Glossy magazines may try to convince readers that stars are just like normal people, but they’re not. For one thing, they can’t go grocery shopping in regular clothes without winding up in those glossy magazines. As if that wasn’t bad enough, sometimes stars even need to lose their identities once they find fame in their lives. Celebrities change their names for a number of reasons, from people with exotic names who want to sound more mainstream, to those with a desire to seem more unique when other stars have similar monikers.
Whatever the reason for the change, it’s always interesting to discover the truth behind a celebrity’s name. Stacker explores celebrities of all types who perform under a stage name, but had a completely different name when they were born. From old-school movie stars looking for a memorable way to find fans, to pop stars who went for an out-of-this-world new alias, here are 30 celebrities that took stage names when they hit the big time.
Stage Name: Lady Gaga
Real Name: Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta
She was born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, but adopted the name Lady Gaga as a play on the Queen song “Radio Ga-Ga.” In a 2013 Elle interview, Gaga revealed why she prefers to use her stage name over her real name: “Stefani is—a perpetually tortured artist. That's why I changed my name. I can't be her in public. She would be a mess!"
Stage Name: Bruno Mars
Real Name: Peter Gene Hernández
Growing up in Hawaii, little Peter Hernandez acquired the nickname Bruno from his father, who was inspired by popular wrestler Bruno Sammartino. He claims the Mars part is because girls used to say he was “out of this world,” but the pop star is also on record saying he changed his name from Hernández because he didn’t want to be pigeonholed as a Latin artist—although he’s very clear that he didn’t change it to hide his cultural roots.
Stage Name: Natalie Portman
Real Name: Natalie Hershlag
Born to an Israeli father and an American mother, Natalie Portman opted to take her mother’s maiden name professionally on the advice of her first agent Aleen Keshishian. The change went into effect by the time Portman’s first movie, “The Professional,” came out in 1994.
Stage Name: Shania Twain
Real Name: Eilleen Regina Edwards
Born as Eilleen Edwards, the future country star took the name Twain early in life, as it was the last name of her stepfather after her mother remarried post-divorce. The Shania part came when the Canadian singer moved to Nashville and industry executives suggested Shania would grab more fans than Eilleen would.
Stage Name: Queen Latifah
Real Name: Dana Elaine Owens
Queen Latifah was only 8 years old when she got rid of the name Dana Owens. Her mother was completely supportive of her desire to be called Latifah because it was trendy at the time for people in their neighborhood to use names with Arabic roots. Latifah added “Queen,” because she liked how strong it sounded.
Stage Name: Jamie Foxx
Real Name: Eric Marlon Bishop
In 2017, the internet exploded when it found out that actor/comedian/singer Jamie Foxx was not born as Jamie Foxx. But in fact, he had shared that information in 2014 when he went on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”—specifically, that he changed his name from Eric Bishop when he started performing as a comedian in the late '80s because women were getting more stage time at open mic nights. When he used a unisex name like Jamie Foxx, he found himself getting called up more often and the name stuck.
Stage Name: Michael Caine
Real Name: Maurice Joseph Micklewhite
Legendary British actor Michael Caine first adopted his stage name in 1954 after initially trying out the name Michael Scott—which was taken, although there’s no connection to Steve Carrell’s “The Office” character. He saw a movie poster for a Humphrey Bogart film called “The Caine Mutiny,” and since Bogart was his favorite actor, he chose Caine as his new assumed surname—and he finally made it legal in 2016.
Stage Name: Helen Mirren
Real Name: Ilynea Lydia Mironoff
Born to a family descended from Russian nobility, but cast out to England during the Russian Revolution, Helen Mirren didn’t actually change her name to fit in on the stag. Her father did it for her, anglicizing the names of his entire family in order to mesh better in English society—and attempting to avoid anti-Semitism since he felt the name could be construed as Jewish.
Stage Name: Woody Allen
Real Name: Allan Stewart Konigsberg
Woody Allen officially changed his name to Heywood Allen at the age of 17 in order to appear more mainstream for his future comedy career. His childhood friends claim that the name “Woody” came from a crush Allen had in high school on a girl whose dog’s name was Woody.
Stage Name: Katy Perry
Real Name: Katherine Hudson
What’s a girl to do when another star has your name? Change it. That was the case with Katy Perry who didn’t want to be associated with actress Kate Hudson, who had already made a name for herself when Katy first started her pop career. Instead of Hudson, Perry chose her mother’s maiden name—and the rest is history.
Stage Name: Vin Diesel
Real Name: Mark Sinclair
Born as Mark Sinclair, the artist currently known as Vin Diesel changed his name as a teenager when he started working as a bouncer in New York nightclubs. Vin’s twin, Paul Vincent, uses their mother’s maiden name as his surname, which may also explain the “Vin” first name for Diesel.
Stage Name: Gene Simmons
Real Name: Chaim Witz
Israeli-American rocker Gene Simmons actually went through two name changes on his way to fame. When he was born in Haifa, he was named Chaim Witz; after emigrating to the U.S., he went by Gene Klein because it was easier to pronounce. After moving into the rock scene, he changed his moniker again to become Gene Simmons.
Stage Name: Jay-Z
Real Name: Shawn Carter
Jay-Z is neither a Jay nor a Z. He was born Shawn Carter in New York, but took on the name Jay-Z as a tribute to his mentor Jaz-O and the Z subway line to Brooklyn.
Stage Name: Rita Wilson
Real Name: Margarita Ibrahimoff
Actress Rita Wilson is proudly Greek and was born as Margarita Ibrahimoff to a Bulgarian father and a Greek mother. They changed their surname to Wilson after they moved to America, which happened to be the street they lived on. Rita, of course, is short for Margarita.
