The idea of using a stage name isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. Some of the most famous stars in history are known by a name totally different than the one they were born with. (Marilyn Monroe, for one, was once Norma Jeane Mortenson.) Today, many actors and musicians go by chosen names instead of given ones for a multitude of reasons. Some had to change their names for professional reasons, others wanted to maintain some privacy, and many just wanted a moniker that had that “it” factor. The 21 stars below either go exclusively by their first name or chose something else they wanted to be called. Read on for the celebrities whose real last names you never knew.
RELATED: 33 Celebrity Names You Always Misspell.
It sounds like a stage name, so you won’t be surprised to hear that John Legend wasn’t given that name at birth. His actually last name is Stephens.
On an episode of The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, the musician said that other artists he was collaborating with nicknamed him”The Legend,” and then Kanye West cemented it for life.
“The first guy to call me that was J. Ivy,” Legend explained. “He’s a spoken word artist from Chicago. I met him through Kanye. We were all in the studio together. He just started calling me ‘The Legend’ because he thought I sounded like one of our old school soul legends. And it just caught on with our little group of friends, and then they were like, ‘We should call you John Legend.’ And it just really was in our little circle.”
West put out a mixtape where he referred to his friend by that new name, and it stuck.
Actor and director Olivia Wilde was actually born Olivia Jane Cockburn. She explained to The Observer that her family is full of journalists who use pen names, and that her mom suggested she choose one for herself—”something Irish and something I’d always be inspired by”—to give her her own identity outside of her family. That led the future star to choose Wilde, in honor of the writer Oscar Wilde.
“At the time, I was doing The Importance of Being Earnest—I was playing Gwendolyn, and I was so in love with it,” she said. “Oscar Wilde is someone who I respect for so many reasons—a revolutionary, a comedian and a profound thinker.”
She didn’t realize that it could be interpreted as a “sexy adjective” until she became more famous. “Born to Be Wilde! Girls Gone Wilde! I really didn’t think it through,” Wilde added.
David Tennant, the Scottish actor best known for playing the tenth Doctor on Doctor Who, is actually David John McDonald. On a 2018 episode of The Late Late Show With James Corden, he explained that there was already an actor in the union with the name David McDonald, so he had to change his. And since he was just 16 at the time, a magazine helped inspire him.
“I did my first job at 16. At 16 years old I didn’t know actors, I didn’t know how you chose a name. So I flicked through a music magazine. So I’m sort of named after Neil Tennant from the Pet Shop Boys!” he said. “I mean not explicitly, I’m not related to him. I was just leafing through a magazine and thought, ‘What am I going to call myself?’ It could have been Sade!”
After starring in movies including Still Alice and The Kids Are All Right, Julianne Moore is practically a household name—though it’s not the one she was first given. In 1960, she was born Julie Anne Smith, a name she had to change because of a situation similar to the one David Tennant faced.
“When I went to join SAG [the Screen Actors Guild] as Julie Smith, they were like, ‘There’s a Julie Smith, there’s a Julie Anne Smith. You have to choose another name,'” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “My dad’s name was Peter Moore Smith, and my mother’s name was Anne Smith, and I used both their names so I wouldn’t hurt anybody’s feelings.”
In her real life, though, she said everyone still calls her Julie.
Courtney Love is the perfect name for a rocker, and there’s a bit of history behind it. Originally, Love told Entertainment Weekly (via Chocolate For Breakfast), her name was Love Michelle Harrison, but her mother changed it to Courtney after she and the musician’s father, Hank Harrison, split up. Switch those around, and you have the Hole frontwoman’s stage name.
In 2010, Love told tell British outlet NME that she had outgrown her moniker and wanted to change it. But she later backtracked, and her rep released a statement to MTV saying, “She’s not changing her name unless it’s to ‘Courtney Love Mellencamp’ or ‘Big Baby Jesus.'”
It’s hard to imagine rom-coms like You’ve Got Mail or When Harry Met Sally without Meg Ryan, but if she’d used her real names, the credits would have been a bit longer. Ryan was born Margaret Mary Emily Anne Hyra. And though it’s not exactly clear what made her change her name—and it’s not something that Ryan has addressed in interviews—multiple outlets report that Ryan is her grandmother’s maiden name.
Vin Diesel is another pretty obvious chosen name, but the Fast and the Furious star’s real name doesn’t resemble it in the slightest. Ready for it? The action hero’s real name is Mark Sinclair, and he actually adopted the name Vin Diesel before he was an actor. He said during an interview with Conan O’Brien (via Time) that he changed his name to Mark Sinclair Vincent when the whole family took his stepfather’s last name. That inspired “Vin,” and Diesel was a nickname his friends gave him when he was working as a bouncer in New York because he was so full of energy.
Before Katy Perry was a pop star, she was Christian singer Katy Hudson, which was closer to the name her parents gave her at birth, Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson. She’s never confirmed it, but there’s been speculation that Perry made the change to differentiate herself from Kate Hudson, who’s a friend of hers.
“When we text, it’s like ‘Hudson here,'” Perry said during a Sirius XM interview in 2013, via Us Weekly. “We are buds and we get along…We have become friends and go to game nights together, we play this game called Mafia…we play it all the time.”
