For new parents, naming a baby can be stressful. There are so many options and, of course, there's no way to know if your child is going to grow up to like their name or if they'll prefer something different one day in the future. Whether it be for personal or professional reasons, name changes happen quite often. In fact, there are at least 20 celebrities who’ve changed their names for their own unique reasons that you may not have ever realized.
While some of these celebs may surprise you, there are a few famous people whose name changes are legendary. For example, Marilyn Monroe started life as Norma Jean Mortenson, as Elton John so famously remembered in his tribute song, “Candle in the Wind.” And even Elton John himself had a pretty well-known name change from Reginald Kenneth Dwight to the much more catchy Elton John, according to his IMDb page.
Sometimes these name changes are just to make a difficult or long name easier for people to remember. And sometimes they are to clear up any potential confusion with someone with a similar name. Or, sometimes, some of our beloved celebrities have their own very personal reasons for choosing a new moniker, as you’ll see in this fascinating list below.
1. John Legend
John Legend’s real last name is actually Stephens, but early in his career a friend told him that the name John Stephens sounded too "old-school," according to CinemaBlend. The friend, poet J. Ivy, apparently declared that Legend had a, well, legendary sound and bestowed the name that we all know so well now.
Legend’s wife, Chrissy Teigen, has even poked fun at her husband's last name change and once clapped back at a hater criticizing women who don’t take their husband’s name with a funny quip on Twitter in March 2018. She wrote, "my husband didn’t even take his last name?"
2. Bruno Mars
Back in 2010, Bruno Mars spoke to Rap-Up about how his stage name came to be. The singer was born as Peter Gene Hernandez, but was given the nickname Bruno by his dad, according to Rap-Up. It’s a nod to a heavyweight wrestler names Bruno Sammartino and Mars told the site: "I guess I was this chunky little baby, so my dad used to call me that as a nickname."
As for his last name, he told Rap-Up: "I felt like I didn’t have no pizzazz, and a lot of girls say I’m out of this world, so I was like I guess I’m from Mars."
3. Katy Perry
Katy Perry changed her original last name, Hudson, to avoid being confused with actress Kate Hudson, according to her IMDb. But, in 2017, she went deeper when she spoke to The Guardian about the name change:
I created this wonderful character called Katy Perry that I very much am, and can step into all the time, but I created that character out of protection. I was scared that if you saw me, Katheryn Hudson, the girl wearing the Bioré strip on my nose, you’d be like, "that’s not glamorous." It was me going, "OK, I’ve been upset my whole childhood so I’m going to show the world I am something, that I am going to do something and that I am enough." I didn’t want to be Katheryn Hudson. I hated that, it was too scary for me, so I decided to be someone else.
4. Meg Ryan
5. Vin Diesel
Vin Diesel’s name is a hybrid of family and friends, according to ScreenRant. Vin comes from his father’s last name, "Vincent," and Diesel was a nickname given him when he worked as a club bouncer prior to his acting days, the outlet reported. He was supposedly so pumped up all the time that people said he was fueled, like with diesel fuel.
Vin Diesel's real name? Mark Sinclair, according to TIME.
6. Calvin Harris
Calvin Harris makes a big distinction between his personal and professional lives. According to Dancing Astronaut, when he’s working he wants to go by his stage name, Calvin Harris, but when he's off duty, he goes by Adam Wiles and wants to be known as such.
The DJ once told radio hosts Boogie & Arlene, "No one calls me Calvin. It’s horrible and it’s not my name. At the start of my career when people were meeting me for the first time, I let it slide. It was sort of a nickname." But he apparently drew the line when a girlfriend started calling him Calvin. "I was like ‘I’m sorry this is ridiculous. You’re speaking to my alter ego," he told Boogie & Arlene in January 2019.
Harris also told Esquire that he chose the name because it sounded “racially ambiguous” and seemed to fit with the soul vibe of his first single.
7. Miley Cyrus
Born Destiny Hope Cyrus, Miley Cyrus changed her name when she started acting, according to Capital FM. The singer and actress took inspiration from her childhood nickname, Smiley, according to Vogue, and added a shortened version to the middle name Ray, inspired by her grandfather.
When she married Liam Hemsworth she took his last name, according to W Magazine, so she’s now officially Miley Ray Hemsworth.
