Celebrity stage names vs. their real names

This image released by CBS shows Bruno Mars during a taping of his first primetime television s ...

Glossy magazines may try to convince readers that stars are just like normal people, but they’re not. For one thing, they can’t go grocery shopping in regular clothes without winding up in those glossy magazines. As if that wasn’t bad enough, sometimes stars even need to lose their identities once they find fame in their lives. Celebrities change their names for a number of reasons, from people with exotic names who want to sound more mainstream to those with a desire to seem more unique when other stars have similar monikers.

Whatever the reason for the change, it’s always interesting to discover the truth behind a celebrity’s name. Stacker explores celebrities of all types who perform under a stage name but had a completely different name when they were born. From old-school movie stars looking for a memorable way to find fans to pop stars who went for an out-of-this-world new alias, here are celebrities who took stage names when they hit the big time.

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Lady Gaga in a one-shoulder black-and-white gown wearing gold jewelry and an updo.

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Lady Gaga

– Stage name: Lady Gaga

– Real name: Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta

She was born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, but adopted the name Lady Gaga as a play on the Queen song “Radio Ga-Ga.” In a 2013 Elle interview, Gaga revealed why she prefers to use her stage name over her real name: “Stefani is—a perpetually tortured artist. That’s why I changed my name. I can’t be her in public. She would be a mess!”

Bruo Mars and his band perform onstage engulfed in golden light.

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Bruno Mars

– Stage name: Bruno Mars

– Real name: Peter Gene Hernandez

Growing up in Hawaii, little Peter Hernandez acquired the nickname Bruno from his father, who was inspired by popular wrestler Bruno Sammartino. He claims the Mars part is because girls used to say he was “out of this world,” but the pop star is also on record saying he changed his name from Hernandez because he didn’t want to be pigeonholed as a Latin artist—although he’s very clear that he didn’t change it to hide his cultural roots.

Natalie Portman wearing a red dress and blazer.

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Natalie Portman

– Stage name: Natalie Portman

– Real name: Natalie Hershlag

Born to an Israeli father and an American mother, Natalie Portman opted to take her paternal grandmother’s maiden name professionally on the advice of her first agent Aleen Keshishian. The change went into effect by the time Portman’s first movie, “Léon: The Professional,” came out in 1994.

Shania Twain performs in a white panama hat and collared top.

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Shania Twain

– Stage name: Shania Twain

– Real name: Eilleen Regina Edwards

Born as Eilleen Edwards, the future country star took the name Twain early in life, as it was the last name of her stepfather after her mother remarried post-divorce. The Shania part came when the Canadian singer moved to Nashville and industry executives suggested Shania would grab more fans than Eilleen would.

Queen Latifah poses in a yellow gown.

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Queen Latifah

– Stage name: Queen Latifah

– Real name: Dana Elaine Owens

Queen Latifah was only 8 years old when she got rid of the name Dana Owens. Her mother was completely supportive of her desire to be called Latifah because it was trendy at the time for people in their neighborhood to use names with Arabic roots. Latifah added “Queen,” because she liked how strong it sounded.

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Jamie Foxx poses for a picture wearing sunglasses at a premiere.

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Jamie Foxx

– Stage name: Jamie Foxx

– Real name: Eric Marlon Bishop

In 2017, the internet exploded when it found out that actor/comedian/singer Jamie Foxx was not born as Jamie Foxx. But in fact, he had shared that information in 2014 when he went on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”—specifically, that he changed his name from Eric Bishop when he started performing as a comedian in the late ’80s because women were getting more stage time at open mic nights. When he used a unisex name like Jamie Foxx, he found himself getting called up more often, and the name stuck.

Michael Caine is interviewed at an event wearing a black suit.

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Michael Caine

– Stage name: Michael Caine

– Real name: Maurice Joseph Micklewhite

Legendary British actor Michael Caine first adopted his stage name in 1954 after initially trying out the name Michael Scott, which was taken—although there’s no connection to Steve Carrell’s “The Office” character. He saw a movie poster for a Humphrey Bogart film called “The Caine Mutiny,” and since Bogart was his favorite actor, he chose Caine as his new assumed surname—and he finally made the change legal in 2016.

Helen Mirren in pink and yellow looking up with light on her face.

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Helen Mirren

– Stage name: Helen Mirren

– Real name: Ilyena Lydia Mironoff

Born to a family descended from Russian nobility, but cast out to England during the Russian Revolution, Helen Mirren didn’t actually change her name to fit in on the stage. Her father did it for her, anglicizing the names of his entire family in order to mesh better in English society—and attempting to avoid anti-Semitism since he felt the name could be construed as Jewish.

