The Name Game
Let's do Demi! Or should we make that Demetria? After all, the star we first encountered in movies like "St. Elmo's Fire" and "Ghost" wasn't born with the name we know her by. And that applies to countless actors and musicians whose birth names were altered for all kinds of reasons. Here, as Demi Moore turns 56, are 50 celebrities' original names along with backstories revealing how they came to be changed.
Birth name: Demetria Gene Guynes
Behind the change: Her nickname was Demi (pronounced "duh-ME," with the accent on the second syllable) and then, at age 18, she married rocker Freddy Moore.
Birth name: David Robert Jones
Behind the change: In 1964, he released his first single, "Liza Jane," as Davie Jones with the King Bees, but before long fans began to confuse him with Davy Jones of the Monkees. The future Ziggy Stardust then took his name from American pioneer Jim Bowie and the big knife named after him.
Birth name: Ilynea Lydia Mironoff
Behind the change: Her paternal grandfather was a Russian diplomat who became a London taxi driver to support his family after they were stranded during the Russian Revolution. Mirren's father anglicized the family's name in the 1950s, when Ilynea—now Helen—was 10 years old.
Birth name: Audrey Kathleen Ruston
Behind the change: "Audrey Hepburn" wasn't a stage name. Her father discovered a Hepburn branch of the family and added that to his—and Audrey's—legal name.
Birth name: Alphonso Joseph D'Abruzzo
Behind the change: His name came from his dad, Alphonso Giuseppe Giovanni Roberto D'Abruzzo—and so did his stage name. Alan Alda's father, an actor in movies ranging from "Imitation of Life" to "The Beast With Five Fingers," was credited as Robert Alda.
Birth name: Stevland Hardaway Judkins
Behind the change: Despite his blindness, he learned to play many instruments as a small child. In 1961, the 11-year-old prodigy went to Motown, where producer Clarence Paul gave him the stage name Little Stevie Wonder. He became Stevie Wonder—dropping the "Little"—before releasing his 1966 hit "Uptight (Everything's Alright)."
Birth name: Diane Hall
Behind the change: Keaton was her mother's maiden name. She adopted it when she joined Actors' Equity because the association already had a member named Diane Hall. But her original surname became famous in 1977, when Diane Keaton starred in "Annie Hall."
Birth name: Michael Douglas
Behind the change: The Screen Actors Guild requires each of its members to have a unique professional name, and of course "Michael Douglas" was taken. Reports that the "Birdman" actor took his name from the star of "Annie Hall" are mistaken.
Birth name: James Newell Osterberg
Behind the change: "Iggy" was his high school nickname, based on the name of his first band, the Iguanas. Later, as frontman for the Stooges, he was known alternately as Iggy Osterberg and Iggy Stooge. Then Iggy shaved off his eyebrows in solidarity with his friend Jimmy Pop, who'd lost all his hair. That's when Iggy Stooge became Iggy Pop.
Birth name: Susan Weaver
Behind the change: She switched to "Sigourney," a name that pops up once in "The Great Gatsby," at the age of 14. "It was an act of desperation," Weaver later explained, "because I didn't like being called Susie."
Birth name: Farrokh Bulsara
Behind the change: Born in Zanzibar, a British protectorate in East Africa, the future Queen frontman adopted the name Freddie while attending a British-style boarding school in India. He legally changed his name to Freddie Mercury, a moniker better suited to his budding rock star image, around the time Queen was formed in 1970.
Birth name: Cornelius Crane Chase
Behind the change: A 14th-generation New Yorker, he was named after his mother's stepfather, Cornelius Vanderbilt Crane. But his grandmother give him his nickname, taken from the Middle English "Ballad of Chevy Chase."
Birth name: Cherilyn Sarkisian
Behind the change: In 1964, she and Sonny Bono formed a duo called Caesar & Cleo, and soon after that she recorded a now-forgotten single under the name Cherilyn. But the breakthrough came in 1965, when they released "I Got You Babe" as Sonny & Cher.
Birth name: Michel Shalhoub
Behind the change: He made the change in 1955, when he converted to Islam in order to marry an Egyptian actress.
Birth name: Archibald Alexander Leach
Behind the change: A Paramount executive asked him to change his name to "something that sounded more all-American, like Gary Cooper." "King Kong" star Fay Wray suggested "Cary Lockwood." The British actor then picked "Grant" from an approved list of names provided by Paramount publicists.
Birth name: Julie Anne Smith
Behind the change: When she registered with the Screen Actors Guild, every variation of her birth name was already taken. So she put together "Julie" and "Anne" and took her father's middle name as a surname.
