Caryn Johnson. Gordon Sumner. Frances Gumm. Reginald Kenneth Dwight. These are the names of some of the most iconic celebrities in Hollywood – both past and present. They’ve come to embody their stage names, so it’s kind of hard to believe that their parents ever gave them these monikers. What’s your favorite star’s real name? Read on to find out.
40. Courtney Love
Courtney Michelle Harrison dropped her middle and last names, then she added Love and became a rockstar. Though in 2010 the musician and actress went back to her roots and had people call her Courtney Michelle instead. According to Harper’s Bazaar, she said at the time, “We love her when she goes onstage, but I don’t need her in the rest of my life.”
39. Kevin Jonas
We know the Jonas Brothers as Kevin, Joe and Nick, but one of them isn’t going by his real first name! Kevin’s full moniker is actually Paul Kevin Jonas II. But as the “II” indicates, his father is also a Paul – perhaps that’s why they never called the eldest boy by his given name.
38. Carmen Electra
When Prince gave advice, people listened – just ask Carmen Electra. The actress met the legendary musician when she still went by her real name: Tara Leigh Patrick. According to Women’s Health magazine, he suggested that she switch up her moniker in order to get a career boost. And she duly did so in 1991.
37. John Wayne
It’s crazy to think that a name as legendary as John Wayne wasn’t a real one. But the actor was born Marion Morrison, and he held onto it until nabbing his first starring role in 1930’s The Big Trail. According to the California Museum, the film’s director Raoul Walsh urged his leading man to take a stage name – and, from there, John Wayne was born.
Claire Boucher started posting her own music to MySpace in 2007, and the platform let artists choose three genres with which to describe their tunes. The artist later revealed on Twitter that she chose grime for all three without even knowing what kind of music it was! And, from there, she chose her stage name: Grimes. She has gone on to bestow her baby with an even more quirky moniker: X Æ A-12, which is a reference to the speed of light. She and her partner Elon Musk apparently call him X.
Ice-T was born Tracy Marrow, but a string of personal hardships gave him his stage name. He sadly lost both of his parents by the time he was in seventh grade. As the star explained on the WeTV special Untold Stories of Hip Hop, “I’m an orphan and I have been on my own since I was 17 so you become, I would call it cold. And that’s how you get named Ice.”
34. Iggy Azalea
Amethyst Amelia Kelly became Iggy Azalea somewhat by accident. She explained to Vevo, “I had a dog called Iggy, who I loved very, very much.” After the canine died, she said, “I got a name-plate necklace made in his honor. Everybody started to think that my name was Iggy so it kind of became my nickname, and I took it on board and started rapping with it.”
33. Bruce Willis
Walter Bruce Willis was born with an almost-perfect movie star moniker – he just had to drop the first third to make it really pop. Interestingly enough, his career in Hollywood did more than just improve his name. The Die Hard star was actually born with a stutter. But when Willis joined the drama club while still in school, he found that acting helped him lessen it.
32. Reese Witherspoon
Laura Jeanne Reese Witherspoon went by her two first names – that is, until she began to forge a path to Hollywood stardom. It was early in the star’s career that she chose to go by Reese – her mother’s maiden name. Obviously, that was a wise decision, as her moniker has proven to be a memorable one.
31. Chevy Chase
If you’ve ever been to Maryland, you might wonder if the town of Chevy Chase gets its name from the actor or vice-versa. Well, apparently it’s the latter. The star was born Cornelius Crane Chase, but his grandma started calling him Chevy Chase – inspired by the Free State’s affluent community.
30. Gigi Hadid
Jelena Noura Hadid encountered a problem when she started the second grade: a classmate named Helena. According to Harper’s Bazaar, their names were so close that the teacher asked Jelena’s mom for an alternative if she had one. The little girl’s mom replied she sometimes called her daughter Gigi – and that’s how the supermodel Gigi Hadid got her name.
29. Ashton Kutcher
When Ashton Kutcher won at the 2013 Teen Choice Awards, he admitted in his acceptance speech, “My name is not even actually Ashton.” As it turns out, the actor’s real name is Christopher, but he decided to go by his middle name when he embarked on his Hollywood career at 19.
28. Demi Moore
Demi Gene Guyes got married for the first time when she was just 17 years old. Her husband was a musician called Freddy Moore, and his bride decided to take his last name. Even though the pair divorced less than five years later, the star held onto his simple surname as she began her acting career.
