Celebrity Names: But some of their birth names were so much better!

There was a time when it was de rigueur for performers to change their names—to anglicize those that they felt sounded too ‘foreign’ or to up the cuteness factor of their name (e.g. Alicia ? Jodie).  This doesn’t happen so much anymore (hat tip to you, Renee Zellweger and Zach Galifianakis)), unless you’re talking about rock stars and rappers—we have to admit 50 Cent sounds more intriguing than Curtis, Ginuwine than Elgin, and Foxy Brown foxier than Inga.

But looking back at some of the switches made in the past, and in light of changing fashions and trends,  a lot of the abandoned names now sound cooler –and often more sophisticated (Julia over Julie) –than their replacements.  Here some celebrity names before and after:

girls

Anne Rice—  HOWARD Allen Frances O’Brien (Howard was her father’s name — could her parents have been hoping for a son?)

Barbara Stanwyck– RUBY

Beverly Sills — BELLE, but always called ‘Bubbles’

Billie Holiday — ELEANORA

Cobie Smolders —  JACOBA

Diane Sawyer — LILA

Dido — FLORIAN Cloud de Bounevialle Armstrong (the name on her birth certificate, but she was called Dido from childhood)

Dyan Cannon — SAMILE Diane Friesen

Jenna Fischer — REGINA

Jodie Foster — ALICIA Christian

Joy Behar  — JOSEPHINA Victoria Occhiuto

Julie Andrews — JULIA

Lana Turner — JULIA (known as Judy)

Maria Callas  —  SOPHIA Cecelia (but called Mary)

Marie Osmond — OLIVE

Minnie Driver  —  AMELIA Fiona

Mitzi Gaynor — FRANCESCA Marlene de Czanyi von Gerber

Nicki Minaj —  ONIKA

Ruth Westheimer —  KAROLA (Dr. Ruth was born in Germany)

Tammy Wynette — VIRGINIA Wynette Pugh (she was called Wynette or Nettie when young; Tammy was inspired by the film Tammy and the Bachelor)

Tasha Tudor —  STARLING (Named for her father, soon rechristened Natasha after the heroine of War and Peace, then shortened to Tasha)

Toni Morrison —  CHLOE Ardelia

Traci Lords — NORA Louise –supposedly modeled on the Katherine Hepburn character, Tracy Lord, in The Philadelphia Story

boys

Al Jolson —  ASA Yoelson

Alan Alda  —  ALPHONSE D’Abruzzo

Ben Kingsley —  KRISHNA Banji

Bruce Willis  — WALTER Bruce

Casey Affleck  — CALEB Casey McGuire Affleck-Boldt

Charlie Sheen — CARLOS Irwin Estevez (brother Emilio stuck with his birth name)

Chevy Chase —  CORNELIUS Crane Chase (Cornelius was the name of his adoptive grandfather; nickname Chevy started by his grandmother after the old English poem, The Ballad of Chevy Chase.)

Danny Thomas —  AMOS Muzyad Yakhoob Kairouz (he was of Lebanese descent)

Elton John — REGINALD Kenneth

Elvis Costello —  DECLAN Patrick MacManus (his musician father had performed under the name Day Costello, so the surname was a tribute to him)

Gene Simmons  —  CHAIM Weitz (He was born and lived in Israel till the age of 8; first changed his name to Eugene/Gene Klein)

Glenn Ford — GWYLLYN

Ice Cube — OSHEA Jackson

Luke Perry  — COY Luther Perry III

Martin Sheen  —  RAMÓN Antonio Gerardo Estévez (he has expressed regrets at changing his name.)

Peter Lorre — LASZLO

Steve McQueen —  TERRENCE

Steven Bauer  — ESTEBAN Ernesto Echevarría Samson (he was born in Cuba, his stage surname was his maternal great-grandmother’s.)

If you were going into show biz, would you keep or change your name?

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18 Responses to “Celebrity Names: But some of their birth names were so much better!”

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halfkoreangirl Says:

May 23rd, 2012 at 11:35 pm

Marie Osmond is actually Olive Marie, but I’m guessing since her mother is also Olive, she goes by Marie.

