you were trying to make it as an artist in the music business, it would probably be wise to change it to something catchier. Lady Gaga certainly achieved that, as reported by Radar Online. Now how did she zero in on Gaga? Queen fans should know why! The British band’s iconic hit, “Radio Gaga,” served as the inspiration! Interestingly, some musicians have used their given name for small and big screen work such as rapper Ludacris. He is known as Chris Bridges for his starring work in the Fast and the Furious franchise. Not Lady Gaga. She has used her nickname for everything. Proof of that arrived when she won that Academy Award for Best Original Song for “Shallow” from A Star is Born. “Lady Gaga” was etched on her award.
Birth name: Ilyena Lydia Mironoff
Deets: Would anyone think that Dame Helen Mirren changed her name? Even though Ilyena Lydia Mironoff was the indelibly Russian name that she was given, it does not roll of the tongue. Helen’s dad beat her to the punch, in a manner of speaking. He changed his surname from Mironoff to Mirren in the ‘50s, per Us Weekly. Then, if you say her given first name aloud, do you notice something? Helen is simply short for Ilyena (pronounced Helena)!
Birth name: Norma Jeane Mortenson
Deets: Most folks know that that Marilyn Monroe was born with a different name. Her stage name came from a desire to keep her professional name somewhat close to her family surname. She was born with the surname Mortensen. Monroe came suggested via a relative on her mom’s side of the family. It was a member of the studio that chose “Marilyn.” He thought she was similar to a ‘20s actress named Marilyn Miller (as reported in Time). Just like that one of the most famous stage names arrived.
Born: Ashley Frangipane
Deets: Even though Halsey is an anagram for Ashley (the singer’s birth name), that is not how the “You Should Be Sad” singer arrived at it. Those who have lived in Brooklyn will say, “oh yeah” when hearing how Ashley Frangipane became Halsey. The name is inseparable from her success. Halsey Street was where her friend lived in Brooklyn. She stayed with her pal on weekends — away from her parents’ New Jersey home — as the singer actively pursued her dreams of music stardom, as reported in Billboard. Worked out pretty well, no?
Birth name: Peter Gene Hernandez
Deets: One of the first professional credits for the singer who gave us “Uptown Funk” was a scene-stealing moment in the Nicolas Cage and Sarah Jessica Parker starring rom com Honeymoon in Vegas. Bruno Mars was only six when he played “Young Elvis” in the zany comedy and looking at the cast credits, one discovers a certain Bruno Hernandez. That’s our boy! "Your last name's Hernandez, maybe you should do this Latin music,” he heard repeatedly, from an interview with GQ, so he changed it to Mars.
Birth name: Emily Jean Stone
Deets: Often, celebrities take a stage name because the name they were born with happens to be the same one as someone already working in Hollywood. That was the case with Oscar winner, Emma Stone. The La La Land actress told W magazine that she had to rebrand herself when she was 16 because there was already an Emily Stone in Hollywood. "I changed it to Emma because it's closer to Emily, but most people call me 'M' that know me well," the actress explained. It didn’t hurt things that the lover of all-things Spice Girls got to embrace a stage name that was the title of her favorite member of that band, Emma “Baby Spice” Bunton. "My real name is Emily, but I wanted to be called Emma because of Baby Spice. And guess what? Now I am," she proudly told Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show on November 8, 2018.
Birth name: Onika Tanya Maraj
Deets: Sometimes stage names are thrust upon an artist. That was the case with rapper/singer 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. But he convinced me. I’ve always hated it,” she stated to CBS News. When around folks she has known since before she was famous: “My rule is, whatever you were calling me four years ago is what you should be calling me now,” she told Vogue. “I don’t like it when my family or close friends call me Nicki Minaj. To me I’m not Nicki Minaj when I’m with them.”
Birth name: William Bradley Pitt
Deets: Can you imagine the Oscar winner for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood going by any other name than Brad Pitt? He didn’t have to look too far for a stage name … all he had to do was drop his first name, William, and shorten his middle name — Bradley. There is something about “Brad Pitt” that just flows right off the tongue and fits the two-time Sexiest Man Alive winner.
