Stage names are kind of like STDs in college, almost everyone’s got one but most people just don’t really know about it. Most stage names are boring, just shortened or similar first names. Some actors use their middle names because their first names are already in use or too common. It seems that the goal of a stage name is to separate you from other actors, become a little more recognizable than most common names would allow. Some of the most famous names that we know are simply made up. With many of the members on this list, there’s an interesting story as to how or why they chose their name. Sometimes they were inspired by another actor or a movie. Other times they were inspired by a situation. Whatever the inspiration, these stage names are now how we know these actors. In most cases, we would never even know the original name. Some of these stage names are still only a stage name; the actors never actually changed it legally.
The common denominator here is that these people have all been living a lie. These actors have misled their fans, made them think they were something that were not. Sure, with some celebs it’s obvious that their names are stage names, like Benedict Cumberbatch surely isn’t his real name; we’re not that stupid. But others have let us into their lives. They let us get close to them and introduced us to their families, then we find out they aren’t who they said they are. When we find out that Faith Hill‘s real name is Audrey Faith Perry, we feel abandoned. Is there nothing sacred anymore? Next, we’re going to hear something shattering like P. Diddy isn’t actually Puff Daddy’s real name just shortened.
Call me crazy, but I think if celebrities are going to make us spend our own money to buy a camera so that we can interrupt their family dinner at a restaurant and take a picture of them and have them sign an autograph for us, then they should have to tell us their real names and their family’s accurate history. It’s only fair. But since most celebrities don’t feel this way, I’ve put together this list that outs these actors’ real names. You’ll never look at them the same again. Here are 15 actors who wisely chose to use a stage name.
15. Vin Diesel – Mark Sinclair Vincent
Vin Diesel is just about the most ridiculous name around, but it’s pretty obviously a fake one. When Mark Sinclair Vincent was a bouncer at a New York City nightclub, he apparently needed to change it to sound cooler for the patrons. I’ve not been to any New York City nightclubs, but I can honestly say I’ve never asked a bouncer for his name. I guess New York City clubs are different. Either way, Vin is a short form for Vincent, easy enough. Diesel comes from Vin’s friends who said he was full of energy. I won’t go as far as saying I don’t believe that story, but there are two common slang terms that “diesel” usually represents. One is being jacked, which Vin most definitely is. The other is for heroin, which may or may not be the reason behind all that energy his friends liked to talk so much about. I’m not saying that Vin Diesel used to be a ripped heroin addict, I’m merely looking at the facts.
14. David Bowie – David Robert Jones
When David Bowie was just an 18-year old dreamer, he changed his name from David Jones to David Bowie to separate himself from another famous British musician, Davy Jones, the little dude from The Monkees. It is said that Bowie decided on the last name in honor of Jim Bowie, a rebel from the 1960 movie The Alamo (played by Richard Widmark). When asked about the name change, Bowie famously wrote, “In answer to your questions, my real name is David Jones and I don’t have to tell you why I changed it,” he said. “‘Nobody’s going to make a monkey out of you’ said my manager.” Although Bowie’s name ended up being insanely recognizable, think about all the years on the road missing out on using a “Davy Jones’ Locker” reference. (Another musician/actor who changed their name due to another already famous star is Katy Perry, whose real name is Kate Hudson.)
13. Joaquin Phoenix – Joaquin Rafael Bottom
Joaquin Phoenix has had a few name changes throughout the years. Born as Joaquin Rafael Bottom, Joaquin was born to a family who liked to choose really eccentric names for their children. Joaquin’s parents were part of a religious group called “The Children of God.” When the parents left that group, they resettled in the United States and changed their hilarious last name of Bottom to Phoenix, named after the bird who begins a new and rises from the ashes of its former self—totally deep. It was then that Joaquin wanted a name closer to his siblings’ wicked names of River, Rain, Summer and Liberty, so he went with Leaf. At 15, when Joaquin was going through a mini resurgence in his career, he changed his name back to his original name of Joaquin, this time with the new last name attached to it—Joaquin Phoenix.