Darci Says:

May 24th, 2012 at 12:32 am

People always tell me my name sounds like a movie star name, so I guess I better keep it if I ever become one! 🙂

wootz Says:

May 24th, 2012 at 1:20 am

Not that many of those are a huge improvement over the original, and some I’m wondering why on earth they changed their names. If you join the Screen Actors Guild and there’s already a member with your name, you have to somehow change yours, but that seems an unlikely reason for many of these changes. If ever I changed mine, it would be out of sheer boredom with my own name. 🙂

Samantha-Bianca Says:

May 24th, 2012 at 4:04 am

I wouldn’t change my name for acting, I don’t think but I’d like to write books one day and I’d change it to Sam H. Fleming. Shortening to Sam makes the author’s gender ambiguous, H is for my real surname and Fleming is my mother’s maiden name.

It always amused me that Bruce Willis was such an American Action Hero type when Bruce is such a stereotypically Aussie name!

ANd I wonder if Diane Sawyer changed from Lila because it doesn’t sound as grown-up?

namefan Says:

May 24th, 2012 at 7:36 am

Re: halfkoreangirl – Your comment on Marie Osmond raises the question of what’s a “stage name” and what’s not. In her case I don’t consider it one – she goes by her middle name to avoid confusion with her mother (which is quite common when one has the same first name as a living family member). On the other hand, for example I do consider Reese Witherspoon going by her middle name to be a stage name, since the reasoning for her doing so is connected to her fame. For a non-celebrity example, with our frequent blogger Abby Sandel, I do not consider that a pseudonym because Abigail is her real (albeit legally changed to) middle name, and her choice to go by that name is not for pseudonymous reasons.

I generally follow Wikipedia’s standard on real vs. stage names as seen at the link below: In essence if their reason for going by an alternate name or changing it is connected to their fame/profession/hobby/etc. I consider it to be a pseudonym, while if it’s for other reasons (e.g. adoption, marriage, simply not liking your original name and changing it for personal reasons, being known by a nickname to family, being transsexual) I don’t.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_stage_names

rabia_chrisden Says:

May 24th, 2012 at 7:47 am

Nicki Minaj’s real name is Onika Miraj. Oh if I were an actress in Hollywood I’d probably go by my real name and I love writing so I would change my name to R.C. Fields to make it hard for readers to know my gender (which is female)kinda like J.K. Rowling.

TinaBina Says:

May 24th, 2012 at 9:09 am

Ya pretty much everyone had a better name before, which is why I get really annoyed when people change their name! I know sometimes for political reasons, or if the original name was just too impossible, but still. I have seen many berries chatting about renaming themselves and its sad. Many have great first names and I think they are just so into the hype of names they feel the need to name something, and they are all they have. Like other berries, our parents spent time and effort, not to mention pride in naming us. I would be offended if my child completely changes his or her name. A new nickname is fine, but it doesn’t sit well with me when people get all hooplahed about changing a perfectly fine name.

If I were an actress I wouldn’t change my name. I would go by my maiden name though, it was exotic and beautiful. My married name I do not care for, I just took it because it meant something bigger to my to share DH’s name.

GemmaV Says:

May 24th, 2012 at 11:26 am

I’m not sure that I’d include Cobie Smolders on this list. In Dutch Cobie or Coby are very common short forms/nicknames for the more formal (and often old family name) Jacoba, similar to how some Elizabeths go by Liz but wouldn’t be considered to have “changed” their name by doing so.

ksheja Says:

May 24th, 2012 at 1:14 pm

girls

Anne Rice– HOWARD Allen Frances O’Brien

I wonder which name her parents called her. I have to say I like Anne better than the rest, especially Howard on a girl! Howard was my grandfather’s name.

Barbara Stanwyck– RUBY:
I adtually don’t like either name but I’d choose Ruby over Barbara. I guess Ruby sounded too old fashioned at the time.

Beverly Sills –
I think I like Beverly and Belle about equally. Don’t care for Bubbles!

Billie Holiday – ELEANORA
I’d rather be Eleanora any day.

Cobie Smolders — JACOBA

I don’t know who this is -Jacoba sounds better to me.

