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Most parents don’t have “future superstar” in mind when naming their beloved children. And perhaps that’s why so many celebrities seem to ditch their birth names in favor of alternatives that are a bit more, well, fabulous. But just who are Elizabeth Grant, Stefani Germanotta and Onika Maraj?
20. Olivia Wilde
It’s perhaps understandable that Olivia Wilde ditched her given last name in high school; she was born Olivia Cockburn, after all. Why did she choose “Wilde”? Because she comes from a family of writers – and Oscar Wilde was one of the best scribes around.
19. Lana Del Rey
Singer Elizabeth Grant struggled to make a meaningful impact on the music scene in the late noughties. However, after a masterful – and somewhat controversial – reinvention, Grant became Lana Del Rey, and a star was born.
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18. Tom Cruise
Apparently, it was talent agent Tobe Gibson who first recognized that Thomas Cruise Mapother IV just doesn’t have “Hollywood megastar” written all over it. And let’s face it, “Tom Cruise” looks far better atop blockbusting movie posters.
17. Lady Gaga
As befits the pop star’s enigmatic character, Lady Gaga’s real name is the tongue-twisting Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. It was producer Rob Fusari who initially christened her Lady Gaga – inspired by the Queen song “Radio Gaga.”
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16. Natalie Portman
Actress Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem in 1981 and given the Hebrew name Neta-Lee Hershlag. Then when she became an actress, she assumed her grandmother’s maiden name in order to give her family a certain amount of anonymity.
15. Blake Lively
Blake Lively’s real name is Blake Brown, yet her mother and father are called Elaine and Ernie Lively. Blake’s dad, Ernie, though, was originally Ernie Brown before he married Elaine – who, strangely, got the name Lively from a previous marriage. Confused? We are.
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14. Calvin Harris
Adam Richard Wiles started out making a soul record and so chose a stage name that he believed disguised his ethnicity. Now hitmaker Calvin Harris currently has tongues wagging as Taylor Swift’s boyfriend.
13. Jamie Foxx
When Eric Marlon Bishop began performing stand-up in 1989, he noted that women were more likely to be asked to entertain the crowd first. So for his stage name he chose “Jamie” because it is gender-neutral; “Foxx,” meanwhile, is an homage to the comic Redd Foxx.
When Lorde found fame in 2013, her school friends knew her as Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor. As she explained of her stage name to Interview magazine in 2013, “I thought ‘Lord’ was super rad but really masculine.” So she added an “e” to feminize it.
11. Iggy Azalea
Australian rapper Amethyst Amelia Kelly took an altogether different approach when coming up with her stage name. You see, “Iggy” was the name of her dog, while “Azalea” is the street on which her family lived.
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10. Nicki Minaj
As a little one, Onika Tanya Maraj invented different identities to escape the constant hostility between her parents at home. Then one day a character emerged with the name Nicki Minaj, and that particular handle has given the rapper great success.
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9. Joaquin Phoenix
Joaquin Rafael Bottom didn’t become a Phoenix until his oft-traveling family took on the name in his childhood. In fact, even then, Joaquin was credited as “Leaf” in his early roles, and he only returned to being Joaquin Phoenix as a teenager.
8. Bruno Mars
Peter Gene Hernandez felt a name change was necessary in order to avoid being branded as a solely Hispanic artist. He chose Bruno because that was his childhood nickname and Mars presumably because it sounded cool.
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7. Stevie Wonder
Stevland Hardaway Judkins got his first name change when his mother decided that he should be called Stevland Morris after his father had left. He reportedly got the stage name Stevie Wonder, though, because he was known as a “wonder” thanks to his musical talent.
6. Miley Cyrus
Destiny Hope Cyrus was apparently a happy baby, which earned her the nickname “Smiley.” This, naturally, was then abbreviated to “Miley,” and the singer legally switched her handle to Miley Ray Cyrus in 2008. The “Ray” part is after her dad, Billy Ray Cyrus, in case you didn’t know.
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5. Whoopi Goldberg
If you’ve ever thought Whoopi Goldberg’s name bears a resemblance to that of a joke toy, well, you’re right. In 2006 Caryn Elaine Johnson told The New York Times Magazine that she is “a little gassy” – and that the whoopee-cushion nickname she received because of this stuck.
4. Demi Moore
Demetria Gene Guynes married her first spouse, musician Freddy Moore, while still a teenager and took his last name for her burgeoning acting career. And, of course, Demi Moore has kept the name to this day – despite her high-profile marriages to Bruce Willis and Ashton Kutcher.
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3. Woody Allen
Deciding to pursue a career in comedy at 17, Allan Stewart Konisberg officially switched his name to Heywood Allen in 1952 in an effort to sound less solemn. The tactic clearly worked, too: “Woody” Allen is still a household name today.
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2. Vin Diesel
Mark Sinclair Vincent was actually a New York-based bouncer when he decided to change his name. But while the “Vin” part is obviously a truncation of his last name, he chose “Diesel” because his buddies said he had boundless energy.
1. Dr. Dre
Despite his having been born into a musical family, it’s likely that Andre Romelle Young’s parents didn’t have “rap superstar” in mind when they named him. With him performing in some of L.A.’s nightclubs, however, the “Master of Mixology” Dr. Dre was born.