A title is everything in the entertainment business. Therefore for these celebrities who changed their names, choosing the right moniker to go by is as important as talent itself.
It is a decision as enormous as they come.
As you will see through our list of celebrities who changed their names, each has their own reason. Whatever the reason for an AKA, their shared passion for making it big eclipsed their devotion to the name their momma gave ‘em.
Many are pop culture icons—such as Tom Cruise. A large majority of these celebrities who changed their names chose impeccably as one would never think it was a fabricated name—take a certain princess for example (Meghan Markle).
Shakespeare famously asked, “What’s in a name?” That answer, when it comes to the entertainment business is...everything.
These stars who changed their names emerge from all walks of life and range from Hollywood’s icons to envelope-pushers such as Iggy Azalea.
Read on to see who they are!
Lea Michelle, like her character on Glee, had dreams of seeing her name up in lights. Given that fact, one can see why she changed her name when deciding to pursue that tough dream that is making it big in the entertainment world. Gone was Lea Sarfati, and Michelle was inserted as her surname. Curious about Sarfati? Fascinating name… her mother is Italian American, and her father is Spanish Sephardic Jew.
When Lady Gaga first burst onto the pop music scene with her hit song “Just Dance,” she took the world by storm. It is hard to think of her by any other name, even if our first impressions were, “Who anointed her Lady?” and what is she “Gaga” over? Born Stefani Joanna Angelina Germanotta, the New York-based singer wisely changed her name. Now, everyone is comfortable calling her by a single moniker, Gaga. It says it all. Then again, she still is very much a lady.
Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul was having trouble getting calls from casting directors, agents and anyone who might possibly help him get a foot in the door when he was launching his career. As he dug deeper, he discovered why. No one could pronounce his last name and, therefore, figured it wouldn’t look right (or sound right) on a marquee. So he dropped the last name and Aaron Paul Sturtevant simply became Aaron Paul.
Born Robyn Rihanna Fenty in Barbados, the Caribbean Queen, as many are known to do, simply chose her middle moniker as the one she would like to be professionally known by. Besides, Robyn Rihanna is quite a tongue-twister. Look at her, look at her body of work and try to imagine the superstar going by any title other than Rihanna. You can’t.
Mission Impossible: Fallout, starring Thomas Mapother IV! Nope, that does not sound so good. Mr. Mapother IV went to Hollywood cruising for success, so why not change your name to Tom Cruise? He certainly sped his way to the top in films such as Top Gun, Days of Thunder and Mission Impossible, but it was scooting across the hardwood floors in his skivvies in Risky Business that put Thomas Mapother, er, Tom Cruise on the map. So... Cruise, what's the latest with that Top Gun sequel?
If you think about it, it is pretty gutsy to go solely by a single name and have that title be the mother of Jesus Christ. Then again, if you know anything at all about Madonna, is that surprise? Born Madonna Louise Ciccone, the singer left her Michigan home and headed to New York (and then London) in search of a pop music career and in the process left the Louise Ciccone behind. “Lucky Star” that she is, nobody batted an eye that she had taken on an iconic religious name and made it all her own once she started accumulating hits.
A princess changed her name! This is not simply in the form of taking on a regal title when Meghan Markle married Prince Harry. The newest British princess was born Rachel Markle, with Meghan as her middle name. Meghan Markle has that alliteration ring to it and works quite nicely for acting fame. Also, Princess Meghan sounds even more divine. Ironically, Rachel was her character's name on her hit show, Suits.
One of the screen’s greatest legends, Lauren Bacall, was born Betty Joan Perske. Think about it… if Bacall had not changed her name, that iconic romance and screen pairing that was Bogie and Bacall would have been Bogie and Perske. Yeah, doesn't quite have the same ring. Humphrey Bogart (Bogie) and Bacall would make four films together and form a cinematic partnership that has transcended time. Bacall herself is one of the cinema’s most enduring figures, and every starlet that arrives in Hollywood can only strive to be a sliver of the movie star she was in her heyday.
