Celebrities’ Real Names You Never Knew
You’ve probably heard before that many authors use pen names, but did you know that tv and movie stars do the same thing? For one reason or another, some of your favorite famous people aren’t who they say they are. And by that, we mean that many household names you know and love, from Brad Pitt to Lady Gaga, have been using stage names for most of their professional careers.
Sometimes actors and actresses adopt stage names because they sound catchier, they’re easier to spell, or in rare cases, their actual name is already being used by someone else. Regardless of the reasoning, these are the real, legal names of some of your favorite stars.
Stage Name: Natalie Portman
Real Name: Neta-Lee Hershlag
Queen (and later Senator) Pamdé Amidala to Star Wars fans, and Oscar-winning Black Swan actress to others, the Israeli-born star adopted the last name Portman, her grandmother’s maiden name, for privacy reasons in the 1990s. She made her film debut as Natalie Portman in Léon: The Professional at just twelve years old.
Stage Name: Vin Diesel
Real Name: Mark Sinclair
Despite leading the Fast & Furious franchise, Diesel is not the actor’s real last name, though it definitely assisted in branding the star. Vin is short for Vincent, his stepfather’s last name, and Diesel came from his friends saying he was highly energetic (almost as if running on diesel) as a teen. Diesel’s additional film work includes The Chronicles of Riddick movies and voicing both the title role in The Iron Giant and Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy.
Stage Name: Katy Perry
Real Name: Katheryn Hudson
Not wanting to be confused with already well-known actress Kate Hudson, Katy decided to go by her mother’s maiden name Perry before being catapulted into pop superstardom. The singer has had smash hits ranging from Teenage Dream to Firework, headlined the Super Bowl XLIX Halftime Show, and started her own record label, Metamorphosis Music (now titled Unsub Records), in 2014.
Stage Name: Clint Eastwood
Real Name: Clinton Eastwood Jr.
He may be over 90 years old, but that doesn’t change the fact that one of the last remaining actors of Hollywood’s golden age is, in fact, a junior. Named after his father, Clinton Eastwood Sr., the Clint Eastwood we know and love has had a long and prosperous career, acting in various films including Gran Torino, Dirty Harry, Million Dollar Baby, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Eastwood also has an impressive director’s resume, having worked on films such as Jersey Boys and American Sniper.
Stage Name: Mindy Kaling
Real Name: Vera Mindy Chokalingam
Mindy had gone by her middle name throughout most of her life but decided to shorten her last name to Kaling since the real version had been mispronounced so many times. She is known for her tv roles in The Office and The Mindy Project, and voicing Disgust in the Disney Pixar film Inside Out.
Stage Name: Nicholas Cage
Real Name: Nicholas Coppola
Nicholas Cage was originally Nicholas Coppola, with his uncle being none other than acclaimed film director Francis Ford Coppola. Cage changed his name because he wanted to make his own career in Hollywood without the backing of his family’s reputation. He clearly succeeded, as Cage is a household name with films ranging from Con Air and Moonstruck to Ghost Rider and National Treasure.
Stage Name: Awkwafina
Real Name: Nora Lum
Actress and rapper Awkwafina’s real name is Nora Lum, a moniker she shares with her semi-autobiographical character in the tv series Nora From Queens, which was loosely based on Awkwafina’s pre-stardom life. The stage name Awkwafina came about as the funny and blond alter ego to her quieter, everyday life. The actress has starred in Crazy Rich Asians and Ocean’s Eight, and recently voiced the dragon Sisu in Disney Pixar’s Raya and the Last Dragon.
Stage Name: Mahersala Ali
Real Name: Mahershalalhashbaz Gilmore
Rapper and Oscar-winning actor Mahersala Ali shortened his first name, Mahershalalhashbaz (which is biblical in origin with a whopping 18 letters!), to help advance his career. He changed his last name to Ali after converting to Islam, and has starred in House of Cards, Green Book, and Moonlight.
