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Top 10 Celebrities Who Had to Change Their Name

VO: Rebecca Brayton
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Stars always seem to have the best names, but they weren’t all born with them. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 celebrities who needed a stage name.

For this list, we’re looking at some of the names in Hollywood that needed the most help before they could reach celebrity status - whether they were already taken by another celebrity, too hard to pronounce or just too long or unflattering.

#10: David Jones

Stage Name: David Bowie
We tragically lost this brilliant musician in early 2016. He will be remembered by a variety of stage names and characters he used over the years, such as the famous Ziggy Stardust, Major Tom, The Thin White Duke and Halloween Jack. But his most famous stage name was the one everyone knew him by - simply... David Bowie. Born David Jones, he initially began performing under the moniker “Davy Jones”. But with the popularity of The Monkees and their singer Davy Jones, he recognized the need to distinguish himself. Drawing inspiration from the American frontiersman Jim Bowie and his popular knife, David Bowie was born.

#9: Michael Douglas

Stage Name: Michael Keaton
Michael is a pretty common name historically, and it has rarely if ever experienced much of a dip in popularity. If you’re aMichael looking to make a name for yourself, the family name had better be distinct. Sadly, for a young Michael Keaton and his parents, his birth name, Michael Douglas, didn’t stand a chance. Michael Douglas of “Wall Street” fame was already an established actor in Hollywood, and a man in daytime broadcasting had already claimed Mike Douglas as his own. Although Keaton had already gotten a few roles credited as Michael Douglas, a name change became necessary when he was informed that he could not join the actors union without adopting an available stage name.

#8: Nicolas Coppola

Stage Name: Nicolas Cage
A surprising number of people are actually still unaware of this Hollywood family connection, but Nicolas Cage is a Coppola. It’s not a coincidence or a distant relation. Nicolas Cage is the nephew of the world famous director, Francis Ford Coppola, and his cousins include filmmaker Sofia Coppola, screenwriter Roman Coppola and actor Jason Schwartzman. He’s part of what can only be described as a Hollywood dynasty or royal family. The son of August Coppola, a literature professor and Joy Vogelsang,a dancer, Cage adopted his stage name in order to literally make a name for himself in the business, and to avoid any potential accusations of nepotism. Apparently “Cage” came from the Marvel character, Luke Cage.

#7: Joaquín Rafael Bottom


Stage Name: Joaquin Phoenix
Let’s have a bit of straight talk here. No one wants to see a movie starring Joaquin Rafael Bottom. Joaquin? Great first name. Rafael? Solid middle name. Bottom, as a surname? Kills any hopes for success. But the initial name change wasn’t for the sake of Joaquin’s acting career. His parents changed the family name to Phoenix after leaving the controversial religious group Children of God, as a symbol of their family’s rebirth. It was a good choice of surname, as Joaquin clearly went on to undergo aseries of rebirths throughout his life. As a child actor and until he was 15, he adopted the first name Leaf, in keeping with his other siblings, River, Rain, Liberty and Summer, all of whom also acted.

#6: Olivia Cockburn

Stage Name: Olivia Wilde
Born Olivia Cockburn, the now famous actress followed a similar logic to Nicolas Cage in changing her name. The child of two renowned journalists, her family also boasts two journalist uncles, an older sister who is well-known New York Civil Rights attorney, and a novelist/journalist grandfather. These family ties may not seem as looming as the Cage’s Coppola connection, but Wilde still felt it best to act under a stage name in order to distinguish herself. She took the name Wilde from writer Oscar Wilde at a young age, when she was still in high school. She apparently also considered the adopted name to be in honor of the many writers in her family, who often wrote under pseudonyms.

#5: Louis Székely


Stage Name: Louis C.K.
Louis Suh… Louis Zee… Louis Székely? This world famous comedian and all-around hilarious actor adopted the abbreviated C.K. because it’s actually as close as the average person is ever going to get to properly pronouncing his traditional Hungarian surname. Much to the surprise of those unfamiliar with Hungarian names, it’s actually pronounced “SEE-Kay”, so “C.K.”, which many still pronounce “See-KAY”, works as a remarkably close approximation. You’ve gotta give the guy credit for finding a way to force the world into saying his surname correctly rather than just passively adopting a more generic name.

#4: Issur Danielovitch

Stage Name: Kirk Douglas
Louis may have found himself a nice workaround in order to keep the proper phonetic pronunciation of his family name, but some people of European descent don’t have a two-letter solution available. Douglas’ family had already adopted the simplername Demsky when they immigrated to America, so despite “Issur Danielovitch” appearing on his birth certificate, he went by the name Izzy Demsky growing up. As early as high school, he knew he wanted to become an actor. But for an actor in the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema, Issur Danielovitch just didn’t fly, and Izzy Demsky wouldn’t cut it either. Therefore, just before enlisting in the American Navy to fight in WWII, Kirk Douglas became Izzy Demsky’s legal name.

#3: Krishna Bhanji

Stage Name: Ben Kingsley
Officially knighted in 2002, the son of a British actress, Anna Lyna Mary and a medical doctor of Gujarati Indian descent, Rahimtulla Harji Bhanji, Kingsley was born and raised in Yorkshire, England. Around the time he transitioned into film acting, and having just blown an audition following the butchering of his name, Kingsley considered a stage name, acknowledging that the birth name Krishna Bhanji would limit his career. Still wanting to honor his family however, Kingsley found his stage name by combining the nicknames of his father and grandfather, “Benji” and “King Clove”.

#2: Terry Eugene Bollea

Stage Name: Hulk Hogan
You know who’s seriously intimidating, even in his 60s? Hulk Hogan. You know who’s not super intimidating, regardless of size? Anyone named Terry Eugene Bollea. “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan is one of the most famous wrestlers in history and his success isa result of his charisma, distinct look and smart self-promotion. But at the end of the day, it’s hard to imagine any famous wrestler turned actor/TV personality/entrepreneur successfully making it with a name like Terry Eugene Bollea. Earlier in his career, when a talk show host noted that Terry actually physically dwarfed Lou Ferrigno, the actor who played the “Hulk”, Bollea began performing as Terry “The Hulk” Boulder. The name would ultimately evolve into the household name he now bears - Hulk Hogan.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
- Farrokh Bulsara
Stage Name: Freddie Mercury

- Margaret Mary Emily Anne Hyra
Stage Name: Meg Ryan

- Neta-Lee Hershlag
Stage Name: Natalie Portman

- Helen ‘Ilyena’ Lydia Mironoff
Stage Name: Helen Mirren

- Chaim Witz
Stage Name: Gene Simmons

- Marion Robert Morrison
Stage Name: John Wayne

#1: Albert Einstein

Stage Name: Albert Brooks
He might not be the most famous of celebrities; the actor, comedian and filmmaker is more known for his recent voice work and earlier comedy than anything else, but his role as Bernie Rose in the 2011 film “Drive” earned him dozens of awards and nominations. Albert clinches the top spot because no celebrity has ever needed a name change more desperately than him. It’s tough to make a name for yourself when your name is already one of the most famous in history. Admittedly, the name change has resulted in a lot of confusion as to whether he’s related to comedy legend Mel Brooks – he’s not, however his brother Bob Einstein is better known by HIS stage name, Super Dave Osborne. All in all, we think this is one name change that helped rather than hindered his career.

Do you agree with our list? Which celebrity name change do you think was most desperately needed? For more historical top 10s published every day, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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