Stage Name: Elvis Costello
Real Name: Declan Patrick Aloysius MacManus
The British singer/songwriter came from a musical family and idolized Elvis, so he adopted The King of Rock 'n' Roll’s first name and swapped MacManus for his mother’s maiden name, Costello. Costello’s name was officially changed in 1977, although he legally changed it back in 1986.
Stage Name: Hulk Hogan
Real Name: Terry Bollea
Terry Bollea was a chubby kid from the Southeast, but when he started wrestling he had to take on a stage name. After a talk show appearance alongside Lou Ferrigno, Hogan took on the nickname “Hulk” because he was bigger than the actor who played The Incredible Hulk on TV. The Hogan part came when wrestling impresario Vince McMahon wanted a wrestler with an Irish-sounding name.
Stage Name: Marilyn Monroe
Real Name: Norma Jeane Mortenson
Mid-century bombshell Marilyn Monroe was born as Norma Jeane Mortenson, but she was changing names most of her life. Baptised as Norma Jeane Baker, she went on to be Norma Jeane Dougherty from her first marriage and then started using the name Marilyn Monroe in 1946 when her acting career began. She legally changed her name in 1956.
Stage Name: Whoopi Goldberg
Real Name: Caryn Johnson
It’s not much of a secret that Whoopi Goldberg was born as neither a Whoopi nor a Goldberg. The Whoopi came from “whoopee cushion,” because the young Caryn Johnson used to put her flatulence on full display, causing people to say she sounded like a whoopee cushion. The origins of Goldberg are less clear.
Stage Name: Alicia Keys
Real Name: Alicia Augello Cook
When Alicia Keys was first looking for a stage name, she almost settled on “Alicia Wild,” but her mother told her it sounded like the name of a stripper. Instead, she chose Keys because, she says: “It's like the piano keys. And it can open so many doors.”
Stage Name: Ben Kingsley
Real Name: Krishna Pandit Bhanji
Born in Yorkshire to Russian-Jewish and Indian parents, Krishna Pandit Bhanji changed his name when he became a working actor with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Kingsley’s father first suggested it when he thought his son would need a more British name to succeed in the theatre. The “Kingsley” surname was inspired by his grandfather’s nickname as a spice trader: King Clove.
Stage Name: Nicki Minaj
Real Name: Onika Tanya Maraj
Oddly enough, Onika Maraj doesn’t love being called Nicki Minaj. The name was forced onto her by an early producer and it stuck. Minaj is no stranger to alternate identities: She often played different characters at home to escape domestic drama, and even now develops new personas—she identifies herself as Chun-Li on Twitter.
Stage Name: Ice Cube
Real Name: O’Shea Jackson
As one of the pioneers of gangster rap, O’Shea Jackson took a nickname just like everyone else in N.W.A., his hip-hop group that also launched the careers of Eazy-E and Dr. Dre. The name came from his older brother, who threatened to turn O’Shea into an ice cube for hitting on girls that were coming to the house to visit him.
Stage Name: Meg Ryan
Real Name: Margaret Hyra
Meg Ryan has been playing the “girl next door” for most of her career, but when she was truly the girl next door, her name was Margaret Hyra. She used her maternal grandmother’s maiden name to change her stage surname to Ryan and shortened Margaret to Meg.
Stage Name: Elton John
Real Name: Reginald Kenneth Dwight
The singer of “Rocket Man” and “Benny & The Jets” started his life as Reginald Kenneth Dwight. In 1967, he changed his name to Elton John; a combination of the names of the saxophone player and lead singer of his band at the time, Bluesology.
Stage Name: Elizabeth Banks
Real Name: Elizabeth Maresal Mitchell
Elizabeth Banks has become a bankable movie star after stints in “The Hunger Games” and “Pitch Perfect” franchises, but she only became a Banks because the name “Elizabeth Mitchell” was already registered with the Screen Actors Guild. As it turns out, “Lost” star Elizabeth Mitchell beat her name-twin to the punch, forcing the former Liz Mitchell to become Elizabeth Banks.
Stage Name: Faith Hill
Real Name: Audrey Faith Perry
The artist born Audrey Perry adopted her middle name for the stage, appropriate for a country music star who occasionally sings about her own faith. Hill's last name came from her first marriage, and the singer held onto even it after the marriage ended. Now she’s married to Tim McGraw, who was born as Samuel Smith.
Stage Name: Stevie Wonder
Real Name: Stevland Hardaway Judkins
When the young R&B prodigy was just starting out at age 11, Motown records impresario Berry Gordy christened him as Little Stevie Wonder. He’s since dropped the “Little,” but Stevie Wonder has never returned to being Stevland Judkins.
Stage Name: Charlie Sheen
Real Name: Carlos Irwin Estévez
Charlie Sheen is a second-generation name-changer. His father, Martin Sheen, was born as Ramón Antonio Gerardo Estévez and Charlie followed suit. Interestingly, Sheen’s brother Emilio Estévez kept his birth name and still found success as an actor.
Stage Name: Portia de Rossi
Real Name: Amanda Lee Rogers
Actress Portia de Rossi was born in Australia as Amanda Lee Rogers. In an attempt to stand out at auditions, she took the first name of her favorite Shakespeare character and added “de Rossi” because she believed it sounded exotic. Today, she has a new official name: After marrying Ellen Degeneres and taking her wife’s last name, de Rossi is now legally known as Portia Lee James DeGeneres.
Stage Name: Ringo Starr
Real Name: Richard Starkey
The only member of The Beatles to change his name was Ringo Starr, who changed it while playing in his first professional band, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Storm suggested the name based on Ringo’s penchant for wearing rings, but his wife still calls him Ritchie.