Fame always comes at a prize no matter how negligible, and for most celebrities, theirs came at the additional expense of their birth names.
From Bruno Mars to Kit Harington, most celebrities are not who they seem to beꟷ at least in terms of names. Their decisions to embrace stage names over their real names range from the name length to racial discrepancy. Many even attach these name-changes to symbolic dates, people, or events. The list is endless.
Here are twenty celebrities who gave up their real names to adopt professional monikers for one reason or the other.
1. MARILYN MONROE
Born Norma Jeane Mortenson, Marilyn Monroe became Norma Jean Dougherty following her marriage to James Dougherty. However, at the onset of her acting career, a 20th Century Fox Studio executive thought the last name, Dougherty, too difficult to pronounce and its interpretation more conflicting.
Hence, she adopted Monroe, a name from her mother’s side of the family, as her new last name. On the studio exec’s advice, she also ditched Norma-Jean and became Marilyn. According to reports, the studio exec suggested “Marilyn” because the actress reminded him of Broadway star Marilyn Miller.
2. IRINA SHAYK
Actress Irina Shayk notably goes by the shorter version of her birth-given name, Irina Shaykhlislamov.
3. GIGI HADID
Supermodel, Gigi Hadid uses a pseudonym in lieu of her real name for no fault of hers. At birth, her parents named her Jelena Noura Hadid. However, rather than call her by her first name, pronounced Yelena, relatives took to the nick, Gigi.
Years later, her first name also became confusing for her teachers as the school also had a kid named Helena. Hence, with her mother’s consent, the teachers adopted Gigi as well, and the name stuck for life.
4. MILEY CYRUS
“Hannah Montana” star, Miley Cyrus was born Destiny Hope Cyrus. Growing up, the former child star had a thing for smiling, earning her the nickname, “Smiley,” among relatives. Somehow, they did away with the initial “S” as the years went by, shortening it to Miley.
Finally, the songstress effected a legal change of name in 2008.
5. LADY GAGA
Born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, Lady Gaga adopted the popular moniker even before her foray into the entertainment industry. Reports suggest the 1984 Queen song, “Radio Ga Ga,” inspired the stage name, which she has retained throughout her career.
6. CARDI B
Ardent followers of Cardi B know her stage name is a tweaked form of Bacardi. However, Bacardi was never her birth name in the first place. At birth, the hip-hop artist was named Belcalis Almanzar and had a sister called Hennessey, like the popular rum.
Everyone soon began calling the star Barcardi, after the rum, and the name stuck until she eventually shortened it to Cardi B to avoid trademark infringement.
7. EMMA STONE
Like most celebrities with adopted monikers, actress Emma Stone had to change her name at the onset of her career. The star, born Emily Jean Stone, once admitted she had to change her name at sixteen because Hollywood already had an actress named “Emma Stone!”
8. KIT HARINGTON
The story behind “Game Of Thrones” star Kit Harington’s stage name is somewhat conflicting. Harington once revealed his birth-given name as Christopher Catesby Harington. According to him, everyone called him Kit from birth, as an offshoot of Christopher.
In fact, he only realized his actual name at the age of eleven! Of course, he had a say in what moniker he preferred, and when everyone realized he wanted to remain Kit, they stuck with it.
9. OLIVIA WILDE
It appears actress Olivia Wilde became smitten by Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” after rendering the play in high school. Hence, she adopted Wilde as her last name, ditching her original surname, Cockburn, for good. Who else feels there’s more to this story?
10. PORTIA DE ROSSI
Portia de Rossi is notably one-half of the most famous lesbian couple in the world. But her journey to accepting her sexuality was a rough one. Her earlier struggles with acceptance eventually led her on a quest to discover things she could identify with. And she made her name the first stop.
Hence, after fifteen years of identifying as Amanda Lee Rogers, she opted for a moniker that really resonated with her. As a Shakespeare fan, she chose Portia as her first name, a nod at the character, Portia in “Merchants of Vernice.”
Then she picked de Rossi as a last name because she felt an exotic Italian surname suited her best.
11. WHOOPI GOLDBERG
Born Caryn Johnson, award-winning actress and comedian, Whoopi Goldberg adopted her stage name when she first started acting. She once recounted how people kept likening her to a whoopee cushion due to her constant farts.
Eventually, she tweaked the term into Whoopi and adopted Goldberg from her self-acclaimed Jewish ancestry.
12. BRUNO MARS
In all fairness, Peter Gene Hernandez just doesn’t cut it for the world-famous singer, Bruno Mars. Yet, that was his birth-given name!
The “Lazy Song” crooner once revealed that he earned the nickname, Bruno as a toddler because of his resemblance to wrestler, Bruno Sammartino. Early in his career, he changed his last name to Mars because people kept suggesting he tried out Latin or Spanish music since he identified as Hernandez.
13. NICKI MINAJ
It is hard to believe that hip hop star, Nicki Minaj had no say in her stage name. According to her, someone in charge of the first production deal she signed changed her name to suit his preference.
After objecting and fighting the decision to no avail, she had no choice but to flow with the tides. Admittedly, she has since hated her stage name and prefers her real name, Onika Tanya Maraj.
14. JAMIE FOXX
Jamie Foxx decided to ditch his real name, Eric Marlon Bishop when he discovered that the industry favored female stand-up comedians. Hence, to boost his career opportunities, he opted for a unisex name. And it worked!
15. JOHN LEGEND
For singer, John Legend, he simply adopted his longtime nickname. He admitted that at some point, more people knew him by the name, John legend, than his birth name, John Roger Stephens.
Hence, when fame came knocking, he resolved to embrace the moniker for good.
Born Alecia Beth Moore, singer P!nk coined her name from the “Reservoir Dogs” character, Mr. Pink, played by Steve Buscemi.
Even before releasing her first album, she had a chance encounter with Buscemi. She admittedly accosted him and poured out her heart, telling him how her love for his character inspired her to go all-pink and to aim for fame. Granted, that was a creepy move and she only succeeded in scaring him away. Literally!
17. OPRAH WINFREY
Legendary TV host, Oprah Winfrey unbelievably makes this list. After years of watching people struggle with the pronunciation of her birth name, Orpah, she decided to sit back and let them knock themselves out.
By implication many stuck to mispronouncing her name as “Oprah” and the moniker stuck eventually.
18. FRANK OCEAN
Frank Ocean ditched the name, Christopher Edwin Breaux in favor of his now-popular stage name because he never liked his original name.
19. NICHOLAS CAGE
Actor Nicolas Cage changed his name when he first started acting to avoid being compared to his already-famous uncle, Francis Ford Coppola, the director. He was born Nicolas Kim Coppola.
20. ALICIA KEYS
Legendary songstress Alicia Keys went by the name, Alicia Augello-Cook at birth. However, at the onset of her career, she decided to opt for a more stage-worthy moniker.
Her first choice was Wild, which she quickly discarded because her mom thought it provocative. Eventually, Keys came to mind, giving rise to the name the whole world knows today.