Birth name: Vincent Damon Furnier
Behind the change: It's said that Furnier renamed himself after consulting a Ouija board, but he has dismissed that as an urban legend. Perhaps significantly, "Mayberry R.F.D." had a character called Alice Cooper, and the series debuted in 1968, the year Furnier adopted the name.
Birth name: Caryn Elaine Johnson
Behind the change: Starting out as a comic actor, she went by the name Whoopi Cushion (pronouncing the surname "ku-SHON," as if it were French). She later adopted "Goldberg"—a name in her part-Catholic, part-Jewish family—to offset "Whoopi."
Birth name: Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner
Behind the change: Before the 1977 debut of the Police, he played in jazz-fusion bands, often wearing a black-and-yellow striped sweater. A bandleader said he looked like a bee. That led to "Sting," which stuck. As he told Time magazine in 2011, "You could shout 'Gordon' in the street and I would just move out of your way."
Birth name: Betty Joan Perske
Behind the change: After her parents' divorce, she adopted the Romanian form of the second half of her mother's maiden name, which was Weinstein-Bacal. Howard Hawks, who directed her in 1944's "To Have and Have Not," gave her the screen name Lauren. "He felt that Lauren Bacall was better sounding than Betty Bacall," the actress said, adding, "He wanted to mold me. He wanted to control me."
Birth name: Anna Mae Bullock
Behind the change: She gave up her maiden name when she married Ike Turner, who then changed her first name to Tina. "If I ran away, Tina was his name," she later said. "It was patented … so he could own me."
Birth name: Bernard Schwartz
Behind the change: His stage name combined a character in a novel, Anthony Adverse, with an anglicized version of Kurtz, a surname in his mother's family. As his daughter Jamie Lee Curtis tells it, "He was in the navy, he was present for the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay—then he became this whole other thing, he changed his name and he changed his life."
Birth name: Chaim Witz
Behind the change: Born in Israel, he acquired the more American-sounding name Gene Klein as a kid, when his family moved to the U.S. By the time he formed Kiss, in 1973, he was Gene Simmons, aka the Demon.
Birth name: Maurice Micklewhite
Behind the change: He went by Michael Scott until his agent informed him that there was another London actor with that name. Looking for inspiration, the former Maurice Micklewhite spotted "The Caine Mutiny" on a movie theater marquee. From then on, he was Michael Caine.
Birth name: Roberta Joan Anderson
Behind the change: She was always Joan. Then, at age 13, she switched to Joni because she liked the way the "i" in the name of her art teacher, Henry Bonli, looked on a canvas. Eight years later, thanks to an impulsive marriage to fellow folk singer Chuck Mitchell, she became Joni Mitchell.
Birth name: Marvin Lee Aday
Behind the change: His father called him "Meat" because of his size, and that led to the name of his first band, Meat Loaf Soul.
Birth name: Eunice Kathleen Waymon
Behind the change: While training to become a classical concert pianist, she supported herself by performing at a bar in Atlantic City—and took a stage name so her mother wouldn't find out she was playing "the devil's music." "Nina" was based on niña, or "little girl," a pet name a boyfriend had given her. "Simone" came from the French actress Simone Signoret.
Birth name: Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko
Behind the change: "I don't mind 'Natalie,' but I hate 'Wood,'" she said of her stage name. By then, she was stuck with it. A studio executive had replaced her Russian birth name when she was a child, before her breakout role in "Miracle on 34th Street."
Birth name: Ramon Antonio Gerardo Estevez
Behind the change: With a mother from Ireland and a father from Spain, he was raised Catholic and named himself after the popular archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. The future "West Wing" star took his first name from Robert Dale Martin, a CBS casting director who helped him early in his career.
Birth name: Carlos Irwin Estévez
Behind the change: Before being expelled from high school, he appeared as Carlos Estévez in amateur films made with his brother, Emilio, and classmates Sean Penn and Rob Lowe. After that, Carlos followed in his father's footsteps, anglicizing his name and becoming an actor.
Birth name: Reginald Kenneth Dwight
Behind the change: "Elton John" began as a stage name inspired by jazz saxophonist Elton Dean and blues singer Long John Baldry. The legendary rocker later changed his legal name to Elton Hercules John. ("Hercules," a childhood nickname, was the name of a horse on a British sitcom.)
Birth name: Lucille LeSueur
Behind the change: The head of publicity at MGM said her surname sounded too much like "sewer" and initiated a "Name the Star" contest in a movie magazine. The winning name, Joan Arden, turned out to be taken, so the studio changed "Arden" to "Crawford."