Fashion icons produce society-altering clothes and go by the name of House of (insert designer here). Can you imagine a fashion empire that transcends the landscape of clothing and apparel that goes by the House of Lifshitz? No, not really. Given that—and probably much more—Ralph Lifshitz changed his name to Ralph Lauren and an iconic American brand was born.
The legendary (and late) pop star George Michael had a whole lot of “Faith” that changing his name was a good idea. Given his brilliantly Greek name, Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, Wham! That turned out to be a great call.
There are times when a celebrity changes their name and their given name might have worked just fine. That is certainly the case with action superstar Bruce Willis. The Die Hard actor was born Walter Bruce Willis in Idar-Oberstein, West Germany to a German mother and an American GI. Walter Willis has a nice ring to it. But, Bruce is probably a whole lot more approachable. Now, what is confusing is when Willis released his music album in the ‘80s, it was called “The Return of Bruno.” Now… who exactly is Bruno?
Did you know that Paul Hewson is the lead singer of one of the biggest rock groups in the world? Yup, he is… but we know him much better as Bono. The U2 rocker first saw the name in a Dublin, Ireland hearing aid shop—Bono Vox. Upon further research, he learned that Bono translates to “good voice” in Latin, and hey, if the shoe fits.
Gotta give it up to Nicolas Cage. Major props for what he did in an effort to make it in Hollywood… all on his own terms. See, he was born Nicholas Coppola—his uncle is Oscar winner Francis Ford Coppola. Wanting to make it on his own, he changed his surname to Cage. It does have a super awesome ring to it, no? Now, he too has an Oscar.
Did you ever know that Liam was a nickname for William? And it certainly works brilliantly for the Irish actor who was born William John Neeson. He shortened it, dropped the John, and Liam Neeson arrived in the acting world with a very particular set of skills.
Decades after her death, due to the circumstances of her demise, Natalie Wood still has her name in the headlines. Given her birth name, the mouthful would not have gone over so well with casting folks, directors or audiences for that matter. One can see why Wood changed her name from the one she was born with—Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko.
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Tina Fey is concise, to the point and sounds great when an announcer utters it at the top of his or her voice, “Ladies and gentlemen, Tina Feeeeey!” Not so much if she were to go by her given name, Elizabeth Stamatina Fey. One can see why she went by a shortened middle name.
Eric Bishop loved Sanford and Son comedian Redd Foxx so much, that he used the surname and made it his own. Jamie Foxx has done it all, from stand-up comedy, television sketch and scripted shows to Oscar-winning movies (Ray) and, of course, as a Grammy-winning singer.
In the early years of Hollywood and even Vaudeville for that matter, majorly ethnic names were always changed for the sake of even having the chance of making a career in entertaining folks. That hasn’t changed too much, although some have maintained their name… for example The Big Sick star Kumail Nanjiani. But a majority are more like Vera Mindy Chokalingam. Who, you ask? Why, that’s the star of The Office, The Mindy Project and most recently, Ocean’s 8… Mindy Kaling.
One of the greatest cinematic presences of all time and one of the most familiar voices ever to speak, Michael Caine took his stage name from his utter adoration of one of his favorite films, The Caine Mutiny. Yup, Maurice Joseph Micklewhite became what we know him as now, and a legendary career ensued.
Carmen Electra, the Prince prodigy/dancing sensation/ex-wife of Dennis Rodman and Dave Navarro, shockingly was not born an Electra. Tara Leigh Patrick is, in fact, her given name. Entertainment is in her blood. Her mother made a living as a singer and her father was a well-known Midwest-based entertainer and guitarist.
To many, Martin Sheen will always be one of the best ever to portray a president. His stunning turn as Josiah Bartlet in The West Wing endeared him to millions and continues to do so as the show airs on reruns and folks binge watch it on Hulu and Netflix. Sheen got his start in the biz six decades ago. Born Ramón Antonio Gerard Estevez, he took the stage name of Sheen in hopes that it would help his career. Didn’t hurt. The man has ten Emmy nominations, with one win. His sons, Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez, had different paths with their monikers and stardom. The younger Sheen followed his father’s example while Estevez embraced his family’s ethnic past and went with his given name.
