Celebs Whose Real Names Will Surprise You

You might not realize it, but some of the biggest celebrity names in the world aren't real names at all—they're stage names chosen for effect, designed to turn a humdrum and everyday moniker into something with a bit more sparkle and pizzazz. Here are some examples of celebrities who changed their names, and what they're really called.

Olivia Wilde

The star of House, Tron: Legacy, and Vinyl is actually named Olivia Cockburn. The Cockburns are a prominent Irish-British-American family of journalists. Her mother, Leslie Cockburn, worked for 60 Minutes, and her father, Andrew Cockburn, published numerous books on military history. Olivia took the stage name of Wilde after another Irish icon: playwright Oscar Wilde. According to People, the actress got the idea when she performed in Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest in high school.

Jamie Foxx

The man born Eric Bishop started telling jokes in school but tried comedy professionally for the first time when his girlfriend dared him to go up on stage during an open mic night. He started performing regularly, but had a hard time getting stage time, convinced that female comics were getting preferential treatment. So, Bishop gave himself a sexually ambiguous first name—Jamie—to trick bookers. According to the Independent, "Foxx" is a tribute to the legendary comedian and Sanford and Son star Redd Foxx.

Portia De Rossi

Portia De Rossi isn't even the official name of the Australian-born star of Arrested Development and Scandal. In 2008, she legally took the last name of her wife, Ellen DeGeneres, but before all of that, she was Amanda Lee Rogers.

In 2005, she told the Advocate that she legally changed her name when she was 15 because she wanted to change her whole identity. "I think it was largely due to my struggle about being gay. Everything just didn't fit, and I was trying to find things I could identify myself with, and it started with my name." The "Portia" comes from the name of a character in a favorite Shakespeare play, The Merchant of Venice. The "De Rossi" is because the actress thought an Italian name would be "exotic," because "when you live in Australia, Europe is so far away and so fascinating, so stylish and cultured and sophisticated."

Bruno Mars

The electrifying singer was born Peter Hernández, but almost from birth, his father called him Bruno because the baby reminded him of bald and meaty professional wrestler Bruno Sammartino.

"I guess I was this chunky little baby, so my dad used to call me that as a nickname," Mars told Rap-Up. The "Mars" part is because the singer wanted a name with "pizzazz," and says that since "a lot of girls say I'm out of this world," he picked the name of something that was literally out of this world.

David Bowie

David Bowie is no stranger to appearing under different guises (Ziggy Stardust or the Thin White Duke for instance) but the name he was given at his birth in 1947 was David Robert Jones. He changed it at 18 to avoid confusion with another British musician named Davy Jones, reported Time. According to author John Lyons in his book, America in the British Imagination: 1945 to the Present, Bowie's name change was inspired by a Texas rebel named Jim Bowie in the 1960 film The Alamo.

Vin Diesel

The iconic action movie star's real name is Mark Sinclair, which just doesn't conjure up fast and furious imagery. According to The Hollywood Reporter, he changed it in his mid-teens when he was working as a bouncer in New York City. "Vin" is derived from his adoptive father's surname: Vincent, and "Diesel" was a nickname he earned due to his "fueled up" energy level on the job, reported Screenrant.

Winona Ryder

The "Winona" is original, but the "Ryder" isn't. The star of Heathers and Edward Scissorhands was born Winona Laura Horowitz. According to Biography, she was named after Winona, Minn. and her stage name was picked in tribute to soul and rock singer Mitch Ryder (Winona's father was a big fan). Funny enough, Mitch Ryder is a stage name too—his real name is William S. Levise Jr.

The Edge

It takes a special kind of confidence to pick a stage name that's so obviously an invention, but U2's guitarist has gone for it (as has the band's frontman, of course). Born David Howell Evans, "The Edge" was apparently a nickname picked up in the band's early days. According to @U2.com, the nickname was originally inspired "by the sharp features of his face, but it also applied to his sharp mind and the way he always observed things from the edge."

Bandmate Bono said "The Edge" was happy to trade in his old nickname of "Inchicore," which is a Dublin suburb.

Lana Del Rey

After arriving in New York City at age 18, Lizzy Grant performed at clubs under several names, including her real name and also "Sparkle Rope Jump Queen." She even recorded an album under her birth name, but it was never released. In 2011, she signed a new record deal and concocted a new persona. With both an image and sound evocative of 1960s style and glamour, "Lana Del Rey" perfectly captures that sensibility.

