It was Shakespeare who said that a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet, but in Hollywood, names are pretty darn important. A name that’s hard to pronounce, hard to remember, unpleasant or associated with something controversial is an agent’s nightmare—it’s no coincidence that the people who do make it in the film and music industries tend to have dazzling names that look good in lights.
But don’t fret if you are dreaming of stardom but have a less than marketable birth name! It’s common practice to adapt your moniker into something that looks better in movie or album credits, whether you officially change it or just adopt a stage name. These 20 stars did just that, and their careers are soaring, perhaps more than they would have been if they had stuck with what’s written on their birth certificates.
The reasons celebrities change their names are endless: some do it so their ethnicity doesn’t stand out, some to protect privacy, and some because they just sound better. You probably won’t be able to picture these famous faces as any other name now anyway, but it’s interesting to know who they were born as! Read on to discover the birth names of these celebrities you had no idea were once called something different.
20 Gigi Hadid's Birth Name Is Much Harder To Pronounce
Now when anybody mentions Gigi, you just know they’re talking about supermodel Gigi Hadid. The name is much catchier than the Santa Barbara-born it-girl’s birth moniker, which is Jelena Noura Hadid. The name reflects her family background—Dutch on her mother’s side and Palestinian on her father’s side.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t Gigi who came up with her pseudonym, but her mother Yolanda Hadid. Yolanda called Jelena Gigi when she was a little girl because her mother (Gigi’s grandmother) gave her that nickname when she was little too. So it’s kind of like a family tradition! They started calling Jelena Gigi at school when another girl in her class was called Helena to avoid some major confusion, and we guess the name stuck after that. Just as well: Gigi looks amazing next to Naomi, Heidi and Cindy!
19 Miley Cyrus Or Smiley Cyrus?
Miley is a pretty unique name, and though pop star Miley Cyrus’s parents were definitely into going against the grain when it came to naming their kids, they didn’t go for Miley. Actually, the Hannah Montana star was actually born Destiny Hope Cyrus. Her dad Billy Ray chose the name because of his belief that his daughter was destined to bring hope into the world. Kind of true? Miley fans think so!
Throughout the star’s childhood, people referred to her as “Smiley” because of how cheerful and, well, smiley she was. So that’s where Miley came into the picture! She legally changed her name in 2008, after she’d been starring on Hannah Montana for two years. We like Miley—somehow, she just doesn’t seem like a Destiny Hope.
18 Bella Isn't All There Is To This Hadid's Title
Gigi isn’t the only Hadid who’s changed her name! Younger sister Bella’s birth name is actually Isabella Khair Hadid, which again shows her Palestinian heritage. Her original name and new name are pretty close—only three letters are missing—but Bella does seem to make the model stand out more. Aside from altering her name slightly, Bella made some other changes to help her achieve success in the modelling world.
Like her older sister, Bella is actually a blonde. She dyes her hair because it represents her deep personality, and so people don’t get her confused with Gigi. “… my sister being blonde and me being brunette, it’s a good separation,” she said of her decision to ditch the fair hair. It looks like that decision has worked out pretty well for her!
17 Meghan Markle Has More In Common With Rachel Zane Than You Think
A first and last name beginning with the same later tends to be a hit, which is probably how Meghan Markle settled on the alias she’s introduce to the world. Meghan is the actress’s birth name, but it’s her middle name. Her original first name? Rachel. That’s right—just like her character on Suits, Meghan was actually born into this world Rachel. It’s easier to picture her as a Rachel, since that’s how many of us came to know her in the first place.
Her title will change again before long, since her marriage to Prince Harry is said to offer her the role of Duchess of Sussex. And speaking of Harry, his name isn’t actually Harry either; it’s Henry. So Harry and Meghan were really born as Henry and Rachel … yes, all our lives are one big lie.
16 Natalie or Nata-Lee?
The name Natalie Portman is easy to remember and looks great slapped across promotional material for massive blockbuster hits. The talented actress’s birth name inspired her stage name, but they’re still pretty different. Natalie was born Neta-Lee Hershlag in Jerusalem in 1981. Neta-Lee is a Hebrew name, reflecting the actress’s Jewish family: her father was born in Israel after his parents emigrated there from Europe following the Second World War, and her mother is American of Austrian and Russian Jewish descent.
Portman was actually Natalie’s father’s mother’s maiden name, and she decided to adopt it as her stage name to help maintain her family’s privacy. Her grandfather worked as an economics professor in Israel for many years, while her father is a well-known fertility specialist and gynecologist.
15 Not Nicki Minaj, But Close!
Somewhere along the line, someone decided that Nicki Minaj was a more commercially appealing name than the rapper’s real moniker. The Trinidad-born rapper was born Onika Tanya Maraj, but adopted a different alias when her career started to take off. She stated that somebody else was behind the decision to change her name, and she doesn’t love the name. She especially doesn’t like it when her friends and family call her “Nicki,” since she doesn’t feel like Nicki Minaj when she’s with them.