Katy Perry in an asymetrical black gown posing in front of a wall of red roses.

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Katy Perry

– Stage name: Katy Perry

– Real name: Katheryn Hudson

What’s a girl to do when another star has your name? Change it. That was the case with Katy Perry who didn’t want to be associated with actress Kate Hudson, who had already made a name for herself when Katy first started her pop career. Instead of Hudson, Perry chose her mother’s maiden name—and the rest is history.

Close-up of Vin Diesel.

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Vin Diesel

– Stage name: Vin Diesel

– Real name: Mark Sinclair

Born as Mark Sinclair, the artist currently known as Vin Diesel changed his name as a teenager when he started working as a bouncer in New York nightclubs. Vin’s twin, Paul Vincent, uses their mother’s maiden name as his surname, which may also explain the “Vin” first name for Diesel.

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Gene Simmons performs as a member of the band Kiss in full black-and-white makeup and costume.

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Gene Simmons

– Stage name: Gene Simmons

– Real name: Chaim Witz

Israeli-American rocker Gene Simmons of Kiss actually went through two name changes on his way to fame. When he was born in Haifa, he was named Chaim Witz; after emigrating to the U.S., he went by Gene Klein because it was easier to pronounce. After moving into the rock scene, he changed his moniker again to become Gene Simmons.

Jay-Z gives the peace sign in front of a wall of blue flowers.

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Jay-Z

– Stage name: Jay-Z

– Real name: Shawn Carter

Jay-Z is neither a Jay nor a Z. He was born Shawn Carter in New York, but took on the name Jay-Z as a tribute to his mentor Jaz-O and the Z subway line to Brooklyn.

Rita Wilson smiles in front of a black background.

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Rita Wilson

– Stage name: Rita Wilson

– Real name: Margarita Ibrahimoff

Actress Rita Wilson is proudly Greek and was born as Margarita Ibrahimoff to a Bulgarian father and a Greek mother. They changed their surname to Wilson after they moved to America, which happened to be the street they lived on. Rita, of course, is short for Margarita.

Elvis Costello performs in a dark denim jacket, hat and sunglasses.

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Elvis Costello

– Stage name: Elvis Costello

– Real name: Declan Patrick MacManus

The British singer/songwriter came from a musical family and idolized Elvis, so he adopted The King of Rock ’n’ Roll’s first name and swapped MacManus for his father’s stage name, Costello. Costello’s name was officially changed in 1977, although he legally changed it back in 1986—this time adding a second middle name, Aloysius.

Hulk Hogan does a muscle pose at an event.

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Hulk Hogan

– Stage name: Hulk Hogan

– Real name: Terry Bollea

Terry Bollea was a chubby kid from the Southeast, but when he started wrestling he had to take on a stage name. After a talk show appearance alongside Lou Ferrigno, Hogan took on the nickname “Hulk” because he was bigger than the actor who played The Incredible Hulk on TV. The Hogan part came when wrestling impresario Vince McMahon wanted a wrestler with an Irish-sounding name.

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Marilyn Monroe in a black and white image.

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Marilyn Monroe

– Stage name: Marilyn Monroe

– Real name: Norma Jeane Mortenson

Mid-century bombshell Marilyn Monroe was born as Norma Jeane Mortenson, but she was changing names most of her life. Baptized as Norma Jeane Baker, she went on to be Norma Jeane Dougherty from her first marriage and then started using the name Marilyn Monroe in 1946 when her acting career began. She legally changed her name in 1956.

Whoopi Goldberg in a fluffy purple gown.

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Whoopi Goldberg

– Stage name: Whoopi Goldberg

– Real name: Caryn Johnson

It’s not much of a secret that Whoopi Goldberg was born as neither a Whoopi nor a Goldberg. The Whoopi came from “whoopee cushion,” because the young Caryn Johnson used to put her flatulence on full display, causing people to say she sounded like a whoopee cushion. The origins of Goldberg are less clear.

Alicia Keys in a brown bomber jacket.

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Alicia Keys

– Stage name: Alicia Keys

– Real name: Alicia Augello Cook

When Alicia Keys was first looking for a stage name, she almost settled on “Alicia Wild,” but her mother told her it sounded like the name of a stripper. Instead, she chose Keys because, she says: “It’s like the piano keys. And it can open so many doors.”

Close-up of Ben Kingsley.