Stage Name: Judy Garland
Real Name: Frances Gumm
A young Frances Gumm changed her first name to Judy after the popular Hoagy Carmichael song. As to how the last name Garland was chosen, a few theories persist. One thought is that it came from a songwriter who called Frances and her sisters “prettier than a garland of flowers,” while others claim it was after film critic Robert Garland. Garland is most known for acting and singing in films such as The Wizard of Oz and Meet Me in St. Louis.
Stage Name: Tom Cruise
Real Name: Thomas Cruise Mapother IV
Tom Cruise (formerly known as Thomas Mapother IV) is a household name, from Top Gun and Jerry Maguire to the Mission Impossible franchise. When he began his acting career, he started using his middle name as his last name in part to distance himself from his estranged father. Cruise’s first cousin is Lost actor William Mapother aka Dr. Ethan Rom.
Stage Name: Queen Latifah
Real Name: Dana Elaine Owens
Latifah was a childhood nickname from one of Dana’s cousins, meaning “delicate and sensitive” in Arabic, and she called herself Queen as her mother taught her all women were royalty. Often known as hip-hop’s first lady, Latifah has also graced screens big and small with various acting projects, including the classic 90s series Living Single and films Bringing Down the House, Taxi, and Just Wright. Recently, she’s lent her voice to Ellie the mammoth in the Ice Age films, and has been producing and starring in her show The Equalizer.
Stage Name: Cary Grant
Real Name: Archibald Alec Leach
While he went by Archie Leach during his vaudeville days, he ditched his English roots for the more all-American sounding Cary Grant at the recommendation of Hollywood studio staffers. Grant’s most notable films include North by Northwest, Charade, An Affair to Remember, and His Girl Friday.
Stage Name: Kit Harington
Real Name: Christopher Catesby Harington
The Eternals and Game of Thrones star’s given name is Christopher, while Kit is an uncommon nickname for Christopher that stuck with Harington from birth. According to Harington, he didn’t learn his real name was Christopher until he was eleven years old.
Stage Name: Audrey Hepburn
Real Name: Audrey Kathleen Ruston
Belgian-born Hepburn was originally named Audrey Kathleen Ruston by her parents. Later, she was renamed Audrey Ruston-Hepburn, as her father believed he was descended from James Hepburn, a British earl. During the Nazi occupation, Hepburn went by Edda van Heemstra (van Heemstra was her mother’s maiden name) for safety reasons as it sounded less English. She became Audrey Hepburn when she started modeling in her teens, and her acting career began soon after.
In addition to her many enchanting roles in films such as Roman Holiday, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and My Fair Lady, Hepburn also served as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her humanitarian work in 1992.
Stage Name: Michael Caine
Real Name: Maurice Micklewhite
When choosing his stage name, Michael Caine originally wanted to be called Michael Scott, but decided to change it after moving to London in the 1950s. While keeping the new first name Michael, Caine took his last name from an upcoming Humphrey Bogart film at the time, The Caine Mutiny. Caine’s acting resume includes an Oscar for The Cider House Rules, and film roles in the Now You See Me franchise, Miss Congeniality, Secondhand Lions, and The Dark Knight trilogy.
Stage Name: Carmen Electra
Real Name: Tara Patrick
Carmen Electra got her start when auditioning for an all-girls group Prince was forming in the 1990s. It was Prince who suggested her now-famous stage name, as he said, “You’re not a Tara. You’re Carmen.” While the model and actress is known as one of the main blonde bombshells in the Baywatch series, Electra has also starred in several comedy films, including the Scary Movie franchise and Meet the Spartans.
Stage Name: Kirk Douglas
Real Name: Issur Danielovitch Demsky
Born to Russian immigrant parents, Issur Danielovitch changed his name to Kirk Douglas before pursuing a career in showbiz, as he worried his birth name was too Jewish for Hollywood at the time. Later in life, the late Spartacus star expressed wishing he’d kept his original name. Kirk’s son, Michael Douglas, is also a well-known actor, though he does not use a stage name (since his father’s last name was legally Douglas at the time of his birth).