8. Nina Dobrev
Nina Dobrev’s name has been shortened from her given name to make it easier for people to pronounce and remember. According to her IMDb page, the Bulgarian-Canadian actress was born Nikolina Konstantinova Dobreva.
9. Natalie Portman
Natalie is her real first name, but the actress actually changed her last name to protect her family’s privacy, according to Empire Online. Natalie Portman's real last name is Hershlag, under which she did some very early work, the outlet reported, and she chose Portman from her maternal grandmother.
10. Carmen Electra
Prince is the one to thank for Carmen Electra’s unique stage name, according to Yahoo! Entertainment. She auditioned to be part of a group the late musician was putting together and after seeing her dance, he reportedly told her: “You look like Electra. That should be your name." Electra said she was hesitant at first because is sounded like a superhero name, but it eventually stuck, as Yahoo! Entertainment reported.
Her real name? Tara Leigh Patrick, according to her IMDb page.
11. Aaron Paul
The actor shortened his name from his given Aaron Paul Sturtevant to make things easier professionally, according to Hollywood.com. Casting directors apparently couldn’t pronounce his last name, so he just dropped the surname altogether.
12. Iggy Azalea
The rapper can attribute at least part of her stage name to nature. Iggy Azalea spoke to the Vevo show A.K.A. and explained that her first name originated when her dog was bitten by a snake. As she explained, the pup was named after Iggy Pop, and while he was sick she got a necklace made with his name, according to the New York Daily News. People apparently started thinking it was her name, so she adopted it as her stage name.
Azalea would have continued with just one name, but her grandfather voiced his opinion that she needed more, the New York Daily News reported. Azalea was chosen for its feminine sound, and it's the street that her family live on.
As she told A.K.A., her original name is Amethyst Amelia Kelly.
13. Nicolas Cage
Nicolas Cage is the nephew of famous director Francis Ford Coppola, according to The Hollywood Reporter, so his real name is actually Nicolas Kim Coppola. But the actor decided to change his name when he started taking heat from other actors on the set of his first film, as he told HuffPost. Cage told the news outlet they had “unfortunate responses” to his last name and it made it hard to believe in himself.
14. Portia De Rossi
Born Amanda Lee Rogers, Portia De Rossi began acting young to help provide for her family after her father died, according to Biography. De Rossi changed her name by the time she was 15 years old, choosing Portia from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, and De Rossi was picked because it sounded exotic, according to Biography.
15. Whoopi Goldberg
Whoopi Goldberg’s name came from what could be the most embarrassing of stories, though she shared it with British talkshow host Graham Norton with great humor a few years back, according to Hello! Magazine. "I am Karen but I was a bit of a farter," she told Norton in 2017. "The theaters I was performing in were very small so if you were gassy you had to walk away farting an people would say I was like a Whoopee cushion."
16. Helen Mirren
The award-winner’s real name is one that gives away her Russian heritage. Born as Ilynea Lydia Mironoff, her father changed the family name in the 1950s when Mirren was 10 years old, according to Purple Clover. This was during the Russian revolution, so her father wanted to avoid ostracization that might occur from their Russian-sounding names, according to Smooth Radio.
17. Olivia Wilde
Olivia Wilde’s real last name is Cockburn, according to People, and the actress made the switch when she began acting, according to The Observer. Wilde comes from a long line of writers and journalists and told the outlet that several of them also used pen names, and her choice was a nod to playwright Oscar Wilde, as she was starring in his work The Importance of Being Earnest at the time.
18. Diane Keaton
19. Jamie Foxx
Born Eric Marlon Bishop, the comedian changed his name to try and get better placement in the lineup when he began performing stand-up, according to Yahoo!. He chose Jamie because he thought that female performers were often called up to the stage first, and Foxx is an homage to Redd Foxx, according to Sirius XM.
20. Winona Ryder
Winona Ryder’s name change was a spur of the moment decision, according to People, and apparently the actress made the change when someone asked her how she wanted her name to read on the credits for her first role. According to IMDb, an album by Mitch Ryder happened to be playing, so she suggested that name. Her real name is Winona Horowitz.
Whether for professional or personal reasons it's understandable why some of these celebs made the choices they did. Still, it's hard to imagine any of them without the familiar monikers we've come to know them by.