Even though it is a regular thing now in the music business, when the lead singer of The Police decided to drop his birth name and go by a single word for his stage name, it was quite brazen. Then again, Gordon Sumner doesn’t necessarily scream “rock star!” Sting sure does. The legendary rocker even stated in an interview that his biting name is what his children call him. A favorite anecdote about one of the more well-known of the celebrities who changed their names comes from Billy Crystal. He famously, as his comedic alter ego Fernando Lamas, sang in the hit novelty song You Look Marvelous, “Oh, look, there's Sting looking for his last name in the dip.” Marvelous, indeed.
Got to give it to Sigourney Weaver. The star, who became a pop culture icon when she battled an Alien, was born Susan Alexandra Weaver.
Remember when we learned in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade that our Harrison Ford-portrayed hero had taken his famous moniker—Indy—from the family dog of all things? If it worked for that cinematic hero, why not for an Australian hip-hop star? Iggy Azalea was not born with either one of those names. Iggy was her childhood dog (thank you, Indiana Jones), and the last name just sounded cool. Azalea was born Amethyst Amelia Kelly. Although a rapper by the moniker of Amethyst… that could work.
Legendary rocker David Bowie was born David Jones. It is a surname that his movie director son, Duncan (Source Code, Warcraft), kept when heading out into the entertainment business himself. The iconic singer chose Bowie because well… have you seen and heard his work? It could not be a more impeccable last name! There were also practical reasons for Bowie to change his last name. There is that whole other David Jones in the music world—Davy Jones of The Monkeys. Bowie did not want any confusion. In hindsight, both surnames fit both artists.
The Grammy-winning singer may not be one of the world’s “Royals,” but she certainly was not born with the sole name of Lorde. The New Zealander arrived into this world, and her parents named their bundle of joy Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O'Connor... quite a mouthful. Lorde is certainly more succinct, and given her sonic succulence, quite holy.
Ben Kingsley is a member of an extensive list of ethnic performers who altered their name in hopes it would help their career. Hard to argue that Krishna Bhanji has done quite well for himself since debuting in the pop culture landscape as Kingsley all those years ago. The Oscar winner, and Iron Man 3 vivacious villain, comes from a father named Rahimtulla Harji Bhanji—a Kenyan-born medical doctor of Gujarati Indian descent—and Anna Lyna Mary, an English actress.
The Queen rapper came into this world as Onika Tanya Maraj before she changed it to Nicki Minaj. What’s fascinating, and supremely clever on the artist’s part, is if you look closely at her given name, her stage title is not that far off. Onika becomes Nicki, and Maraj has a couple of letters switched and voila—you get Minaj! Now, if Cardi B could stop attacking her!
Sometimes stars alter their surname because of how it sounds or looks on a marquee or even on a Grammy award. When it comes to Shania Twain, her moniker arrives from the most enduring of places. The Canadian singer was born Eilleen Regina Edwards. Her last name got changed when her mother married a fellow named Jerry Twain, a full-blooded Ojibwa native from Timmins, Ontario… who adopted her as his own child. Then, in 1991, she changed her first name to Shania—which means "I'm on my way" in Ojibwa. The country superstar has certainly come a long “way.”
Tina Turner was born Anna Mae Bullock, and as anyone who has seen her Oscar-nominated biopic What’s Love Got To Do With It knows, her journey from her Nutbush, Tennessee birth to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is the stuff of legends. She did the most astounding thing when it comes to her name. She took the name Turner because of her marriage to Ike Turner. After enduring years of abuse, she bravely left him and pursued a music career all on her own. She could have gone back to her maiden name or chosen something else to go by, leaving that part of herself in the past. But she felt that she had worked so hard to get to the top of the music pile as “Tina Turner” that there was no looking back… only forward and into history.
Anyone think Courtney Love was the rocker’s real name? Hardly! Courtney was born with the surname Harrison. Given her brash temperament during her heyday, Love is quite an ironic moniker, no?
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