Diane Sawyer – LILA
I like Lila much better.

Dido – FLORIAN Cloud de Bounevialle Armstrong (the name on her birth certificate, but she was called Dido from childhood)
Dido? Don’t like it. Florian is more interesting but I thought it was only a boy’s name.

Dyan Cannon – SAMILE Diane Friesen
Samile? Not sure how to say it and not sure which name I like better.

Jenna Fischer – REGINA

I like Jenna more.

Jodie Foster – ALICIA Christian

Way prefer Alicia to Jodie. Doesn’t seem to be a name that needed changing.

Joy Behar – JOSEPHINA Victoria Occhiuto
Josephine is more interesting and I love Victoria.

Julie Andrews – JULIA
Julia sounds more modern now, but Julie was the favored name back then and there’s nothing really wrong with it. It’s the French vrsion of the name.

Lana Turner – JULIA (known as Judy)
I’d rather be Julia.

Maria Callas – SOPHIA Cecelia (but called Mary)
Well, I like all of those names but would have kept Sophia.

Marie Osmond – OLIVE
I like Marie a lot better.

Minnie Driver – AMELIA Fiona

Amelia over Minnie any day.

Mitzi Gaynor – FRANCESCA Marlene de Czanyi von Gerber
Hmm. I would have kept Francesca but I guess Mitzi has its charms.

Nicki — ONIKA
Onika is more interesting.

Ruth Westheimer — KAROLA (Dr. Ruth was born in Germany)
I like Karola better than Ruth. Carola never really caught on in the US.

Tammy Wynette – VIRGINIA Wynette Pugh (she was called Wynette or Nettie when young; Tammy was inspired by the film Tammy and the Bachelor)

Virginia is much nicer to me than Tammy.

Tasha Tudor – STARLING (Named for her father, soon rechristened Natasha after the heroine of War and Peace, then shortened to Tasha)
Don’t think I’d like to be called Starling.

Toni Morrison – CHLOE Ardelia
Chloe over Toni, yes.

Traci Lords — NORA Louise –supposedly modeled on the Katherine Hepburn character, Tracy Lord, in The Philadelphia Story
Yes, Nora is more in keeping with today’s taste in names.

boys

Al Jolson — ASA Yoelson
Asa is much better.

Alan Alda — ALPHONSE D’Abruzzo
Hmm. I think I like Alan better.

Ben Kingsley – KRISHNA Banji
Krishna is more interesting.

Bruce Willis – WALTER Bruce
Not a fan of either!

Casey Affleck – CALEB Casey McGuire Affleck-Boldt
Casey or Caleb is fine with me.

Charlie Sheen – CARLOS Irwin Estevez (brother Emilio stuck with his birth name)
I think I like Charlie better than Carlos, but I like Emilio more than either.

Chevy Chase – CORNELIUS Crane Chase (Cornelius was the name of his adoptive grandfather; nickname Chevy started by his grandmother after the old English poem, The Ballad of Chevy Chase.)
I think I prefer Chevy since Cornelius is just nms (but I like Neil as a nn for it).

Danny Thomas – AMOS Muzyad Yakhoob Kairouz (he was of Lebanese descent)
Amos is just not for me, but Danny is kind of boring.

Elton John – REGINALD Kenneth
I’d rather be Elton than Reginald.

Elvis Costello — DECLAN Patrick MacManus (his musician father had performed under the name Day Costello, so the surname was a tribute to him)
okay – Declan is great!

Gene Simmons – CHAIM Weitz (He was born and lived in Israel till the age of 8; first changed his name to Eugene/Gene Klein)
Oh, I didn’t know about this one. That’s a big change. Not fond of either name.

Glenn Ford – GWYLLYN
I can see why he thought it would have pronunciation problems. But it is definitely more interesting.

Ice Cube – OSHEA Jackson
I always wonder if friends and family call them by their stage names.

Luke Perry — COY Luther Perry III
Well, I like Luther, but I like Luke more.

Martin Sheen — RAMÓN Antonio Gerardo Estévez (he has expressed regrets at changing his name.)
I like Martin a bit more than Ramon but I think he should have kept his real name.