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Ben Kingsley

– Stage name: Ben Kingsley

– Real name: Krishna Pandit Bhanji

Born in Yorkshire to Russian-Jewish and Indian parents, Krishna Pandit Bhanji changed his name when he became a working actor with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Kingsley’s father first suggested it when he thought his son would need a more British name to succeed in the theatre. The “Kingsley” surname was inspired by his grandfather’s nickname as a spice trader: King Clove.

Nicki Minaj wearing a black ruffled tulle gown with a black leather body suit underneath and hat.

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Nicki Minaj

– Stage name: Nicki Minaj

– Real name: Onika Tanya Maraj

Oddly enough, Onika Maraj doesn’t love being called Nicki Minaj. The name was forced onto her by an early producer and it stuck. Minaj is no stranger to alternate identities: She often played different characters at home—using names like “Cookie”—to escape domestic drama.

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Ice Cube on stage in sunglasses and a black shirt.

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Ice Cube

– Stage name: Ice Cube

– Real name: O’Shea Jackson

As one of the pioneers of gangsta rap, O’Shea Jackson took a nickname just like everyone else in N.W.A., his hip-hop group that also launched the careers of Eazy-E and Dr. Dre. The name came from his older brother, who threatened to turn O’Shea into an ice cube for hitting on girls that were coming to the house to visit him.

Meg Ryan smiling in a black and pink floral cap sleeved dress.

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Meg Ryan

– Stage name: Meg Ryan

– Real name: Margaret Hyra

Meg Ryan has been playing the “girl next door” for most of her career, but when she was truly the girl next door, her name was Margaret Hyra. She used her maternal grandmother’s maiden name to change her stage surname to Ryan and shortened Margaret to Meg.

Elton John playing the piano in a floral jacket and sparkly sunglasses.

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Elton John

– Stage name: Elton John

– Real name: Reginald Kenneth Dwight

The singer of “Rocket Man” and “Benny and The Jets” started his life as Reginald Kenneth Dwight. In 1967, he changed his name to Elton John—a combination of the names of the saxophone player and lead singer of his band at the time, Bluesology.

Elizabeth Banks on the street in jeans waving.

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Elizabeth Banks

– Stage name: Elizabeth Banks

– Real name: Elizabeth Mitchell

Elizabeth Banks has become a bankable movie star after stints in “The Hunger Games” and “Pitch Perfect” franchises, but she only became a Banks because the name “Elizabeth Mitchell” was already registered with the Screen Actors Guild. As it turns out, “Lost” star Elizabeth Mitchell beat her name-twin to the punch, forcing the former Liz Mitchell to become Elizabeth Banks.

Faith Hill poses smiling at an event wearing a bright coral jumpsuit.

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Faith Hill

– Stage name: Faith Hill

– Real name: Audrey Faith Perry

The artist born Audrey Perry adopted her middle name for the stage, appropriate for a country music star who occasionally sings about her own faith. Hill’s last name came from her first marriage, and the singer held onto even it after the marriage ended. Now she’s married to Tim McGraw, who was born as Samuel Smith.

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Stevie Wonder performs onstage.

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Stevie Wonder

– Stage name: Stevie Wonder

– Real name: Stevland Hardaway Judkins

When the young R&B prodigy was just starting out at age 11, Motown records impresario Berry Gordy christened him as Little Stevie Wonder. He’s since dropped the “Little,” but Stevie Wonder has never returned to being Stevland Judkins.

Charlie Sheen wearing a softball jersey at a game.

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Charlie Sheen

– Stage name: Charlie Sheen

– Real name: Carlos Irwin Estévez

Charlie Sheen is a second-generation name-changer. His father, actor Martin Sheen, was born as Ramón Antonio Gerardo Estévez and Charlie followed suit. Interestingly, Sheen’s brother Emilio Estévez kept his birth name and still found success as an actor.

Portia de Rossi smiles wearing a black suit and tie.

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Portia de Rossi

– Stage name: Portia de Rossi

– Real name: Amanda Lee Rogers

Actress Portia de Rossi was born in Australia as Amanda Lee Rogers. In an attempt to stand out at auditions, she took the first name of her favorite Shakespeare character and added “de Rossi” because she believed it sounded exotic. Today, she has a new official name: After marrying Ellen DeGeneres and taking her wife’s last name, de Rossi is now legally known as Portia Lee James DeGeneres.

Ringo Starr flashes the peace sign.

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Ringo Starr

– Stage name: Ringo Starr

– Real name: Richard Starkey

The only member of the Beatles to change his name was Ringo Starr, who changed it while playing in his first professional band, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Storm suggested the name based on Ringo’s penchant for wearing rings, but his wife still calls him Ritchie.

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