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Goodbye, Norma Jean: Celebrities’ Stage Names Revealed

Making it in the entertainment business takes sacrifice, and for some aspiring stars, that means abandoning their name and selecting something more “American,” debonair, or 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

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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. 

Chaim Witz — Gene Simmons
Jonathan Leibowitz — Jon Stewart

Farrokh Bulsara — Freddie Mercury
Frederick Austerlitz — Fred Astaire
Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou — George Michael

Issur Danielovitch Demsky — Kirk Douglas
Eugene Orowitz — Michael Landon
Krishna Banji — Ben Kingsley
Anna Maria Luisa Italiano — Anne Bancroft

Alphonso D’Abruzzo — Alan Alda
Kalpen Modi — Kal Penn 

Man Up

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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
Leslie Townes Hope — Bob Hope
Merle Johnson, Jr. — Troy Donahue
Leslie Sebastian Charles — Billy Ocean
Stuart Leslie Goddard — Adam Ant
Coy Luther Perry III — Luke Perry 
Samuel Goldfish — Samuel Goldwyn

Is That One “T” or Two?

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Debby Wong / Shutterstock.com

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.

Cherilyn Sarkisian LaPiere — Cher
Mathangi Arulpragasam — M.I.A.
Aliaune Damala Akon Thiam — Akon
Jose Antonio Dominguez Bandera — Antonio Banderas
Florian Cloud  de Bounevialle Armstrong — Dido
Elgin Lumpkin — Ginuwine
Walter Matuschanskayasky — Walter Matthau

Better Off Before

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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. 

Caryn Johnson — Whoopi Goldberg
Lucille La Sueur — Joan Crawford
Camille Javal — Brigitte Bardot
Tara Patrick — Carmen Electra

Arnold Dorsey — Engelbert Humperdinck 
Brian Warner — Marilyn Manson
Ian Zappa — Dweezil Zappa
Ruby Stevens — Barbara Stanwyck

Why Bother?

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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. 

Johnny Hendrix — Jimi Hendrix
Marlon Brandeau — Marlon Brando
Andy Warhola — Andy Warhol 
Michael Bolotin — Michael Bolton
Sam Cook — Sam Cooke

The Name’s the Same

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Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com

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.

Katy Hudson — Katy Perry 
Michael Douglas — Michael Keaton
Albert Einstein — Albert Brooks

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