Peter Lorre – LASZLO
Oh yes, Laszlo is more interesting.

Steve McQueen – TERRENCE
I think I prefer Steve (or Stephen, rather).

Steven Bauer – ESTEBAN Ernesto Echevarría Samson (he was born in Cuba, his stage surname was his maternal great-grandmother’s.)
I like both.

If you were going into show biz, would you keep or change your name?

I’d probably keep my first name but I’d use a different last name that is easier to pronounce and spell.

mermuse Says:

May 24th, 2012 at 1:20 pm

This is very interesting in light of what we were just talking about earlier this week–how does your name affect your fate/personality? If you can just “change” your name at will, what does that mean? Which name is having the impact on you? Are you abandoning one fate for another? Are you denying your true self? How might Jodie Foster’s life been different if she had stayed an Alicia? Would it have been at all?

LyndsayJenness Says:

May 24th, 2012 at 1:27 pm

I was in theatre for years and used my first and middle name and dropped my last name. My screen name is my first and middle. My maiden name was kinda boring, so I used this. I used to fantasize about changing my name, probably to Scarlett or Elizabeth. And while I might have preferred to be named one of those, I wouldn’t change it now. If I got famous now for some reason I would still not use my real last name, I’d stick with Lyndsay Jenness. If I were to start writing children’s books I might consider changing it to something a little more fun, though.

I can’t imagine why most of those celebs changed their names. I vastly prefer most of their original names to the changes. Everyone has different taste though, obviously!

ozdust Says:

May 24th, 2012 at 6:55 pm

Julie Andrews- Her birth name is Julia Wells and when her mother remarried their surname changed to Andrews.
She thought Julia Andrews was difficult to say so she started going by Julie.

GoodHope Says:

May 24th, 2012 at 7:50 pm

Barbara Stanwyck’s fn/mn was Ruby Catherine. I love it! I also really like Laszlo.

I suspect I’m alone in this, but I actually prefer Billie to Eleanora.

LyndsayJenness Says:

May 24th, 2012 at 9:07 pm

GoodHope, I’m with you there! Well, I wouldn’t name a baby girl Billie, but Eleanora Holiday wouldn’t have been half as cool as Billie Holiday.

nat108 Says:

May 25th, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Some of you seem unaware of racism and prejudice, you have to consider the time for many of these name changes. They changed their names because if they hadn’t they’d never get jobs. A young Ramon Estevez and Krishna Baji would get overlooked, but Martin Sheen and Ben Kingsley would get a chance to audition for the leading role

joel613 Says:

August 21st, 2012 at 1:31 pm

For some of the names particularly the golden era actress the name change came about to fit to an image that they were trying to define. Ruby Stevens sounds like a chorus girl which is what Barbara Stanwyck started out as but as she refined her style her more famous and ladylike like choice came to fit her perfectly, everyone called her Missy behind the scenes anyway. Julia Jean Mildred Frances Turner or Judy as she was known when she was growing up hardly has the same glamorous allure as Lana. Two others, Monetta Eloyse Darnell is clunky and hardly as fitting for a great beauty as Linda Darnell, and Edythe Marrener hardly captures the fiery and tough girl persona the same way Susan Hayward does.

AlessandraE Says:

November 8th, 2012 at 12:37 am

What? No Joan Crawford?! Unacceptable! Nameberry, simply unacceptable!

Joan Crawford, born Lucille Fay LeSueur. Lucille LeSueur is The Holy Grail of awesome actresses names, I think. The reason why she changed it was because the people in charge of publicity at MGM Studios (for whom she was working for) thought her name sounded too fake. They also thought it sounded a bit like “LeSewer” which was probably not a good thing to be associated with her career. But I think it was due to mispronunciation.

dewdropsandroses Says:

July 17th, 2015 at 5:31 pm

I agree with so many of these!!

But::: According to Barbara Minty (his wife), Steve McQueen was born Steven Terrence McQueen….he didn’t change his name. 🙂 Terrence was a name he shared with his father, who left his mother before even meeting Steve…I think it’s quite understandable that he doesn’t go by his middle name. lol.

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