A stage name is something that has been around for centuries. Sometimes it’s because you wanted to separate your stage persona from your real life persona. Sometimes it was simply because your real name wasn’t exactly stage-worthy. Regardless, a great stage name has been a staple in the entertainment industry for years — and it’s something that continues to be popular.
There are some celebrities who very clearly have stage names, like Lady Gaga. However, there are actually far more celebrities who use stage names than you might think. Often, it’s because they simply wanted a name that was more Hollywood-friendly. Sometimes it’s because their real name is incredibly difficult to pronounce. Sometimes, it’s because there’s already someone in the industry with a very similar name. Every celebrity has a different reason for using a stage name, but they use them all the time.
Even the type of stage names celebrities use vary widely. Some celebrities simply swap their last name for a more Hollywood-friendly one. There are others who opt to go by a middle name rather than a first name. And then, there are some who take on a completely new name entirely that they feel fits them better than the name they were born with.
It seems like something that would be confusing — after all when you’re used to being called something for decades of your life, what happens when you just switch? However, obviously, these celebrities have made it work. They not only respond to their stage name, but they’re also used to hearing it shouted out on red carpets and talk shows!
Here are 15 celebrities you may not have known used stage names once they hit Hollywood.
Alicia Keys (Born Alicia Augello Cook)
Given that she’s known as a pianist in addition to being a singer-songwriter, Alicia Keys’ last name almost seems too perfect to be true. After all, her name practically proclaims that she’s a piano player! Well, if it seems too good to be true, it’s because it is — Keys isn’t her real surname.
Her real surname, in fact, is Augello Cook. When she thought about pursuing a career in the entertainment industry, she knew she wanted a catchier last name. She initially debated Alicia Wild, but her mother talked her out of it, suggesting it sounded a bit too risque. So, she opted for Keys — and it was a great choice.
Bruno Mars (Born Peter Gene Hernandez)
Bruno Mars is one of those names that seems unusual enough to potentially be a stage name. However, it could also very easily be a regular name — so many people have wondered about whether or not the pop sensation was born as Bruno.
It turns out, he wasn’t — his real name is actually Peter Gene Hernandez. However, there’s a bit of a story behind his stage name. Apparently, when hew as younger, “Bruno” was his nickname. He got the nickname because of how much he resembled the wrestler Bruno Sammartino.
So, he initially debated going by Bruno Hernandez, but there was just something about it that wasn’t working. So, after some brainstorming, he decided to go by Bruno Mars instead, and he hasn’t looked back since.
Cardi B (Born Belcalis Almanzar)
Cardi B came onto the scene and absolutely catapulted to superstardom. Fans around the world loved everything about the rapper, from her songs to her candid personality. However, many fans still don’t know her real name. Obviously, they know her surname isn’t simply “B,” but they likely assume it’s just the first letter of her surname.
However, her stage name is totally different than the name she was born with. Before she became a reality television personality, before she became a rapper, she was just Belcalis Almanzar.
Her stage name, like many celebrities’, comes from a nickname. Since her little sister’s name is Hennessy, many people called the rapper Bacardi, which she eventually shortened to simply Cardi B.
Gigi Hadid (Born Jelena Noura Hadid)
There’s something about the name Gigi that just seems so fitting for a supermodel. And, it suits Gigi Hadid to a tee — it’s fun and bubbly, just like she is. However, that isn’t actually the name she was born with.
Back when she was just a kid, Gigi Hadid was actually Jelena Hadid. Some family members called her Gigi growing up, but it wasn’t a nickname she went by with the rest of the world.
She got her stage name thanks to a classmate, it turns out. When she was in first or second grade, as she told Vogue, there was another girl in her class named Helena. The Helena/Jelena confusion got a little too much, so the teacher ended up asking Gigi’s mom if her daughter had any nicknames — and she said, Gigi. The rest is history!
Helen Mirren (Born Ilyena Lydia Mironoff)
Names can be tough when you’re looking to kick off a career in the entertainment industry. On the one hand, you want a name that’s memorable. However, it can’t be something so complex that no one will be able to remember it, or ever figure out how to spell it. That’s a lesson Helen Mirren learned early in her career.
Mirren was actually born Ilyena Lydia Mironoff, and her father ended up changing the surname to a more Anglicized Mirren in the 50s. However, when she began to pursue a career as an actress, Mirren worried that Ilyena Mirren was still a bit too tough for audiences. So, she Anglicized her first name as well, opting to go by Helen Mirren.
John Legend (Born John Roger Stephens)
John Legend is kind of an amazing stage name. After all, you’re basically proclaiming how incredible you are before you even play or sing a note! Who doesn’t want to be legendary?
However, though it seems like a somewhat normal name, it’s not actually Legend’s real name. John Legend was actually born John Roger Stephens. And, in fact, he never really chose his stage name — his friends did!
As he told MTV News way back in 2008, “John Legend is a nickname that some friends started calling me, and it kind of grew into my stage name. ‘Legend’ is something that I never would have chosen for myself originally. It grew to the point where more people in my circle would know me by that name than by my real name.”
Lana Del Rey (Born Elizabeth Woolridge Grant)
Many people assume that Lana Del Rey has one of those stage names where she simply took on a different surname. Sure, her real name isn’t Lana Del Rey, but it’s probably something like Lana Williamson, right?
