Famous individuals are just like anybody else. When they hit the big time, it is not unlikely that they hire a plethora of professionals to take care of their public relations. PR managers and teams work together to shine a light on the positive, all the things the general public would find appealing and inspiring, and hide any salacious stories or bad habits inside a media vault.
Of course, that does not mean that skeletons are not found in their closets. Over time, the consuming public has increasingly enjoyed when television, printed media and Internet sources out those in the limelight as faulty individuals. US Weekly says it best: stars are just like us.
One of those pesky secrets most in the television, film, and music world share is the ever-changing birth name. Whether they create a stage persona to give them a type of entertainment confidence, or because they want to distance who they are from their origins, or simply because they hold a certain disdain for the names themselves, most famous folk are not who they say they are.
Here we uncover twenty of the unlikeliest name-changers in the film, television, and music industries, whilst sharing the stories behind the switcheroo.
20. Frank Ocean – Christopher Breaux
Frank Ocean was not born with the sultry moniker. His birth name was Christopher Breaux. The Long Beach-born crooner lived most of his life in New Orleans. In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina, he decided to move from Louisiana to Los Angeles and follow his passion for making music. He signed a songwriting deal which had him ghost-writing for the likes of John Legend, Brandy and Beyonce.
Of the time period he says “it might have been [comfortable] to continue to do that and enjoy that income stream and anonymity. But that is not why I moved away from school and away from my family.”
In April 2015, after filing to legally change his name to Frank Ocean, he was granted his wish and left the identity of Christopher Breaux behind.
19. Michael Caine – Maurice Joseph Micklewhite
The British actor was born on March 14th, 1933, with the name Maurice Joseph Micklewhite. His big acting breaks came in the sixties. During the decade, he starred in Alfie and The Italian Job as well as adding Inception and the Dark Knight trilogy to his resume later in his career.
He began his acting career under the pseudonym Michael Scott. However, in 1954, when his career was slowly building, his agent informed him that there was already a performer registered under that name in London. When they were having the conversation on a public telephone box, the actor looked around for inspiration and saw the Odeon Cinema marquee, which was playing the 1954 film The Caine Mutiny. It was then he decided to use and stick with Michael Caine.
18. Whoopi Goldberg – Caryn Elaine Johnson
One may know Whoopi Goldberg for many reasons. In the 90s, she was once credited as the highest paid actress. She was only the second black woman to win an Academy Award for acting. She is one of only three females to win Best Comedy Album at the Grammys. And, of course, she starred in films like The Color Purple, Ghost, Sister Act, and The Lion King.
The View moderator is also one of few to claim EGOT; winning an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony. Yet she was not born with the beloved name. The entertainer’s birth name is Caryn Elaine Johnson. Whoopi is a mixture of whoopee cushion and an alternative family name she thought would have her taken more seriously in the business.
17. Robert Gant – Robert John Gonzalez
The Tampa, Florida-born actor has been most famously known for his one-episode stint on Friends playing Phoebe Buffay’s sexy teacher-boyfriend, and as professor Ben Bruckner in Showtime’s US version of Queer As Folk.
The brainy performer has been in the business for a long time. Before majoring in English at the University of Pennsylvania, and studying law at Georgetown University, he shared the stage with Bob Hope as part of his USO Tour, and became a member of the Screen Actors Guild at the age of ten.
His name change interestingly hides his Spanish and Cuban background; he was born as Robert John Gonzalez. Many reports have stated that the change of name is traced back to the forty-seven year-old wanting to get more parts, and Gonzalez holding him back from plentiful opportunities through the audition process.
16. Katy Perry – Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson
Katy Perry has become the epitome of pop music. Although Britney Spears, Beyonce, Christina Aguilera, and contemporaries like Rihanna and Lady Gaga have likely sold more albums and broken more records, Katy Perry has sailed rather smoothly ever since her “I Kissed a Girl” debut in 2008.
The popstar, born Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson, broke a record this decade being the only female on the Billboard charts to release five number-one singles off one album, with Michael Jackson being the only artist to do the same.
15. Portia De Rossi – Amanda Lee Rogers
If one is a fan of Arrested Development or Ally McBeal, one knows of Portia De Rossi. Perhaps the global love and affection for Ellen is so strong, it permeates to her wife. Most probably think the Australian actress’ background is Italian, but that is an incorrect assumption.