Stage Name: Whoopi Goldberg
Real Name: Caryn Johnson
Caryn Johnson became Whoopi Goldberg in the 1970s. Goldberg was a family name from a Jewish ancestor, while Whoopi came from the star’s tendency to pass gas like a whoopee cushion. A long-time comedian and talkshow host of The View, Goldberg has also starred in Ghost and the Sister Act films.
Stage Name: Joaquin Phoenix
Real Name: Joaquin Rafael Bottom
During his childhood, Joaquin’s family changed their name from Bottom to Phoenix to symbolize the family starting over after leaving a strict religious cult. Before his acting career took off, Phoenix briefly went by the first name Leaf, wanting to copy his older siblings River and Rain’s more artsy, nature-based monikers. Phoenix’s acting resume includes Walk the Line, Joker, Gladiator, and Her.
Stage Name: Miley Cyrus
Real Name: Destiny Hope Cyrus
Disney Channel fans might know her as Miley Stewart/Hannah Montana, but the Tennessee-born actress and singer was actually born Destiny Hope Cyrus. Cyrus was called Smiley by her family as a child, and the nickname was eventually shortened to Miley. Cyrus officially changed her name to Miley Ray Cyrus (after her father, singer Billy Ray Cyrus) in 2008, and has had a successful career with films such as The Last Song and hit songs like Wrecking Ball and Malibu.
Stage Name: Jack Black
Real Name: Thomas Jacob Black
While not technically a junior, Thomas Jacob Black was named after his father, Thomas William Black. Not wanting to be called Thomas Jr., Black decided to go by Jack (an uncommon nickname for Jacob), and the alliterative name Jack Black stuck. Black has entertained audiences with his humor and enthusiasm in several films, including School of Rock, Nacho Libre, the Jumanji series, and voicing Po in the Kung Fu Panda franchise. He’s also in the rock-comedy band Tenacious D.
Stage Name: Julianne Moore
Real Name: Julie Anne Smith
Who knew Julianne Moore was combining her first and middle names all these years? According to one of Hollywood’s favorite redheads, when Moore tried to register her name with the Screen Actor’s Guild at the start of her career, both Julie Smith and Julie Anne Smith were already taken, so Moore opted to use her father’s middle name, Moore, as her last name. Moore’s acting career includes roles in Still Alice and Far from Heaven, as well as The Hunger Games franchise and Crazy, Stupid, Love.
Stage Name: Ben Kingsley
Real Name: Krishna Bhanji
Born Krishna Bhanji, Ben Kingsley’s mixed background (his father was Indian Muslim and his mother was English and Russian Jewish) has led him to play various roles throughout his career. He used his dad’s nickname, Ben, and his grandfather’s nickname, King Clove, when creating his stage name, and since then has graced the silver screen in films such as Gandhi, Schindler’s List, and Iron Man 3.
Stage Name: Fred Astaire
Real Name: Frederic Austerlitz Jr.
Before a young Fred (short for Frederic) started touring the vaudeville circuit with his sister, Adele, the siblings’ mother suggested they use a different last name, as Austerlitz might remind audiences of the Battle of Austerlitz. The siblings ended up borrowing from an uncle’s surname, L’Astaire, and while Adele retired from their sibling duo in the 1930s, Fred went on to sing and dance in several musical films, including Top Hat, Shall We Dance, and Funny Face. Astaire is often considered the best male dancer in film history, and a part of one of the best Hollywood duos of all time with long-time dance partner Ginger Rogers.
Stage Name: Doris Day
Real Name: Doris Kappelhoff
Doris Day got her start as a big band singer, and changed her last name to Day after the popular song, Day After Day. When Day transitioned into acting, Calamity Jane, Pillow Talk, and The Man Who Knew Too Much were among her top films, and she also starred in and produced The Doris Day Show. Later in life, Day devoted herself to animal rights activism and founded both the Doris Day Animal Foundation and the Doris Day Animal League.