12. Lady Gaga – Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta
This might come as shock to you, but Lady Gaga is not Lady Gaga’s real name. Her real name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. The name Gaga comes from the song by Queen, “Radio Ga-Ga.” The name Lady comes from the word lady, which is like a woman, just classier. Now that Gaga is marrying Tyler Kinney, she’s announced that she will also be taking his last name. After that wedding she’ll always be known as Lady Kinney I guess. Or not, maybe she’ll just dump the name Germanotta, or she’ll go with Lady Gaga Kinney. I personally am just waiting with bated breath for the decision. Like when Gage wore meat as a dress, I decided that very moment I would never wear fur again. It was just so controversial that I had to get behind it. Now I only wear polyester. Thanks Gaga. Keep helping people see the light with shocking wardrobes, powerful lyrics, and Golden Globe winning acting.
11. Téa Leoni – Elizabeth Téa Pantaleoni
Born as Elizabeth Téa Pantaleoni, Leoni went with her middle name, either because it’s awesome or because Elizabeth is too common for an actor’s name. Leoni is a little different. Really it’s only a shortened version of her real last name, but it’s likely that she switched it because it sounds too much like pantaloons. I have no scientific evidence proving that this is why she switched, but Pantaloons are the most ridiculous pants created since people have been wearing pants. Any decision to distance yourself from those abominations is a smart decision. Plus, Téa Leoni has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?
10. Portia de Rossi – Amanda Lee Rogers
When Portia de Rossi was 15, then named Amanda Lee Rogers, she decided to change her name in an effort to reinvent herself. This, she admits, was largely due to her sexuality and not feeling like anything in her life at that point fit with who she was. She chose the name Portia after the heroine in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. The name de Rossi was chosen because it was a really Italian-sounding name. Yep, it sure is. Together, the name made Portia sound like an elegant Italian movie star, something altogether different than the struggling Australian that she really was.
9. Jamie Foxx – Eric Marlon Bishop
When Jamie Foxx first started out doing stand-up comedy, something that started with a dare from his girlfriend, Foxx realized that his original name of Eric Marlon Bishop wasn’t separating him from the pack at open mic nights as well as he would have liked. The astute comedian saw that women were consistently getting preferential treatment during open mic nights, or at least they were getting the best time slots, so he decided to change it to the more gender neutral name of Jamie. The last name Foxx came from the famous Redd Foxx, from Sanford and Sons, one of Jamie’s idols growing up. I guess when you think of it, Foxx does look really made up. Redd Foxx was also a stage name, by the way, which he got because he was a foxy dresser.
8. Chevy Chase – Cornelius Crane Chase
Born as Cornelius Crane Chase, just about the richest name you could ever hear, Chevy Chase was originally named after his grandfather Cornelius, head of the Crane Company—so it wasn’t just a rich sounding name, it was actually rich. It was Chase’s grandmother who gave him the nickname Chevy, inspired by The Ballad of Chevy Chase, an old tale of a hunting party in the Cheviot Hills. Though Chase seems to shun his family history a tad, his family history is really astounding, stretching back 14 generations in New York, with some of his ancestors hitching a ride on the Mayflower.
7. Natalie Portman – Neta-Lee Hershlag
Born in Jerusalem, Natalie Portman‘s original name was Neta-Lee Hershlag, though it appears that she would go as Natalie for the most part. From an early age, Portman wanted to act and strove tirelessly to meet that goal. She was spotted by a Revlon model scout at one point, asking her to model, but Portman was adamant that she wanted to hold out for acting. When she got her first break, she changed her last name to Portman, her Grandmother’s maiden name, to protect her family’s identity—somewhat of a Jewish tradition in Hollywood. Natalie has always been very private, separating her work from her real life quite well, even missing the premier of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace to complete her school exams. Smart Neta-Lee, very smart.