Birth name: Joaquín Rafael Bottom
Deets: The second Joker to win an Oscar for the role, Joaquin Phoenix, (the first was Heath Ledger), was not born with that exact moniker. He was born Joaquín Rafael Bottom. Yep, the Walk the Line star spent the first few years of his life as a member of the Bottom family. When his parents left their all-encompassing religious group, Children of God, (Esquire referred to it as a “cult”), they selected Phoenix as the new family name.
Birth name: Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko
Deets: Even though Natalie Wood has been RIP since November 29, 1981, the mystery surrounding her passing has kept her name in the headlines ever since. For example, her widower, Robert Wagner, made news in 2019 when he refused an LAPD request to exhume her body for further investigating, as reported by Radar Online. That name and the legend that accompanied it would have been vastly different if she kept her given name from her Russian immigrant parents. Zakharenko is hard to remember and even more difficult to pronounce!
Birth name: Alecia Beth Moore
Deets: Singer Pink has often spoken about her early days in the music business as a period that left her with little choice, per her 2002 interview with Rolling Stone. The one thing she did control was what she was called. It was February 2000 and the millennia wasn’t the only thing that was new. The pop music landscape had a fresh singer who belted out the smash hit “There You Go.” The thing was — L.A. Reid — a legendary music producer and cofounder (with Babyface) of LaFace Records, told her what songs to sing. The album went double-platinum and featured two hit singles. Buoyed by success, she took control of her career and her second album, “Missundaztood,” was made of songs she had written. It would go 13-times platinum and produce four hit singles! Now, when it came to her stage name, the “Some Girls” singer loved Quentin Tarantino and his film Reservoir Dogs. The now-veteran pop star loved Mr. Pink (played by Steve Buscemi).
Birth name: Destiny Hope Cyrus
Deets: If you’re not a huge fan of Miley Cyrus, it may come as a surprise that “Miley” was not her given name, it was Destiny. Although that would work quite well for a pop music star, the “Party in the USA” singer sought to strike out on her own and escape the shadow left by her father, Billy Ray Cyrus. The Hannah Montana star didn’t have to look too far. As reported by Vogue, her folks called her Miley because she was always beaming with that million-dollar smile. Smiley was how it started, and it naturally progressed to Miley. In 2008, she legally changed her name and made it official.
Lana Del Rey
Birth name: Elizabeth Woolridge Grant
Deets: When Elizabeth Woolridge Grant turned 25, she decided something important — in order to make it in the music business, she was going to have to change her name. She had been going by Lizzy Grant professionally and toyed with several stage names, including Sparkle Jump Rope Queen and May Jailer (per Vogue), before settling on the name that would send her to the top of the charts. Lana Del Rey was born and the “Summertime Sadness” singer hasn’t looked back since.
Birth name: Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner
Deets: In the hit song, “You Look Marvelous” by the alter ego of Billy Crystal, Fernando Lamas, he hilariously stated, “Look, there’s Sting looking for his last name in the dip.” LOL all you want, but you must admit that when it comes to celebrity stage names, for a rocker, Sting rocks. It is direct and to the point. The singer-songwriter earned the nickname by wearing a jersey he liked that had black and yellow stripes on it, as reported by Biography.com. Born Gordon Sumner, the rocker reportedly felt his birth name was more fitting for a teacher in a tweed blazer, a job Sting had had — “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” came from his experiences as a teacher.
Birth name: Eric Marlon Bishop
Deets: One of the fiercest stage names came when Eric Marlon Bishop rocketed out of his native Texas as Jamie Foxx. When the Django Unchained star visited David Letterman back in 2015, the world finally learned the how and why behind the name that had been carved into the Oscar trophy he won for playing Ray Charles. He went for a gender mysterious name. "I noticed that like 1,000 guys showed up and only three girls, but the three girls would always get a spot," Foxx explained to the late night icon about jockeying for a standup slot at clubs in those early days. "So, I went to the list and wrote down a unisex name ... Jamie Foxx."