Birth name: Jerome Silberman
Behind the change: He chose his stage name at 26, basing it on a Thomas Wolfe character, Eugene Gant, and playwright Thornton Wilder.
Birth name: Robert Zimmerman
Behind the change: Many say his stage name was inspired by Dylan Thomas, though Bob Dylan has denied it. According to biographer Daniel Mark Epstein, the truth is more complicated: As a 17-year-old aspiring musician, Bobby Zimmerman renamed himself Bob Dillon—after Matt Dillon of "Gunsmoke." The spelling changed when he became aware of the Welsh poet.
Birth name: Jamesetta Hawkins
Behind the change: When she began singing professionally, as a teenager, she simply inverted her first name.
Birth name: Paul David Hewson
Behind the change:"Bono" is a shortened version of "Bono Vox," one of several nicknames a gang of friends gave him when he was a teenager. Some say it came from "Bonavox," a brand of hearing aids. As a rock star brand, "Bono" certainly beats one of the singer's other early nicknames: Steinhegvanhuysenolegbangbangbang.
Birth name: Frederick Austerlitz
Behind the change: He and his sister began dancing professionally as children. That's when their mother decided to change their surname, which she associated with the famous battle in the Napoleonic Wars.
Birth name: Margarita Cansino
Behind the change: She got her start in a dance duo with her Spanish-born father—they were billed as the Dancing Cansinos. Then, at age 16, she signed with Fox and shortened her first name to Rita. Later, at Columbia Pictures, she adopted her mother's maiden name, Hayworth, after studio boss Harry Cohn said the name Cansino would limit her to "exotic" roles.
Birth name: Allan Konigsberg
Behind the change: Starting out as a joke writer, the future filmmaker legally changed his name to Heywood Allen when he was 17. High school classmates already knew him as Woody Allen.
Birth name: Margaret Mary Emily Anne Hyra
Behind the change: She made the switch to Ryan, her maternal grandmother's maiden name, when she registered for the Screen Actors Guild.
Birth name: Declan Patrick MacManus
Behind the change: He adopted the name D.P. Costello in honor of his father, a bandleader known publicly as Day Costello. Then, before the 1977 release of his first single, "Less Than Zero," the younger Costello's manager at Stiff Records suggested he combine Elvis Presley's first name with his dad's stage name.
Birth name: Issur Danielovitch
Behind the change: His family spoke Yiddish at home, but he went by the more American-sounding Izzy Demsky when he was growing up. Before joining the U.S. Navy during World War II—and well before he went to Hollywood—he legally changed his name to Kirk Douglas.
Michael J. Fox
Birth name: Michael Andrew Fox
Behind the change: He needed a middle initial to distinguish himself from character actor Michael Fox, but didn't like the sound of "Michael A. Fox." Inspired by another character actor, Michael J. Pollard, he went with "J" instead.
Birth name: Marion Morrison
Behind the change: Nicknamed "Little Duke" as a child, he was credited as Duke Morrison in his first movie. After that, although friends would still call him Duke, he became John Wayne, a name partly inspired by Revolutionary War general Anthony Wayne.
Birth name: Elizabeth Stamatina Fey
Behind the change: "Tina" came from the last two syllables of her Greek middle name. (Fey's mom was born in Greece.)
Birth name: Krishna Pandit Bhanji
Behind the change: Sir Ben once recalled trying out for a part when he was in college: "Someone said, 'Christina Blange?' I said, 'I think that's me.' And I couldn't quite get my cojones back to do a decent audition." He became Ben Kingsley after his father, who was of Indian descent, told him he needed an English-sounding name to succeed as an actor.
Birth name: Gladys Smith
Behind the change: The girl with the curls changed her name in 1907 because a Broadway producer insisted on it.
Birth name: Frances Ethel Gumm
Behind the change: From the age of two and a half, she sang as Baby Gumm with her two older sisters. At a performance in Chicago, when they were introduced as the Gumm Sisters, the audience laughed. Actor George Jessel, who was part of the same show, urged the trio to find a better stage name, and he later said he came up with "Judy Garland."
Birth name: Albert Einstein
Behind the change: "The real Albert Einstein changed his name to sound more intelligent," said Brooks, who took a stage name for the obvious reason.
Birth name: Norma Jeane Mortenson
Behind the change: Although Norma Jeane Mortenson is the name on her birth certificate, she was baptized Norma Jeane Baker—by then, her parents had split up. A 20th Century Fox talent scout came up with "Marilyn," and Monroe was her mother's maiden name, She legally changed her name to Marilyn Monroe in 1956, a decade after she began using it as a stage name.
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