"I was going to Miami quite a lot at the time, speaking a lot of Spanish with my friends from Cuba," Del Rey told British Vogue. "Lana Del Rey reminded us of the glamour of the seaside. It sounded gorgeous coming off the tip of the tongue."


Prince routinely experimented with his name. At one point, he adopted a symbol as his official moniker and called himself The Artist Formerly Known As Prince. His real name is Prince Roger Nelson. Other names the late musician used over the years include Jamie Starr, Joey Coco, and Alexander Nevermind.

Michael Caine

One of the most recognizable faces in cinema over the last few decades, Michael Caine's real name is Maurice Joseph Micklewhite, which doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. He originally used Michael Scott as a stage name before realizing there was another actor with the same name, forcing him to change it. The name Caine came from a poster advertising the 1954 film The Caine Mutiny. According to a July 2016 story in The Telegraph, Caine officially changed his real name to match his stage name "to avoid being asked endless amounts of questions at airport security."

Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman is Neta-Lee Hershlag to her mother and father and childhood friends. The Black Swan (2010) star was born in Jerusalem and moved to the United States with her parents at the age 3. The stage name Portman has a family connection. According to The Guardian, it was her grandmother's maiden name. The actress adopted it to protect her family's privacy.

Whoopi Goldberg

The EGOT winner's real name is Caryn Johnson, but that didn't have nearly enough fart jokes in it. The actress's career began in earnest doing one-woman shows and theater work in New York City, and that's how she acquired her stage name.

"When you're performing on stage, you never really have time to go into the bathroom and close the door. So if you get a little gassy, you've got to let it go," Goldberg told The New York Times. "So people used to say to me, 'You're like a whoopee cushion.'" She slightly altered "whoopee" to Whoopi, and then added the Goldberg at the suggestion of her mother.

While the actress does have some Jewish heritage, her mother reportedly thought having a Jewish-sounding name would open doors for her in the entertainment industry.

Ben Kingsley

Kingsley has enjoyed a long and varied career, including a 1983 Oscar for best actor for his portrayal of Indian independence leader Mohandas Gandhi in Gandhi. The star's real name is Krishna Pandit Bhanji. His father was a Kenyan-born doctor of Indian descent. Kingsley said on an episode of The Late Show with David Letterman that he changed his name early on in his acting career because he felt that having a name that was difficult to pronounce was preventing him from getting work.

Courtney Love

There's a bit of mystery as to how Courtney Love came to be Courtney Love. According to the Seattle Weekly News, the Hole frontwoman and '90s style icon has said that her birth name is Love Michelle Harrison. Her parents say otherwise, insisting that their daughter's real name is Courtney Michelle Harrison.

Mom and Dad reportedly also have different ideas about where the "Love" came from. Linda Harrison says it's from her habit of addressing her daughter like a British person, calling her "Courtney, love" when she was small. Hank Harrison argues that the future star came up with it as a pseudonym to mask her identity when she worked as an underage stripper in Portland, Ore. in the 1980s.

Christopher Guest

Unofficially, Christopher Guest is a comedy lord. He was part of the fake metal band at the heart of the classic documentary spoof This is Spinal Tap, and he devised and co-starred in all those semi-improvised comedy movies such as Waiting for Guffman (1996), A Mighty Wind (2003), and Best in Show (2000). Officially, Guest is an actual lord, as in a British aristocrat. His full name is Christopher Haden-Guest, 5th Baron Haden-Guest. Guest's father was a diplomat and House of Lords member named Peter Haden-Guest. Upon his death in 1996, the title moved to Christopher.

Helen Mirren

Dame Helen Mirren is the quintessential esteemed British actress who won an Oscar in 2007 playing Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen. Born to a Russian father and English mother, her stage name both is and isn't her real name—it's an English-ized adaptation of the Russian name she was given at birth: Ilyena Mironov.

Katy Perry

Katy Perry is known to her parents as Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson. Which one do you think has a better pop star ring to it? Her first album, a collection of Christian songs, was actually called Katy Hudson. The singer reportedly changed her moniker primarily to avoid confusion with actress Kate Hudson and to create a bold character she could step into. "I was scared that if you saw me, Katheryn Hudson, the girl wearing the Bioré strip on my nose, you'd be like, 'that's not glamorous,'" she told The Guardian in June 2017 "...I didn't want to be Katheryn Hudson. I hated that, it was too scary for me, so I decided to be someone else."