Though she now goes by Nicki Minaj, the rapper doesn’t appear to have forgotten who she really is. In her song “Starships” she proudly says, “My name is Onika, you can call me Nicki.” And let’s not forget the remix to Beyoncé’s “Flawless”, where she calls the rapper onto the track with a simple, “Onika?”
14 Named After A Crystal, Iggy Azalea Took Inspiration From Her Childhood
Iggy Azalea is definitely a unique and creative name, and to an extent, the rapper’s birth name was creative too. The Australian star was given the name Amethyst Amelia Kelly as a baby, but although Amethyst isn’t a moniker you hear often, she decided to change it once she made it big. Amethyst is actually a kind of purple crystal, and is often associated with creativity, calmness and sleep.
So how do you get Iggy Azalea out of Amethyst Amelia Kelly? Well, the rapper once had a dog named Iggy, and Azalea is said to be derived from the street her family lives on. We guess street names are a good source of inspiration for names! And if you’re going to name yourself after someone, who better than your beloved pooch?
13 John Is Not Really A Legend
Okay, John Legend is actually a legend. He’s got an angelic voice and writes songs that seem like they came from heaven, so he deserves that title. When we say he’s not a legend, we’re just talking about his birth name, which is a little less sparkly: John Roger Stephens.
Calling yourself Legend is a pretty bold move, but luckily, the singer has the goods to back it up. He told MTV in 2008 that he didn’t just pull the name out of thin air, either. It was something that other people started calling him first, until it became more used than his real name. “John Legend is a nickname that some friends started calling me, and it kind of grew into my stage name,” he said. “It grew to the point where more people in my circle would know me by that name than by my real name.”
12 There's More Than One Kate Hudson In The Industry
It’s hard to think of Katy Perry as anything other than Katy Perry. Unless you’re a hard core KatyCat, you probably don’t know that the “Firework” singer’s birth name is actually Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson. She decided to change it when she started recording music because she didn’t want people to confuse her with the actress Kate Hudson. That’s a fair enough call! Hollywood is tough and competitive enough—the last thing you need is people confusing you with somebody else.
As a teenager, she released a Christian record under Katy Hudson. Not long after, she started to perform under the name Katheryn Perry, a combination of her birth name and her mother’s maiden name. But then she invented the persona of Katy in her head, and the rest is history.
11 Rachel Green Is Much Easier To Pronounce Than Jen's Original Name
Jennifer Aniston is a simple name that’s easy for her millions of fans to remember. It made it easy for mainstream America to get to know and love her too, when she was coming up in the late 1990s on a low-key TV show called Friends. Her original name was almost Jennifer Aniston, but not quite. It was actually Jennifer Linn Anastassakis, which is quite a mouthful for a non-Greek speaker. Her father, John Aniston, changed the family last name at the request of a friend, hoping it would help his own acting career and save him from being typecast as a Greek character.
Fun fact: in the episode of Friends when Monica and Chandler get married and Joey is late to the reception because he gets stuck at work, Rachel has to find another celebrant so she hijacks a Greek priest from a wedding called “Anastassakis - Papasifakis”. Wink.
10 "Bruno Mars" Is Marketable, And Totally Made Up
Bruno Mars’s birth name is slightly less striking than his alias. He was born Peter Gene Hernandez—we know, he doesn’t look like a Peter at all, even though his full name illustrates his Puerto Rican, Ashkenazi Jewish, Filipino and Spanish ancestry. According to the singer, the name Bruno was actually given to him by his father, who was calling him that since he was the age of two.
It seemed like a natural decision to call himself Bruno when he was first stepping out onto the music scene, but originally, he was just going to be a one-name sensation. Mars didn’t come until after: “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 told Latina magazine.
9 The Ambiguous Case of Jamie Foxx
Eric Marlon Bishop was born in Texas in 1967, but you know him as Oscar winner Jamie Foxx. When he first tried to make it as a comedian, he found that the name Eric wasn’t working for him. The main issue was that Eric is almost strictly a masculine name, and female comedians were nearly always called to the stage first at the open mic nights he performed at. Not wanting to miss any opportunity to captivate the crowd or lose them to another performer, he changed his name to Jamie since it’s slightly more gender-ambiguous and would allow him to get called up to the stage nearer the beginning of the night.
Foxx comes from Redd Foxx, the star of Sandford and Son, of whom Jamie is a huge fan.
8 Fact Of The Day: Rihanna Actually Has A Last Name
Most people gather that pop megastar Rihanna actually has a last name, but many are under the impression that her true moniker is Rihanna *something*. In actual fact, Rihanna is her middle name. The Bajan star was born Robyn Rihanna Fenty in Saint Michael in 1988. Rihanna, an Arabic name that refers to a sweet basil, just seemed more sellable than Robyn. Though there’s debate as to how the name’s pronounced, the singer herself seems to say, “Rih-Anna.”
That said, the superstar told Rolling Stone that she gets sick of people calling her “Rihanna” and she’s become numb to it. If you want to get her attention in a crowd of people, you should call her “Robyn”, since it snaps up her attention. She still goes by Robyn with her close friends and family.
