Who would actually name their child Meat Loaf or Queen Latifah? The parents of Marvin Aday and Dana Owens definitely didn’t.
Making it in the entertainment business takes sacrifice, and for some aspiring stars, that means abandoning the name their parents chose for them and selecting something more “American,” more debonair, or more unique. In the golden age of Hollywood, getting a new name was akin to getting a union card—a rite of passage that everyone went through. These days, though, more people choose to keep their name. Sometimes we don’t know why some performers change their name, but we do know one thing: The Wizard of Oz just wouldn’t be the same if Frances Gumm hadn’t become Judy Garland.
You Can Never Go Home Again
The most popular reason to change a name in Hollywood is to camouflage the actor’s ethnic identity. In the 1940s and ’50s, Italian- and Jewish-sounding names were mostly what got scrapped, but even today, stars with many different ethnic heritages still feel the need to sound as Americanized as possible.
Alphonso D’Abruzzo—Alan Alda
Issur Danielovitch Demsky—Kirk Douglas
Krishna Banji—Ben Kingsley
Chaim Witz—Gene Simmons
Frederick Austerlitz—Fred Astaire
Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou—George Michael
Farrokh Bulsara—Freddie Mercury
Anna Maria Luisa Italiano—Anne Bancroft
Jonathan Leibowitz—Jon Stewart
Eugene Orowitz—Michael Landon
Kalpen Modi—Kal Penn
It can be hard for a man to pass himself off as a matinee idol when his given name is Courtney or Ashley. That’s why many male stars change their effeminate names to more masculine-sounding ones.
Marion Morrison—John Wayne
Merle Johnson, Jr.—Troy Donahue
Leslie Townes Hope—Bob Hope
Stuart Leslie Goddard—Adam Ant
Leslie Sebastian Charles—Billy Ocean
Samuel Goldfish—Samuel Goldwyn
Coy Luther Perry III—Luke Perry
Is That One “T” or Two?
Anybody who has spent her life having teachers, friends, and DMV clerks mispronounce and misspell her moniker can tell you it’s tough to have a complicated name. Performers commonly make it easier for their future fans by shortening complicated names to something catchier—or at least something a little less confusing.
Aliaune Damala Akon Thiam—Akon
Cherilyn Sarkisian LaPiere—Cher
Jose Antonio Dominguez Bandera—Antonio Banderas
Walter Matuschanskayasky—Walter Matthau
Florian Cloud de Bounevialle Armstrong—Dido
Better Off Before
While nobody can fault an actor for changing his name from “Herschel” to “Harry,” some people’s name changes are baffling because the original name seems perfectly fine—in fact, sometimes it’s even better than the chosen name.
Lucille La Sueur—Joan Crawford
Camille Javal—Brigitte Bardot
Ian Zappa—Dweezil Zappa
Brian Warner—Marilyn Manson
Caryn Johnson—Whoopi Goldberg
Ruby Stevens—Barbara Stanwyck
Tara Patrick—Carmen Electra
Arnold Dorsey—Englebert Humperdinck
What’s the point of changing a single letter or syllable? Although image is everything in Hollywood, some details are so miniscule, it’s hard to imagine that they could make or break a career.
Michael Bolotin—Michael Bolton
Sam Cook—Sam Cooke
Johnny Hendrix—Jimi Hendrix
Marlon Brandeau—Marlon Brando
Andy Warhola—Andy Warhol
The Name’s the Same
What do you do when your name is already famous? If you’re an actor, you change your already-famous name to something different. Some performers’ names became successful long before they did.
Michael Douglas—Michael Keaton
Albert Einstein—Albert Brooks
Katy Hudson—Katy Perry
It’s not just the Axl Roses and Doris Days of the world who use obviously fake names—stage names are almost as common in Hollywood as nipple slips or nose jobs. That is, except for the one name that everyone assumes is fake … it may be hard to believe, but Ms. Ciccone’s first name really is Madonna.
Updated February 25, 2011