48 Famous Men Who Changed Their Names

Mariana Salvo

Getty Images

What’s in a name? For some, it’s the fear of sounding “foreign” in an acting market that may prejudice non native thespians, or a production company that can’t seem to pronounce anything beyond three syllables. Names contain opportunities, embarrassments, and vestiges of past selves. Also, sometimes, names just sound dumb. For these famous folks, the only name we know is the name they want us to know. But you can’t run from a birth name. So here are the names these men were first called by. And why they made the change.

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Jamie Foxx

Foxx was born “Eric Marlon Bishop.” He changed his name when performing stand up comedy, hoping to get earlier call times with a more gender neutral name.

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Michael Caine

Maurice Joseph Micklewhite Jr. used the stage name “Michael Scott” before deciding on “Caine.” Though he performed with the name for decades, he only officially changed in 2016.

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Elton John

John was born “Reginald Kenneth Dwight” and chose a stage name that would pay homage to two musicians: saxophonist Elton Dean and singer Long John Baldry.

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Idris Elba

Okay, so Elba’s name is really “Idrissa Akuna Elba,” making the change less a departure than a shortening. Still, it’s hard picturing a movie poster with Elba as Idrissa. (For many of us, however, he’ll always be “Stringer.”)

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Bob Dylan

Robert Allen Zimmerman first changed to “Robert Allyn” before finding inspiration in the poems of Dylan Thomas. “Robert” became “Bob” and “Allyn” became “Dylan” and the rest is rock and roll history.

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Charlie Sheen

Following his father, Carlos Irwin Estévez changed his last name to “Sheen.” Martin Sheen was born Ramón Gerardo Antonio Estévez.

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Joaquin Phoenix

Joaquin Rafael Bottom changed his surname to match his siblings who had chosen “Phoenix.”

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John Legend

John Roger Stephens changed his name after signing with Kanye West’s record label. The name, he was told, reflected an old school sound.

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Bruno Mars

Peter Gene Hernandez has said the name change originated from his desire to sound other worldly—and so that record labels wouldn’t think of him as the next Enrique Iglesias.

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Nicolas Cage

Nicolas Kim Coppola is the nephew of legendary director Francis Ford Coppola. He changed his name to “Cage” to stand apart.

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Vin Diesel

Mark Sinclair decided to adopt his father’s surname “Vincent” as well as a nickname given to him while working as a bouncer in New York: “Diessel.”

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Brad Pitt

Born William Bradley Pitt, Pitt decided to drop “William” and simply use “Brad” as his stage name.

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Aaron Paul

When people kept mispronouncing Aaron Paul Sturtevant’s last name, he stopped his name at “Paul” instead.

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Tom Hardy

Like Pitt, Edward Thomas Hardy decided to drop that first name nonsense, forever confusing fans of mid nineteenth-century English literature.

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George Michael

Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou is just too damn hard to say. George Michael. There. Wham! Better.

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Jonah Hill

It’s not clear why Jonah Hill Feldstein took out his surname. It does make the realization that actress Beanie Feldstein is actually his sister that much more mind-blowing, though.

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Ben Affleck

Both Benjamin Géza Affleck-Boldt and his brother Caleb Casey McGuire Affleck-Boldt decided to simplify their names for their acting careers.

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Zayn Malik

Malick was born “Zain Javadd Malik.” Why add the “y” for a stage name? Cuz it’s frickin cool, that’s why.

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Antonio Banderas

José Antonio Domínguez Bandera decided to drop the first name and tack an “s” on the surname.

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Ralph Lauren

You don’t know the face, but you definitely know the name … the made up name. Lauren was actually born “Ralph Lifshitz.” Would you wear a Lifshitz? Thought not.

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Michael Kors

Another iconic designer, Kors was actually born “Karl Anderson Jr.”

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Calvin Harris

Adam Richard Wiles has said that “Calvin Harris” sounded more racially ambiguous and would be better given his more soul-like genre. It’s not a great answer, but there it is.

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Ricky Martin

Enrique José Martín Morales IV’s decided on the stage name Ricky Martin.

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Tom Cruise

The cost of making it as an actor sometimes entails awesome-sounding last names. Thomas Cruise Mapother IV had to cut a few syllables and make the sacrifice.

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Bruce Willis

Like many actors on the list, Walter Bruce Willis went with the middle name, last name combo for his stage identity.

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Kit Harington

A childhood nickname, “Kit,” born Christopher Catesby Harington, didn’t find out his real name until he was eleven.

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Jason Derulo

Jaaason …. Joel Desrouleaux? Doesn’t quite roll of the tongue when shouted over the club.

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Stevie Wonder

Stevie was born Stevland Hardaway Morris. “Steveland” became “Stevie” and “Wonder” …. well, it just seems fitting after hearing him sing.

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First on the list of monosyllabic singers is Paul David Hewson. Hewson was named “Bono Vox” by a childhood friend. (“Bonavox” being latin for “good voice.”) Later, Bono adopted the first name as, well, his only recognizable name.

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Apparently Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner used to wear a black and yellow sweater that reminded a band member of a bee. Get it?

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