Celebrities changing their birth names has been happening since Hollywood's earliest days. (Case in point: Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jeane Mortenson. ) Some celebrities' real names are changed because the star wants a flashier stage name.
The story behind why Mindy Kaling—born Vera Mindy Chokalingam—created her stage name is awful but, sadly, a relatable experience for many people in Hollywood who don't have anglicized (read: white) names. “I shortened my name because emcees for these comedy shows would have trouble pronouncing it, and then they'd make a joke about my last name,” she revealed to NHPR. “I already felt like a huge distance from the audience—just as a new comedian, but then an even more distance because it had been made so clear that I was ethnic.
John Legend’s last name is quite fitting, though the Grammy winner's said he “never” would have chosen it himself. (His real name is John Roger Stephens. ) “John Legend is a nickname that some friends started calling me, and it kind of grew into my stage name,” he told MTV News. “It grew to the point where more people in my circle would know me by that name than by my real name.
That's intentional: The actor, born Nicolas Coppola, dropped his last name in an effort to separate himself from any accusations of nepotism. (His uncle, Francis Ford Coppola, directed all three Godfather movies. ) His stage name was inspired by the superhero Luke Cage.
Born Margaret Mary Emily Anne Hyra in Fairfield, Connecticut, Meg Ryan decided to use a stage name went she started pursuing an acting career.
Born Norma Jeane Mortenson, the actor later used her mother's last name, Baker, until she married her first husband, James Dougherty.
At some point before the future Vampire Diaries star landed her first role on Degrassi: The Next Generation in 2006, she adopted the first name Nina and shortened her last name to Dobrev.
Foxx changed his name as a strategic move: After he noticed women were often called on first to perform at comedy clubs, he began writing down gender-neutral names like Tracey, Stacey, and Jamie—eventually, Jamie stuck.
In 2006, she explained that the stage name actually comes from a whoopee cushion. “When you're performing on stage, you never really have time to go into the bathroom and close the door,” she told The New York Times. "So if you get a little gassy, you've got to let it go.
Instead of using her full birth name, Laura Jeanne Reese Witherspoon, actor and producer Reese Witherspoon decided to shorten it to the moniker we know her as today.
Julianne Moore changed her name from Julie Anne Smith out of practicality. "There was already a Julie Smith, a Julie Anne Smith, there was everything,” she has said. “My father's middle name is Moore; my mother's name is Anne.
It's always fascinating to learn celebrities' real names—in part because there are so many examples of stage name switch-ups.
She's said she created her stage name before she started her film career as a way to protect her privacy as a child actor.
She chose Riley instead, before realizing it was a little too different from her birth name. "I landed a guest spot on Malcolm in the Middle, and one day they were calling, ‘Riley! Riley! Riley!
For her first name, she picked a shortened version of Margaret but chose a completely different last name—Ryan—to use professionally instead.
It's hard to imagine that Whoopi Goldberg was born anything other than, well, Whoopi Goldberg but it's true: Her birth name is Caryn Elaine Johnson.
Born Elizabeth Woolridge Grant, the singer changed her name after she released an album using the moniker Lizzy Grant that flopped.
Instead of going by his full birth name, William Bradley Pitt, he shortened it to Brad Pitt. (It does sound a bit better than Will Pitt, if you ask me. ) According to Page Six, in his personal life he likes to go by William.
Markle hasn't commented on why, exactly, she's changed her name professionally but it worked in her favor: Her Suits character was also named Rachel, which would have been a fun twist.
Sometime before she landed the role of Aria Montgomery on Pretty Little Liars, Lucy Hale ditched her real first name, which is—wait for it—Karen.
When Emma Stone went to register for her SAG card, she was unable to use her real name, Emily Stone, because another actor had already filed under it.
Nicolas Cage was born into a Hollywood-famous family, but you wouldn't know it by his last name.
The new stage name came to her after a trip to Miami, where she decided she “wanted a name that sounded sort of exotic and reminded me of like the seaside on the Floridian coast.
Nina Dobrev’s birth name reveals her Bulgarian roots, where she was born before she moved to Canada: Nikolina Kamenova Dobreva.
Bruno Mars is such a perfect stage name that perhaps it's not a surprise it's not the singer's given name.
Brad Pitt decided to use a name close to his birth name when he started his career.
At first, she thought of “Wild” for a last name to use professionally, but her mom objected.
Marilyn Monroe is perhaps the most famous example of a celebrity who changed their birth name.
Many were surprised to learn that Calvin Harris' real name is actually Adam Richard Wiles after his then-girlfriend Taylor Swift referred to him as such while accepting her Female Artist of the Year win at the iHeartRadio Awards in 2016.
Fun fact: Meghan Markle's first name is actually Rachel. 👀https://t.co/Bi0H3Bz23P— Glamour (@glamourmag) September 1, 2020