Birth name: Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou
Deets: The “Faith” singer’s given name was pretty tough to say. Thus, George Michael was created and Wham! history made.
Birth name: Alicia Augello-Cook
Deets: Could there be any more of a perfect surname for a piano-playing superstar than “Keys?” No, not at all, and Alicia Keys was the one who came up with the name. Initially she wanted to go with Alicia Wild, but Fox News reported that her mother nixed the idea saying that it made her sound like an exotic dancer.
Birth name: Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O'Connor
Deets: Right up there with Sting in the fantastic single-name stage names was the one New Zealand singer Lorde adopted. “It was actually a really quick decision. Which is quite funny, because I’m like, ‘Wow, if I’d known I would be having that name for the rest of my life, I probably would have spent more than two days on it,’” the Royals singer told Elle Australia. “It was a good spontaneous choice. I’m quite proud of my 16-year-old self for not messing that one up.”
Birth name: Olivia Jane Cockburn
Deets: Given her studious persona Olivia Wilde over the years, why she chose her stage surname should be pretty obvious. The Booksmart director loves Oscar Wilde, particularly his The Importance of Being Earnest. In fact, she portrayed Gwendolen in her high school’s production of the dramatic masterpiece.
Birth name: Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson
Deets: If you missed the wickedly entertaining Katy Perry documentary Part of Me, it was hard to miss her strictly religious upbringing. After all, both her parents were Pentecostal pastors. Some of the first music she wrote was Christian! Perhaps she sought to take her parents’ surname out of the equation when she recorded pop songs such as “I Kissed A Girl?” It was clearly a fresh persona as Perry became her surname. She scored 14 top 10 songs and has a seat at the judges table on American Idol. The Roar hitmaker addressed her stage name in Metro UK. “I created this wonderful character called Katy Perry that I very much am, and can step into all the time,” she stated. “I didn’t want to be Katheryn Hudson. I hated that. It was too scary for me, so I decided to be someone else.” Not to mention that there’s that other Kate Hudson, you know … the daughter of Goldie Hawn!
Birth name: Rachel Meghan Markle
Deets: When it came to choosing a stage name for her acting career, all Rachel Markle did was drop the birth name and run with her middle name. Meghan Markle, the future princess who has since turned in her tiara, was born. She never knew when she made that decision that she would one day marry a prince. Even bigger, she probably never knew that she would marry a prince and that the two would grow collectively tired of the royal life and drop it all and move to Canada.
Birth name: Reginald Kenneth Dwight
Deets: One of the many aspects of the life story of Elton John that was explored in the fantastical musical biopic Rocketman was how the hit singer chose his stage name. Thing is, that was only half correct. Yes, Elton was one of his bandmates and he enjoyed the name, so he took it. Sadly no, the “John” didn’t arrive via the John Lennon picture on his manager’s office wall. It did come from singer Long John Baldry, who was backed up by John’s band, per Bustle.
Birth name: Diane Hall
Deets: What is so fascinating about Diane Keaton and her stage name is that when she chose it, the Oscar-winning actress appeared to be prophetic. Her most famous character shared her born-with last name, i.e. Annie Hall. Crazy, right? Why she changed her name in the first place was because there already was a Diane Hall in the actors’ guild. That worked out pretty well.
Can’t imagine that Diane Hall starring in Annie Hall would have worked and cannot imagine anyone being Annie Hall other than Keaton!
Birth name: Caryn Johnson
Deets: When asked how Whoopi Goldberg came up with her stage name, if you guessed it centered around fake flatulence … you’re correct! Yup, the Oscar-winning star of The Color Purple and host of The View was “a bit of a farter,” she admitted in Harper’s Bazaar. Seemed that when she was just starting out, she played smaller theaters, and “if you were gassy you had to walk away farting and people would say I was like a Whoopee cushion.” So, when it came time to pick a stage name, why not embrace your nickname?!
Birth name: Elizabeth Stamatina Fey
Deets: Trailblazer Tina Fey broke glass ceilings at Saturday Night Live, but when it came to settle on a stage name, she didn’t have to work so hard. Her first name is simply a shortened version of her middle name, Stamatina, and her surname remained the same. Yet if said side-by-side, it made all the difference in the world. Elizabeth Fey versus Tina Fey. The latter, all day long.
