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

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:


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


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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About the Author

Linda Rosenkrantz

Linda Rosenkrantz

Linda Rosenkrantz is the co-founder of Nameberry, and co-author with Pamela Redmond of the ten baby naming books acknowledged to have revolutionized American baby naming. You can follow her personally at InstagramTwitter and Facebook. She is also the author of the highly acclaimed New York Review Books Classics novel Talk and a number of other books.