Sometimes, you just have to change your name to make it in Hollywood. And while that’s no secret, it’s interesting to see just how many of our favourite stars have opted for a stage name to set themselves apart from others in the limelight.
From Emma Stone and Helen Mirren to Meghan Markle and Reese Witherspoon, the number of A-listers who have ditched their monikers to get ahead is quite the surprise – and so are their birth names.
Here are just a few of them…
1. Olivia Colman
Born: Sarah Caroline Olivia Sinclair
We’ve known her as the lovely Olivia Colman since she was Sophie from Peep Show, but like many actors, Olivia changed her name for the screen, choosing to go by one of her middle names rather than her given name of Sarah. When she was made a CBE in the Queen’s birthday honours list, she was listed as Sarah Sinclair, her married name after tying the knot with husband Ed Sinclair.
2. Emma Stone
Born: Emily Jean Stone
‘My real name is Emily. But it was taken at SAG (Screen Actors Guild),’ the actress told W Magazine. ‘I was 16…. So to ask a 16-year-old to pick a new name is really an interesting process, because I was like, “I’m going to be Riley.” And so my name was Riley Stone for about six months.’ However, the name didn’t stick and Stone eventually opted for Emma as it was not only closer to her birth name, but because she loved Emma Bunton ‘Baby Spice’ from the Spice Girls.
In a recent interview with Jimmy Fallon, she revealed: ‘In second grade did I go up to the teacher on the first day and ask her to call me Emma? Yes, I did. Was it because of Emma Lee Bunton from the Spice Girls? Yes, it was.’
3. Demi Moore
Born: Deme Gene Guynes
Not many people know this, but the actress married rock musician Freddy Moore when she was just 17 years old and took his last name. Their marriage ended four-and-a-half years later but Demi decided to keep her ex-husband’s surname as her stage name.
4. Helen Mirren
Born: Ilyena Lydia Mironoff
The British star’s father changed the family’s last name from Mironoff to Mirren in the fifties. The Oscar winner then switched her first name from Ilyena to Helen to simplify it when she embarked on her career.
5. John Legend
Born: John Roger Stephens
‘John Legend is a nickname that some friends started calling me, and it kind of grew into my stage name,’ Legend revealed to MTV News in a 2008 interview. ‘”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.’ So it seemed like a natural fit when he made it big time.
‘I was just like, “You know what? Let’s just go for it,”‘ he continued. ‘People are going to pay attention and I’m going to either live up to my name or I’m not. My bet was on me trying to live up to the name.’
6. Julianne Moore
Born: Julie Anne Smith
‘When I went to join SAG as Julie Smith, they were like, “There’s a Julie Smith, there’s a Julie Anne Smith. You have to choose another name,”‘ the actress told The Hollywood Reporter. ‘My dad’s name was Peter Moore Smith, and my mother’s name was Anne Smith, and I used both their names so I wouldn’t hurt anybody’s feelings.’
7. Meghan Markle
Born: Rachel Meghan Markle
It is now common knowledge that Meghan Markle ditched her first name in favour of her middle name. Not that it matters now that she’s a Duchess, of course.
8. Brad Pitt
Born: William Bradley Pitt
Like Meghan, Pitt decided to go by his middle name ‘Bradley’ which was then shortened to ‘Brad’ when he hit Hollywood. However, PageSix reports that the star always introduces himself by his given name, William, when he’s flirting with women.
9. Natalie Portman
Born: Neta-Lee Hershlag
The Israeli actress was given a traditional Hebrew name by her parents but once the family moved to the US in 1984, they changed their Hershlag surname to Portman after the star’s maternal grandmother’s maiden name. Her parents also changed Neta-Lee to Natalie.
10. Olivia Wilde
Born: Olivia Cockburn
The actress picked her stage name in honour of Oscar Wilde. She changed it after playing Gwendolen in her high school’s rendition of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.
11. Reese Witherspoon
Born: Laura Jeanne Reese Witherspoon
The star was born with the first name ‘Laura’ but dropped both that and her middle name ‘Jeanne’ and instead adopted her mother’s maiden name ‘Reese’ when kick starting her career.
12. Tina Fay
Born: Elizabeth Stamatina Fey
The actress and comedian’s stage name is a shortened version of her middle name Stamatina.
13. Whoopi Goldberg
Born: Caryn Elaine Johnson
Whoopi’s stage name was birthed after she struggled with bad case of flatulence and her friends at the theatre she worked at in her younger years noticed it. ‘People used to say to me, “You’re like a whoopee cushion.” And that’s where the name came from,’ she explained. As for her surname, that was her mother’s doing as she felt a Jewish name would help her get ahead.
14. Sir Ben Kingsley
Born: Krishna Pandit Bhanji
The actor changed his name to make it sound more American as he felt a foreign name wouldn’t work for him in Hollywood.
15. Oprah Winfrey
Born: Orpah Winfrey
You may need a double take to notice the difference in this one but that’s actually because it’s just a spelling mistake. Oprah was actually named after a biblical figure called ‘Orpah’ but the name was misspelled on her birth certificate.
‘My Aunt Ida had chosen the name, but nobody really knew how to spell it, so it went down as “Orpah” on my birth certificate,’ she explained in a 1991 interview. ‘But people didn’t know how to pronounce it, so they put the “p” before the “r” in every place else other than the birth certificate. On the birth certificate it is Orpah, but then it got translated to Oprah, so here we are.’
16. Elton John
Born: Reginald Kenneth Dwight
The legendary singer changed his name before he made it big time, seeking inspiriration from saxophonist Elton Dean and blues singer Long John Baldry for his stage name.
17. Jennifer Aniston
Born: Jennifer Linn Anastassakis
Jennifer’s father was actually the one to change the family’s Greek surname to an American so he could get more work, and Jen carried on his legacy.