6. Kirk Douglas – Issur Danielovitch Demsky
When Kirk Douglas came over to the United States during World War II to fulfill his dream of becoming an actor, he felt that he needed a name change to hide his Jewish background from the super racist movie studios. Born as Issur Danielovitch and later adopting the name Demsky, Douglas chose the most American name he could think of when he was changing it. Back then, hiding your Jewish heritage from the public was really a necessity for any professionals, especially those in the public eye. Even today, there is still a tradition of name changing for Jewish actors, if only to shelter the family name. Douglas would go on to help make his made-up-name one of the most famous surnames in the industry.
5. Whoopi Goldberg – Caryn Elaine Johnson
Whoopi Goldberg sounds fake, yes, but with so many weird names these days, it would make sense that there are at least some strange ones from the past. Well, in this case, Whoopi Goldberg sounds fake because it is fake; her real name is actually Caryn Elaine Johnson. But, while many Jewish people change their names to sound less Jewish, Whoopi chose Goldberg to sound more Jewish, something that might help her in Hollywood. The name Whoopi? Why that was chosen because she farts so much. Seriously. Just the grossest reason to change your name. She was named after a Whoopee Cushion because she has an issue with controlling her gas.
4. Ben Kingsley – Krishna Pandit Bhanji
When Ben Kingsley was breaking into film from his stage career, he decided that changing his name from Krishna Pandit Bhanji to a more British sounding name was necessary to avoid pronunciation difficulties and racial perceptions in Hollywood. The name Ben is the nickname that his father uses and the name Kingsley is inspired by his grandfather’s nickname “King Clove,” a spice trader in Zanzibar. It sounds like Kingsley’s family was a bunch of straight up gangstas, by the way. Now that he possesses a name that’s been knighted (Sir Ben Kingsley), Kingsley has spotted some other naming ironies, “the irony is that I changed my name from Krishna Bhanji to Ben Kingsley in order to play Mohandas Gandhi!” Ahh, Hollywood. Never change. Or maybe you should. Yeah, probably change.
3. Michael Caine – Maurice Joseph Micklewhite
Michael Caine, or as he likes to call himself, My Cocaine, was born as Maurice Micklewhite. When Caine first got into acting, he went by the name of Michael Scott, but he was forced to change that when they discovered another Michael Scott already in the game—not the guy from The Office. One day, Caine—or Micklewhite—was on the phone with his agent and he saw a poster for Humphrey Bogart’s newest film, The Caine Mutiny. He decided there on the spot to change his name to Caine, and thus a star was born. It actually wasn’t until recently, however, that Caine officially changed his name from Maurice Micklewhite to Michael Caine. The change came because airport security measures have made it quite difficult for him to explain why he looks so much like Michael Caine but his passport reads something altogether different.
2. Michael Keaton – Michael Douglas
Michael Keaton‘s name sounds just right, but it wasn’t always Keaton. When Batman first started acting, he went by his birth name, Michael Douglas, which sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Well, in order to avoid confusing people between him and the already famous star of Wall Street, Keaton knew he needed to change it. One day, while reading an article about the blossoming star Diane Keaton, Michael Keaton decided he liked the name. Rather than approach her about marrying him and take her name that way, Keaton just changed it at the courts. The jury is still out on which road would have been more beneficial.
1. Marilyn Monroe – Norma Jeane Mortenson
There are many different stories about Marilyn Monroe‘s beginnings, and her naming is one that has several different versions depending on who you listen to. It all started with Norma Jeane Mortenson, the first version of Marilyn Monroe. In 1942, when Norma Jeane was 16-years old, she married Jim Dougherty and became Norma Jeane Dougherty. Then the story shifts to Ben Lyon, a studio executive who got Norma Jeane Dougherty her first screen test. Apparently, Lyon just hated the name Norma Jeane Dougherty and wanted her to change it. He suggested Marilyn because of Marilyn Miller, a famous stage performer, and Monroe was Norma Jeane’s family name. Together they formed one of the most recognizable names ever created.