Alicia Keys is a fitting name for a talented, piano-playing musician, but if you thought it was a little too fitting, you’re right: Her real name is Alicia Augello Cook, and yes, her name was inspired by her instrument.
“It came from a dream. A wonderful friend of mine named Michael Mauldin—we were looking for a name, and we couldn’t find a last name. So he was looking for the keys to his briefcase, and he said ‘something, something, so what do you think, Alicia Keys?'” she said in an interview with CBS This Morning. “I was like, ‘Keys… And I play the piano, and that’s keys, and keys open doors, and I wanna open doors, and keys, and Keys it was.”
Rihanna‘s first name isn’t Rihanna—that’s actually her middle name. In full, the singer’s name is Robyn Rihanna Fenty (and yep, that’s where the name of her makeup and fashion brand comes from). The artist and mogul told Rolling Stone in 2011 (via People) that her friends and family still call her Robyn.
“I get kind of numb to hearing Rihanna, Rihanna, Rihanna. When I hear Robyn, I pay attention,” she said. “Robyn is the brick to my foundation. It’s something I hold on to. It’s everything I grew up with, my childhood, Barbados, people close to me. Everything that’s familiar. People know Rihanna from my music. But if this were to all go away tomorrow, I would always look at myself as Robyn.”
Whoopi Goldberg‘s real name is totally different from the one she’s used for the length of her incredibly successful career. She was born Caryn Elaine Johnson
Goldberg told The New York Times that the nickname “Whoopi” came from her tendency to pass gas onstage (“So people used to say to me, ‘You are like a whoopee cushion.'”), while “Goldberg” was a name she chose for her Jewish heritage.
“My mother did not name me Whoopi, but Goldberg is my name, it’s part of my family, part of my heritage. Just like being black,” she said at an event in London in 2011, according to the Jewish Chronicle.
Diane Keaton wasn’t born Diane Keaton; she was actually born Diane Hall. But like many other actors, she had to change her name to join her union.
“My name is Diane Hall and what happened was I had to change my name when I joined Actors’ Equity, which is our union, because there was a Diane Hall,” she told the Irish Examiner. “So I picked my mother’s maiden name, which was Keaton.”
Jamie Foxx‘s last name isn’t Foxx, and his first name isn’t Jamie, either. His real full name is Eric Marlon Bishop, and per The Independent, the comedian put a lot of thought into choosing his stage name. He chose “Jamie” because it was gender-neutral and “Foxx” in honor of Red Foxx from the sitcom Sanford and Son.
Long before Natalie Portman became an acclaimed actor, she was born in Jerusalem as Neta-Lee Hershlag. Though the Jackie star hasn’t explained her choice explicitly, multiple outlets report that she elected to go by a stage name to maintain her privacy and chose Portman because it’s her grandmother’s maiden name.
Hitmaker Bruno Mars was born Peter Gene Hernandez, and told Latina magazine (via Billboard) that he his stage name came from a nickname his dad gave him as a toddler.
“The real story is: I was going to go by ‘Bruno,’ one name. Mars just kind of came joking around because that sounds bigger than life. That was it, simple as that,” he said.
Demi Moore is a living Hollywood legend, but would things have gone differently if she’d gone by her given name, Demi Gene Guynes? She explained to The Guardian that her original last name came from Danny Guynes, but when she got older, her mother revealed her dad was actually a man named Charles Harman.
The Ghost star married musician Freddy Moore in 1980, and while the marriage didn’t stick, her new last name did.
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Fans never needed a last name to remember Adele, but she does have one! The “Easy on Me” singer’s full name is Adele Laurie Blue Adkins, and she’s never explained why she chose to go by just her first name professionally. Considering her massive success in music, though, it was obviously the right choice.
Helen Mirren‘s given name is the regal-sounding Ilynea Lydia Mironoff. According to Hello! Magazine, Mirren’s father, who came from a family that had been exiled from Russian nobility, changed their last name to Mirren just a few years after his daughter was born in 1945, since the family was then based in England.
Long before Stranger Things and Little Women, Winona Ryder was born Winona Laura Horowitz in 1971. Her stage name was inspired by the music she was listening to when she was asked how she wanted to be credited in the 1986 movie Lucas.
“I think my dad had a Mitch Ryder album on,” she told Rolling Stone, so Winona Ryder it was—a quick decision that would undoubtedly end up shaping the rest of her career.
Actor and writer Mindy Kaling‘s full name is Vera Mindy Chokalingham. She shortened when she started working in show business, and as for her real first name, Kaling told the Improper Bostonian (via Insider) that nobody, including her parents, has ever called her Vera.
“I’ve been Mindy since I was born. When my Mom was pregnant, my parents were living in Nigeria and wanted a cute American name, because they were moving here, and they knew Mindy from Mork&Mindy,” she said. “Vera isn’t just an old Russian lady’s name, it’s an incarnation of a Hindu goddess. But they never called me it.”
When Elton John was born, his full name was Reginald Kenneth Dwight. But he didn’t enjoy being Reginald very much. Back in 1987, the musician said in an interview that he wanted to break free from his past, according to Express.
“When I became Elton John, it was like a new lease on life,” he said. “I didn’t particularly like being Reg Dwight. It had too many unhappy memories. I hated the word ‘Reg,’ anyway. It was just a horrible name. As soon as I was Elton, it was just great. It was like a new personality.”
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