Stage Name: Stevie Wonder
Real Name: Stevland Hardaway Judkins
Who knew Stevie was short for Stevland and not Steven? Born Stevland Judkins, the talented singer and musician became Stevland Morris (Morris being a family name) after his parents’ divorce during his childhood. When signing on with Motown Records at only 11 years old, the star adopted the surname Wonder at the recommendation of producers, as it reflected his talent as a childhood prodigy. Among Wonder’s most famous songs are Isn’t She Lovely and Superstition, and he can play multiple instruments, including the piano, harmonica, organ, bass, and bongos.
Stage Name: Reese Witherspoon
Real Name: Laura Jeanne Reese Witherspoon
Before her acting career took off, Laura Jeanne Reese Witherspoon decided to shorten her name to Reese Witherspoon, with Reese being her mother’s maiden name. Witherspoon is a successful actress, having starred in films such as Legally Blonde, Sweet Home Alabama, and Walk the Line. She also owns the clothing company, Draper James, and co-founded the production company, Type A Films, which has since been absorbed under the Hello Sunshine media company.
Stage Name: Ginger Rogers
Real Name: Virginia Katherine McMath
Together, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (aka Frederic Austerlitz and Virginia McMath) went down in history as one of the most iconic Hollywood duos, singing and dancing in a total of 10 pictures, including Top Hat and Swing Time. Ginger (a nickname for Virginia) took her stepfather’s last name Rogers when her mother remarried. Rogers’ other film work includes Kitty Foyle and 42nd Street.
Stage Name: Elton John
Real Name: Reginald Kenneth Dwight
Reginald Kenneth Dwight legally became Elton Hercules John in 1972, as he associated his birth name with unhappy times. The name Elton John was derived from merging the names of saxophonist Elton Dean and singer Long John Baldry, while Hercules came from a horse on the tv show Steptoe and Son. Now Sir Elton John (he was knighted in 1998), the singer has had a long and prosperous career, with multiple hit songs including Tiny Dancer, Rocket Man, Bennie And The Jets, and Candle In The Wind. Sir Elton has also been a composer for The Lion King and the musical Aida. Recently, he served as an executive producer for the film Rocketman, a musical biopic based on his own life.
Stage Name: Meryl Streep
Real Name: Mary Louise Streep
Considered by many as the greatest actress of our time, with 3 Oscar wins and over 20 Oscar nominations, Meryl Streep was born Mary Louise Streep. Named after her mother, Mary, and her mother’s best friend, Louise, Streep received the nickname Meryl from her father. Among Streep’s long and successful movie career, some of her most popular films include Out of Africa, The Bridges of Madison County, Sophie’s Choice, The Devil Wears Prada, and the Mamma Mia! films.
Stage Name: Dean Martin
Real Name: Dino Paul Crocetti
The singer and actor Dean Martin was born Dino Crocetti, and his initial stage name was Dino Martini, after Italian opera singer Nino Martini. However, when the singer joined the Sammy Watkins Orchestra, it was recommended Martin go with something less Italian and easier to pronounce, so Martin decided to go by Dean Martin. Some of the Rat Pack singer’s greatest hits include That’s Amore, Volare, Sway, and Return To Me. Among his acting work, Martin starred in the original Ocean’s Eleven, westerns Rio Bravo and The Sons of Katie Elder, and hosted The Dean Martin Show.
Stage Name: Shania Twain
Real Name: Eilleen Edwards
Often referred to as the Queen of County Pop, the Canadian-born singer Shania Twain’s given name is Eillen Edwards. Twain chose her last name to honor her stepfather, an Ojibwa native named Jerry Twain. Her first name, Shania, is thought to come from an Ojibwa word meaning “I’m on my way,” however, the name’s actual meaning and origins have been disputed. As the best-selling female artist in country music history, Twain’s greatest hits include Man! I Feel Like a Woman!, You’re Still the One, Forever and For Always, and That Don’t Impress Me Much.