Portia, who has publicly discussed her anorexia when she was a teenager and young adult, was born Amanda Lee Rogers, a departure from the sophisticated stage name. When she was fifteen, she legally changed her name, taking inspiration from The Merchant of Venice, the Shakespearean play, and the Italian surname because it would make her appear exotic. She cites her fears of being outed as a lesbian being the main struggle with her identity.
14. Woody Allen – Allan Stewart Konigsberg
The Bronx native and controversial filmmaker is known for his cinematic achievements, which include Annie Hall, Manhattan, Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
It may also be the case that he is recognized for his relationships with Diane Keaton, Mia Farrow and his current wife Soon-Yi Previn, the latter creating a whirlwind of controversy due to Soon-Yi being Mia Farrow’s adoptive daughter when Farrow was dating Allen.
Yet the man behind the large glasses was born Allan Stewart Konigsberg. At seventeen, the joke writer changed his name to Heywood Allen, eventually becoming Woody.
13. Carmen Electra – Tara Leigh Patrick
The Baywatch actress is known for her Playboy spread, her MTV programming, and being an original dance member of the Pussycat Dolls, before their successful years with lead performer Nicole Sherzinger. She has been married twice to big celebrities. In the nineties, she married basketball player Dennis Rodman, and then rockstar Dave Navarro.
Carmen Electra was born in Sharonville, Ohio, under the name Tara Leigh Patrick. Back in 1991, she signed a record contract with non other than Prince. Even though a musical career did not make her a star, his suggestion made an impact. Allegedly, he told her that she looked more like a Carmen.
12. Ralph Lauren – Ralph Lifshitz
According to Forbes Magazine, Ralph Lauren is the 155th richest person in the world. His net worth is estimated to be over 8 billion dollars.
The Bronx, New York designer began his career in the sixties. He trademarked Polo, and received the rights from the Brooks Brothers, yet they retained the rights to the original polo button down collar. In the early seventies, as his brand grew, Ralph opened a Polo store on Rodeo Drive, in California.
Ralph Lifshitz, as he was born, and his brother Jerry changed their names during their teens because they felt unnecessarily teased growing up.
11. Bruno Mars – Peter Gene Hernandez
Born in Honolulu, Hawaii as Peter Gene Hernandez, Bruno Mars has amassed six number-one singles on the Hot 100, and twelve top-ten entries in just five years. Internationally, he has sold twelve million albums, and over one hundred million singles.
The Bruno part of his name comes from a nickname his father used to call him, and the Mars part because he felt he did not have enough hutzpah and was always told he was out of this world (since his head always seemed to be in another planet).
10. Jason Derulo – Jason Joel Desrouleaux
Born in 1989, in Miami, Florida, Jason Derulo has amassed six different number-one singles around the world. He has released five different albums, and has enjoyed a lot of success on the UK charts.
His background as a young lyricist put him behind the scenes for artists like P. Diddy, Sean Kingston, Lil Wayne, Danity Kane and Cassie. His 2009 debut single “Whatcha Say” samples Imogen Heap’s song “Hide and Seek”, which was released four years prior.
The artist was born with the name of Jason Joel Desorouleaux, but the stage name is an easier alteration to show the correct pronunciation.
9. Lana Del Rey – Elizabeth Woolridge Grant
This songstress has been making a name for herself in the past three years. She has released three albums, with her fourth, Honeymoon, releasing this month. But before her fame, she was born and known as Elizabeth Woolridge Grant, or Lizzie Grant.
Before the success of “Summertime Sadness”, “Video Games” or “Young and Beautiful”, she released an album in 2010, under Lizzie, titled Lana Del Ray, aka, Lizzie Grant. The album was pulled from retailers since the label could not fund it, and she purchased the rights off them.
Her response to the name change? Lana says it never felt like it belonged to her and when she decided to change it, she did not fight the creative urge.
8. CeeLo Green – Thomas DeCarlo Callaway
Before his days sitting on The Voice chair with his ever-changing co-mentors, CeeLo Green was mostly known for his involvement in the project known as Gnarls Barkley. Their debut album, St. Elsewhere, hit the top spot in the UK and sold over 1.6 million copies in the United States alone. The single “Crazy” has over five million downloads worldwide.
Fast-forward years later and his song “F*** You”, co-written by Bruno Mars, became a smash, topping over six million downloads in the US alone, and breaking taboos when using blatant profanities in a pop tune’s title.