7 Calvin Harris's Real Name Is Too Obvious
Speaking of wanting to remain ambiguous, Calvin Harris’s reasons for choosing his alias are similar. The Scottish DJ’s real moniker is actually Adam Richard Wiles, but he decided to pick something that was bit more racially vague for his time in the spotlight. “My first single was more of a soul track, and I thought Calvin Harris sounded a bit more racially ambiguous,” he said. “I thought people might not know if I was black or not. After that, I was stuck with it.”
Though his soul tracks might be more successful under Calvin Harris, the musician still goes by his other name when he’s not working. We got confirmation of this when he was dating Taylor Swift, and she thanked him at the 2016 iHeartRadio Awards, referring to him in front of thousands of people as “Adam”.
6 Alicia Is Good With The Keys, But The Name Came After
You probably thought that somebody who is beautiful, talented and miraculously predicted their fortune with their name is too good to be true, and you were right. While Alicia Keys is exceptionally beautiful and talented as a musician and songwriter, her birth name didn’t inspire her life. She may have been destined to play those Keys, but she wasn’t called Keys!
Born in New York City, Alicia Keys has a birth certificate that reads Alicia Augello Cook. We don’t have to explain why she changed it to Keys! Augello is a name that comes from her mother’s Sicilian family, while Cook is the last name of her father, Craig Cook. The singer has stated that she’s proud of her multicultural heritage, and has felt able to relate to both cultures.
5 Mind Blown: Brad Wasn't Always Mr. Pitt's First Name
Stop everything! Brad Pitt’s name isn’t actually Brad, and our minds are positively blown.
The name Brad has now become synonymous with heartthrob, since the actor rose to global fame in the 1990s. As it turns out, his team knew that Brad would be a hit amongst fans, which is why they had him use it. He was actually born William Bradley Pitt to a Baptist family in Oklahoma.
The actor recently told GQ that he’s not sure he wants to be “Brad” anymore, and is thinking about changing his name. He doesn’t have another name picked out, but he feels like “Brad” is a “misnomer” and he wants to follow in the footsteps of other stars who have famously changed their names, like Sean Combs and Snoop Dogg (or is it Snoop Lion?).
4 Olivia's Journey To Her Name Is Pretty Wilde
Actress Olivia Wilde has a pretty wild (pun definitely intended) name, but she wasn’t lucky enough to be born with it. She was born Olivia Cockburn, and there are a few reasons why she decided to make the change to Wilde.
For one thing, the name honors one of her favorite authors, Oscar Wilde. She actually starred in one of his plays in high school, and felt compelled to pay tribute to him after that. Another reason why she decided to change her name is because Cockburn isn’t exactly a hugely appealing name from a public relations and marketing point of view. She definitely would have been at the brunt of a few jokes! And finally, who doesn’t wish that they had a last name as cool as Wilde?
3 "Vin Diesel" Is Much Scarier Than His Birth Name
Vin Diesel is one of Hollywood’s resident tough guys, right there alongside Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Part of his intimidating look comes from his loads of muscles and standard scowl, but another element to his image is his name. Vin Diesel is a pretty butch thing to call yourself!
His birth name is Mark Sinclair Vincent, which is slightly softer. Back in the day, he started going by Vin Diesel when he was working as a bouncer outside of nightclubs, and his safety depended on how big and intimidating he seemed. According to the actor, he was nicknamed “Diesel” as a child because he was always bursting with energy. Vin more than likely comes from the name Vincent, which was actually his mother’s maiden name.
2 Tom Cruise's Agent Decided That Roman Numerals Were Too Much
Get ready to have your mind blown again! Just like Brad Pitt wasn’t actually born Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise wasn’t actually born Tom Cruise, but Thomas Cruise Mapother IV. It isn’t that different to what we know him as, but still, it’s hard to think of him as anybody else—it’s hard to get our heads around the fact that he was born a Thomas!
It was his agent who first requested that he change his name. Cruise was actually his middle name, but we can all agree that it has more commercial appeal than Mapother. We think having a suffix of Roman Numerals on the end of his name is pretty chic, but when it comes to Hollywood, it’s better to keep things as simple as possible.
1 Tina Fey Is Half-Greek, And You Can Tell By Her Original Name
It’s not uncommon for stars with ethnic-sounding names to change them into something that’s a bit more Anglo-sounding, in the hopes of appealing to mainstream audiences across America and other English-speaking countries, and to avoid being continuously cast as certain ethnicities. One celebrity who decided to go down this road is Tina Fey, who has a much more Greek-sounding birth moniker.
Elizabeth Stamatina Fey was born in Pennsylvania. Her name reflects her mother’s Greek heritage, but she’s also got English, German, Northern Irish, Scottish and Russian blood running through her veins. Tina is much more common and familiar than Stamatina, and probably a little more prominent than Elizabeth. She started using it instead of her original name in high school, long before she made waves in Hollywood.