Stage Name: Michael Keaton
Real Name: Michael John Douglas
When entering showbiz, Michael Douglas (son of actor Kirk Douglas) was already a famous actor, leaving Keaton in search of a new name. The actor decided on Michael Keaton after reading through the k’s and thinking Keaton was “good enough.” Keaton’s films include Beetlejuice, Batman, Spotlight, and The Founder.
Stage Name: Brie Larson
Real Name: Brianne Sidonie Desaulniers
While Brie is short for Brianne, Larson chose a new last name because people kept mispronouncing Desaulniers. Larson’s last name came from both her Swedish great-grandmother and Larson’s favorite American Girl doll growing up, Kristen Larson. The Oscar-winning actress has starred in Room, Kong: Skull Island, The Glass Castle, Captain Marvel, and Avengers: Endgame.
Stage Name: Tony Curtis
Real Name: Bernard Schwartz
When starting out in Hollywood in 1948, Curtis changed his name from Bernard Schwartz to Anthony “Tony” Curtis, in part because of the anti-Semitism of the time. His first name came from his favorite novel, Anthony Adverse, while his last name was a variant of a family surname, either Kurtz or Kertiz. Some of Curtis’ most famous films include Some Like It Hot, Operation Petticoat, and Spartacus. Curtis was also the father of actress Jamie Lee Curtis.
Stage Name: Meg Ryan
Real Name: Margaret Mary Emily Anne Hyra
Margaret Hyra became Meg Ryan in the early 80s. Meg was just a nickname for Margaret, while Ryan was her grandmother’s maiden name. Known primarily for her rom-com roles, Ryan’s most popular films include When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, City of Angels, and You’ve Got Mail.
Stage Name: Jamie Foxx
Real Name: Eric Marlon Bishop
Actor, singer, and comedian Jamie Foxx was born Eric Bishop. When starting out as a comic, he took up the last name Foxx as a tribute to comedian Redd Foxx and the first name Jamie as it was a unisex name, and women comics were more likely to get stage time. In addition to successful comedy and music careers, Foxx is an Oscar winner and has acted in several films, including Collateral, Dreamgirls, Ray, and Django Unchained.
Stage Name: Marilyn Monroe
Real Name: Norma Jeane Mortenson
As the original blond bombshell, Marilyn Monroe grew up Norma Jeane Mortenson. Monroe took her mother’s maiden name when starting her acting career, and her first name was inspired by the Broadway actress Marilyn Miller. Her most popular films include Some Like It Hot, The Seven Year Itch, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and How to Marry a Millionaire. Monroe was also a model and talented singer, with Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend being one of her top songs.
Stage Name: Bruno Mars
Real Name: Peter Gene Hernandez
Bruno Mars was born Peter Gene Hernandez in Honolulu, Hawaii. Bruno was a nickname Mars’ father gave him, after wrestler Bruno Sammartino, while the last name Mars came about because it sounded larger than life. The musician’s top songs include Just the Way You Are, Uptown Fink, Treasure, and Locked Out of Heaven. Mars headlined the halftime show for Super Bowl XLVIII and can play keyboard, drums, bass, and guitar.
Stage Name: Lady Gaga
Real Name: Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta
Lady Gaga based her famous stage name off of the Queen song Radio Ga Ga, as it was the perfect blend of kookiness and sophistication, and it’s been a balance she has successfully embodied to this day. With billboard topping hits like Poker Face and Born This Way, the singer has also expanded into acting, starring in films like A Star Is Born and House of Gucci, and received an Oscar for writing A Star Is Born‘s hit original song, Shallow.
Stage Name: Brad Pitt
Real Name: William Bradley Pitt
Pitt doesn’t seem to be a common last name, and yet it’s real, while in all actuality, it’s the actor and producer’s first name that’s technically fake, as Brad is short for his middle name Bradley. From the Ocean’s franchise and Fight Club to Moneyball and Inglourious Basterds, Pitt has quite an impressive resume. Honestly, though, all we’re wondering now is if he’d gone by William in an alternate universe, would his couple name shared with Angelina Jolie have been Willgelina instead?