27. Kit Harington
Kit Harington didn’t know his real name – Christopher Catesby Harington – until he turned 11. He told Glamour that his parents “could see that I wanted to be Kit, but Christopher was a bit of a tradition.” Luckily, he added, “Kit is traditionally an offshoot of Christopher, it’s just not used that often.” So, everything worked out for the Game of Thrones star in the end.
26. Julianne Moore
Julie Anne Smith wanted to join the Screen Actors Guild, but she ran into a snag. She told The Hollywood Reporter in 2015, “When I went to join SAG as Julie Smith, they were like, ‘There’s a Julie Smith, there’s a Julie Anne Smith. You have to choose another name.’” So, she drew on her parents’ names – Peter Moore Smith and Anne Smith – and created her new stage name: Julianne Moore.
25. Bing Crosby
Bing Crosby had six siblings, but he didn’t pick up his nickname as a way to set him apart from the pack. Instead, the star got his famous nickname when he was seven – a moniker pulled directly from his favorite comic strip: “The Bingville Bugle.” The crooner was actually born as Harry Lillis Crosby.
24. Cardi B
Cardi B’s real name is Belcalis Almanzar, but that has nothing to do with how she got her famous moniker. Instead, it stems from her sister Hennessy’s name and that of a cognac brand. Eventually, people started referring to Belcalis as Bacardi to keep up the boozy theme. She went on to reverse that – calling herself Cardi B.
23. Jack Black
A rhyming, two-syllable name that just rolls off the tongue? Jack Black fits the bill – and it’s the perfect moniker for Hollywood. Unfortunately, though, that isn’t his real name. That would be Thomas Jacob Black, which is also what his father’s called. And that’s precisely why he decided to just go by Jack.
22. Erykah Badu
Erykah Badu – born Erica Abi Wright – changed her first name long before she became a famous singer. She first opted to spell it as Erykah, with the latter syllable – kah – holding a deeper meaning. Apparently, it means inner self. She eventually swapped out her last name for “Badu.” The latter is an African name and her favorite scat sound to make, too.
21. Cary Grant
A new actor called Archie Leach nabbed an enviable contract with Paramount Studios. But it came with a caveat – he had to change his name. Hollywood legend claims that the actor selected a first name from a previous on-stage role, and he picked his surname from a list of ideas provided by his new employer. Put together, his new moniker was Cary Grant.
20. Helen Mirren
Helen Mirren’s birth certificate read Ilyena Lydia Mironoff, but it wouldn’t stay that way for long. Her dad changed the entire family’s surname to Mirren in the 1950s, according to Harper’s Bazaar. And when Ilyena decided to become an actress, she opted for a different, simpler moniker to bring to Hollywood: Helen.
19. Marilyn Manson
Brian Warner isn’t a name that really suits a heavy metal rocker. Perhaps that’s why he chose to go by Marilyn Manson instead. What we do know is that he picked his name based on the American obsession with celebrities and violence. He got Marilyn from the famous actress and Manson from the serial killer.
18. Marilyn Monroe
Did you know that Marilyn Monroe wasn’t the name she was born with? When she got to Hollywood, the actress was actually called Norma Jeane Mortenson. But according to Time, studio execs thought the last name had too many potential pronunciations, and the dual first names didn’t work, either. So, Norma Jean apparently suggested Monroe for her new surname – a moniker from her mom’s side of the family. And her bosses landed on Marilyn, since she looked similar to a one-time Broadway starlet Marilyn Miller.
17. Calvin Harris
Adam Richard Wiles didn’t have the right ring to it when it came time for the music producer to release his first tune. He told Shortlist, “My first single was more of a soul track, and I thought Calvin Harris sounded a bit more racially ambiguous. I thought people might not know if I was black or not. After that, I was stuck with it.” And that’s why we only know him as Harris.
16. Miley Cyrus
Miley Cyrus’ parents didn’t choose that name for her – they actually christened their daughter as Destiny Hope Cyrus. But as the star grew up, she earned the nickname “Smiley” for how much time she spent grinning, Elle claims. From there, the moniker got shortened to Miley, and she made it her legal name in 2009.
15. Portia de Rossi
As a teen, Amanda Lee Rogers was struggling with her sexuality, and this bubbled over into a search for a new identity. In an interview with Advocate, she explained that a love of Shakespeare inspired her to take the first name of a Merchant of Venice character: Portia. As for the surname, she opted for the Italian-sounding de Rossi because it felt exotic. She told the publication in 2005, “When you live in Australia, Europe is so far away and so fascinating, so stylish and cultured and sophisticated.”