In actuality, her real name is totally different than her stage name. Lana Del Rey was born Elizabeth Woolridge Grant. The name didn’t exactly convey the boho glam vibe she was going for in her on-stage persona, so she changed it when she was 25.
For her, it wasn’t necessarily about a name that was easier for people to recognize or pronounce. It was more the fact that she wanted to create an alter ego to bring to live performances. Who knew?
Mindy Kaling (Born Vera Mindy Chokalingam)
Mindy Kaling’s name suits her perfectly — it’s bubbly and fun, just like she is. However, that’s not the name she was born with. When she was a baby, her parents actually named her Vera Mindy Chokalingam. However, she never really loved her first name. She appreciated the Hindu nature of it, but she always went by her middle name, Mindy.
So, when she decided to pursue a career in the entertainment industry, she naturally went by Mindy as well. As for her last name, she likely thought that Chokalingam was a bit of a mouthful for North American audiences. So, she simply shortened it to Kaling. It’s so interesting to find out the subtle ways some celebrities change their names for Hollywood.
Natalie Portman (Born Neta-Lee Herschlag)
Natalie Portman has been in the entertainment industry since she was a teenager. At that age, many people wouldn’t even think to change their name — but luckily, Natalie Portman did.
Well, her family did, at least. Portman was born in Israel and originally was given a traditional Hebrew name, Neta-Lee Hershlag. It’s beautiful in its own way, but it’s not necessarily something you could envision in bright lights in Hollywood. However, when her family emigrated to the United States when Natalie was young, they changed their surname to Portman. And, they changed their daughter’s first name from Neta-Lee to the more Americanized Natalie.
Vin Diesel (Born Mark Sinclair Vincent)
Vin Diesel’s name sounds like it was practically made for Hollywood. After all, what could be a better, more masculine fit for an action star than the name Vin Diesel?
Well, Vin Diesel’s actual birth name is a whole lot less exciting than his stage name. The star was actually born Mark Sinclair Vincent. And, his stage name actually wasn’t even created for Hollywood — it was created for his job as a bouncer!
When Diesel was working at a nightclub in New York, he decided to go by a version of his last name, “Vin.” And, as the last name, he went with Diesel, which some of his friends gave him. When he decided to pursue an acting career, that’s the name he stuck with!
Olivia Wilde (Born Olivia Jane Cockburn)
Olivia Wilde is definitely a memorable name — and it turns out, that was by design. Olivia Wilde was actually born Olivia Jane Cockburn. She had a famous that was well connected in the journalism world, but she didn’t want to use that on her path to stardom. She wanted to make her own way in the world.
So, after starring in a production of Oscar Wilde’s play “The Importance of Being Earnest” in high school, she was inspired to take on the famous author’s surname. Ever since her teenage years as an aspiring actress, she’s gone by Olivia Wilde. It definitely suits her!
Katy Perry (Born Katheryn Hudson)
Pop star Katy Perry didn’t adopt her stage name until a little bit later in her career. In fact, she actually released an album without it — although it was different than the pop powerhouse albums she puts out today.
Perry was born Katheryn Hudson, and actually released a gospel album under the name Katy Hudson. When she got serious about pursuing a career in the mainstream entertainment industry, she was worried that her name, Katy Hudson, would get her confused with actress Kate Hudson. They do sound remarkably similar!
So, she opted to keep her first name, but use her mother’s last name, Perry, to avoid any confusion. It’s definitely a name that’s pop star appropriate!
Jamie Foxx (Born Eric Marlon Bishop)
People may assume that Jamie Foxx added an extra ‘x’ to his last name to make it more memorable in Hollywood. However, as a name, Jamie Fox isn’t all that unrealistic. It seems like it could be the name someone was born with — but in his case, that’s not true.
Foxx was actually born Eric Marlon Bishop, and the story behind his stage name is kind of hilarious. Apparently, as he spilled on the Late Show with David Letterman, he started using his stage name to get an extra edge in comedy.
Before he was a singer and actor, he was trying to make a career happen as a stand-up comedian. He realized that female comedians always got a spot on the line-up because they were less of them than there were male comedians. So, he opted to go by a unisex stage name, hoping that some people would think he was a female and automatically put him on the line-up. Pretty sneaky!
Calvin Harris (Born Adam Richard Wiles)
A name definitely says a lot about a person, and that’s something Calvin Harris knew well. When he got started in the music industry, he still had his birth name, Adam Richard Wiles. However, once he examined the type of music he created for his single, he was a bit concerned about perception.
As he told ShortList, “my first single was more of a soul track, and I thought Calvin Harris sounded a bit more racially ambiguous.” So, he went with the stage name in the hope that it would make his first single more successful, and apparently, the name just stuck.
Now, that’s the name that everyone knows him by!
Miley Cyrus (Born Destiny Hope Cyrus)
Miley Cyrus has been using her name since she was a tween star on the Disney channel, so many people assume it’s her real name. After all, how many tweens decide to use stage names? It’s usually more of an adult decision.
However, it turns out, Miley Cyrus was actually born Destiny Hope Cyrus. Which, to be frank, sounds more like a stage name than her stage name does! Her family called her “Smiley” growing up, and when she was 17 years old, she ended up legally changing her name to Miley Ray Cyrus. She just apparently liked it better than the name she was born with and wanted to make it a permanent thing.
Now, everyone knows her as Miley — and that’s exactly how she likes it.
References: Harper’s Bazaar, Stylecaster, Elle