The Atlanta performer was born Thomas DeCarlo Callaway. He told VH1 that CeeLo is an abbreviation of Carlo.
7. Miley Cyrus – Destiny Hope Cyrus
Miley Cyrus, who recently hosted the MTV Video Music Awards in August, was born in Tennessee in 1992. By the end of the show she announced the online release of her fifth studio album, titled Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz. This free album is under her label, Smiley Miley Inc.
As Hannah Montana, a Disney television and movie character, she has enjoyed much success and, in accumulation to her recent solo releases, is one of the best-selling artists of the past decade.
Her parents named her Destiny Hope Cyrus with the hopes that it would allow her to achieve much, and change the world for the better. Over time, she grew up with the nickname Smiley, due to her happy disposition. That later became Miley.
6. Alicia Keys – Alicia Augello Cook
After enrolling in the Professional Performing Arts School, Alicia Keys graduated at age sixteen. The valedictorian signed to Columbia Records not long after that, choosing to drop out of Columbia University, were she was accepted.
Her part-Italian mother helped her choose a professional name. Alicia Augello Cook used a dictionary to pick a new identity. After settling on Alicia Wild, her mother advised that it did not sound seemly, so she then agreed on using Keys, due to her piano playing.
5. Cher – Cherilyn Sarkisian
In the entertainment business, there are only a few artists who have managed to make it on a one-name basis: Madonna, Prince, and others whose last names fell off after their success, such as Mariah, Janet, Michael, and Whitney. But there is none other than Cher, who not only conquered the music world, but television and film as well.
She is the only artist to date to have a number-one single on a Billboard chart of each of the past six decades. She is the recipient of an Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, amongst other awards. She is said to be worth around $320 million.
When she moved to Los Angeles at sixteen, she eventually met Sonny Bono, who at the time hired her as his housekeeper. He introduced her to label executives, and Cherilyn Sarkisian began as a backing vocalist, due to her stage fright. Over time, the duo became romantically involved, and once they began to perform together, they used the monikers Sonny and Cher.
4. Michael Keaton – Michael Douglas
Last year’s successful film Birdman, Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance put Michael Keaton back on the map. The film made five time its budget and was nominated for a plethora of awards.
During his career, which spawns five decades, he has been part of films like Beetlejuice, Batman, Jackie Brown, Cars, Toy Story 3, and Minions.
Michael was born with the last name Douglas. When he began acting on television shows like Maude and The Mary Tyler Moore Hour, he decided to switch the name to not be confused by the actor of the same name, and to satisfy the rules by the Screen Actors Guild. Keaton was inspired by his affinity to Buster Keaton.
3. Vin Diesel – Mark Sinclair
Born in California, Vin Diesel‘s mother was a psychologist and astrologist, whilst his father was a theater teacher. His birth name is Mark Sinclair. When he was seventeen, he became a bouncer in New York, where he decided Vin Diesel would be a more menacing name, allowing him some anonymity.
In 1994, at the age of twenty-seven, he wrote, directed and produced his first film, Multi Facial. The film made it into the Cannes Film Festival in 1995. It is said that this, and his follow-up Strays, is what impressed Steven Spielberg enough to write a role into Saving Private Ryan for the actor, giving him his first major role.
2. Tiger Woods – Eldrick Tont Woods
Tiger Woods has been one of the highest-payed athletes in the world for years. He is in Forbes’ top ten list in 2015, with $50 million in earnings, most of which came from endorsements.
His ethnic making is so peculiar he has called himself Cablinasian. His mother is Thai, Chinese and Dutch, whilst his father was black and white, with Native American ancestry.
Born Eldrick Tont Woods, the famous golfer got his nickname from his father. Earl Woods was an Army officer in Vietnam whose best friend’s nickname was Tiger. When his son was born, he passed the nickname to his only child with Kultida Woods.
1. Oprah Winfrey – Orpah Gail Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey is one of the most well-known and cited celebrities in the world. Her television, radio and print empire have helped her become a billionaire. From her humble beginnings in Mississippi during the 50s, Oprah reached stardom in the 80s and became a television staple. The Oprah Winfrey Show lasted for twenty-five seasons, from 1986, until its last episode in 2011.
The beloved star, whose last film role was in Lee Daniels’ The Butler, was born Orpah Gail Winfrey. After many had issues pronouncing it, she switched the “r” and the “p”, and the rest is herstory.
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