14. Elton John
Reginald Kenneth Dwight doesn’t seem to fit the man we know today as Elton John, and he must have felt the same way. The larger-than-life singer reportedly chose his stage moniker by combining the names of saxophone player Elton Dean and LongJohn Baldry – a blues singer.
13. Judy Garland
Judy Garland was born Frances Ethel Gumm. She and her sisters formed The Gumm Trio in the 1930s, and they performed their way across the vaudeville circuit. But crowds in Chicago supposedly laughed at the young girls because their last name was Gumm. So, they swapped it out for Garland. And young Frances changed her first name to Judy – inspired by a then-popular tune by Hoagy Carmichael. The rest, as they say, is history.
12. Spike Lee
Spike Lee’s parents originally named their son Shelton Lee. But it was his mother who ended up changing it to the moniker we know today, according to Harper’s Bazaar. She apparently noticed that her baby boy was pretty tough and started calling him Spike. Lee’s mom couldn’t have known that she gave him the perfect name to become a widely known and revered Hollywood director.
11. Brad Pitt
There are few monikers more perfectly Hollywood than Brad Pitt. And yet, that isn’t the heartthrob’s given name – it’s actually William Bradley Pitt. Funnily enough, Page Six has reported in the past that the actor sometimes introduces himself as William in one special circumstance: when he flirts with women!
Gordon Sumner was a university student, but he still found time to play music in local clubs. Encyclopedia Britannica notes that he often wore a yellow-and-black-striped sweater, which led his bandmates to give him a bee-inspired nickname: Sting. And that’s the moniker the star kept when he became a hugely successful musician.
9. Natalie Portman
Natalie Portman was actually born Neta-Lee Hershlag in Israel. But according to Harper’s Bazaar, she dropped her given name after moving to the U.S. in 1984. Neta-Lee had an easy swap in Natalie, while the entire Hershlag family opted to change their surname. They went with their maternal grandmother’s maiden name: Portman.
8. Bruno Mars
Peter Gene Hernandez was a name that didn’t stick for long. Once his family noticed that their toddler looked like wrestler Bruno Sammartino, they started calling him Bruno, too. He went by Bruno Hernandez for a while, but Harper’s Bazaar reports that music industry execs tried pigeonholing him as a Latin artist. So, he swapped out his last name, too – Mars fit the bill.
7. John Legend
John Roger Stephens’s friends started calling him his Legend, and it morphed into his stage name. He told MTV News in 2008, “‘I was just like, ‘You know what? Let’s just go for it. 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.” So far, so good.
6. Whoopi Goldberg
Whoopi Goldberg – born Caryn Johnson – got her stage name from some pretty unsavory backstage behavior. She hilariously revealed on The Graham Norton Show, “I was a bit of a farter. The theaters I was performing in were very small, so if you were gassy, you had to walk away farting, and people would say I was like a Whoopee cushion. I was sometimes quite noisy – never offensive.”
5. Michael J. Fox
Michael Andrew Fox found himself in a pickle. According to Biography.com, he needed a stage name that would distinguish him from another guy called Michael Fox. But the actor didn’t want to make use of his own middle initial because Michael A. Fox was a weird play on words. So, he drew inspiration from another star called Michael J. Pollard, and that’s how the name Michael J. Fox came to be.
4. Jamie Foxx
Jamie Foxx’s switch to his stage name – from his real one, Eric Marlon Bishop – stemmed from necessity as an aspiring comedian going to do stand-up. In a 2015 interview with David Letterman, he explained, “I noticed that like 1,000 guys showed up and only three girls, but the three girls would always get a spot. So, I went to the list and wrote down a unisex name… Jamie Foxx.”
3. Meg Ryan
Meg Ryan’s given name is Margaret Mary Emily Anne Hyra, which is obviously a bit of a mouthful for someone trying to make it in Hollywood. So, she took her grandma’s maiden name Ryan as a surname. Then, she shortened Margaret to Meg, which left the actress with a name that was the perfect fit for her career.
2. Joaquin Phoenix
It’s hard to believe that Joaquin Phoenix didn’t always have his famous family’s surname. He was actually born Joaquín Rafael Bottom. But when his parents decided to leave their religious group, they ditched that last name, according to Harper’s Bazaar. So, they selected a new one for the entire clan – landing on Phoenix instead.
1. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
It turns out that Prince Harry’s name is just a nickname for his extra-long list of royal names: Henry Charles Albert David. Meanwhile, his wife has switched up her moniker, too. The duchess’ real first name is Rachel, but, clearly, Meghan Markle just has a better ring to it.