Birth name: Jelena Noura Hadid
Deets: As is often the case, a stage name for the supermodel came out of an affectionate nickname given by parents at an early age. That was certainly how supermodel Gigi Hadid came to get her name. "My mom was called that as a kid by her mother when she was younger, but only around the house," Gigi Hadid said in a 2015 Vogue interview. "I was called that around the house when I was really young, kind of like how my mom was called it." Helping the name become more permanent was when she was a child in elementary school. There was another Helena (her given name has a soft “J”), and it was too confusing for the teacher. The instructor asked her mom if she had a nickname, and the rest was history.
Birth name: Belcalis Almanzar
Deets: If given five opportunities to guess how singer/rapper Cardi B came up with her stage name, it is doubtful you’d guess correctly. Cardi B is a shortened version of the rum, Bacardi. Get it? Cardi … B?! On The Tonight Show, she told host Fallon that, “Everyone used to call me Bacardi, and I started calling myself Bacardi, which eventually was shorted to Cardi B."
Birth name: Nikolina Konstantinova Dobreva
Deets: The star of The Vampire Diaries, Nina Dobrev, was born in Bulgaria and upon her arrival in the world, her parents bestowed upon her a culturally accurate name. When she hit Hollywood with stars in her eyes, she shortened her surname to Dobrev and took the first two and last two letters of her given first name to create her stage name.
Birth name: Neta-Lee Hershlag
Deets: The Oscar winner was born in Israel and given a name that fit with tradition. When her family came to the United States in 1984, per Harper’s Bazaar, the Hebrew name was changed. The family took the surname of Portman, the maiden name of the Black Swan star’s maternal grandmother. Then, Neta-Lee simply morphed into Natalie, and Natalie Portman was welcomed to America.
Birth name: Demetria Guynes
Deets: Demi Moore was born in Roswell, New Mexico — yes, the town known for a secret alien-centric US military base. For a short time when Moore was just 17, she was married to a musician named Freddy Moore. So, she became Demetria Moore. Short for Demetria? Demi! A stage name was born, as chronicled at Biography.com. The marriage only lasted four years, but a name … is forever.
Birth name: John Roger Stephens
Deets: Musician John Legend had high hopes when he was picking from stage names. His first name, John, would remain the same. He sought a surname that was worthy of an epic singing career. The “All of Me” singer told MTV News all about it. "John Legend is a nickname that some friends started calling me, and it kind of grew into my stage name. 'Legend' is something that I never would have chosen for myself originally,” he admitted. “It grew to the point where more people in my circle would know me by that name than by my real name. People are going to pay attention and I'm going to either live up to my name or I'm not. My bet was on me trying to live up to the name." It’s working!
Birth name: Courtney Michelle Harrison
Deets: When you are a rock star, the name that will forever connect you to the music should be fitting. That was certainly the case for the former Courtney Harrison. The grunge princess turned fashion icon turned musical pariah chose wisely as Courtney Love is about as rock and roll as one can get! However, according to the New York Daily News, the singer changed her name once again in 2010 to Courtney Michelle. "We love her when she goes onstage, but I don't need her in the rest of my life," she said. "The name Courtney Love is a way to oppress me," she was quoted in NME magazine, referring to the name she used to promote her band, Hole.
Birth name: Vera Mindy Chokalingam
Deets: The Mindy Project star did not have to look too far when choosing a stage name. Her parents wanted to give her an Indian name (they were born in India) and went with Vera. She always preferred her middle name, Mindy, and to complete her professional name, she shortened Chokalingam to Kaling. Mindy Kaling, ladies and gentlemen.
Birth name: Marshall Bruce Mathers III
Deets: Establishing a stage persona is nothing new for entertainers, especially rappers. It was hardly a surprise that Eminem was born with another name. The “My Name Is” singer didn’t hide from his birth name. In fact, he named his third album with it — The Marshall Mathers LP.