16 Actors Who Changed Their Names
Issur? Ilyena? Krishna? While it’s not uncommon for celebrities to adopt a new moniker, some of these name changes still took us by surprise!
The majority of celebrities, both past and present, have given themselves stage names while on their quest for fame. However, not everyone did it to make a lasting impression to an adoring public—there’s a wide range of reasons why some of our favourite actors now bear monikers different than those they were given at birth.
Click through below to find out why some of our favourite actors chose to cut ties with their given names.
Birth name: Caryn Elaine Johnson
Story: As an up-and-coming standup comedian, the Oscar winner went by the stage name Whoopi Cushion (pronounced KU-shon). As Goldberg once told a reporter: “If you get a little gassy, you’ve got to let it go. So people used to say to me, ‘You’re like a whoopee cushion.’ And that’s where the name came from.” As for the last name, her mother told her she’d never be taken seriously in the film industry unless she had a Jewish-sounding last name.
Birth name: Issur Danielovitch
Story: Growing up, the man we know as Kirk Douglas—and Spartacus!—initially went by the name Izzy Demsky, borrowing the last name from an uncle who’d arrived in the United States before his parents. The newly-named Demsky family, immigrants from Belarus, spoke Yiddish at home—but young Izzy found a household with six sisters quite stifling and he itched to get out and make it on his own. He legally changed his name to Kirk Douglas upon entering the U.S. Navy during the Second World War—and never looked back.
Birth name: Frances Ethel Gumm
Story: The youngest of three daughters, Frances made a name for herself as Baby Gumm in her family’s touring vaudeville act. The trio became known as the “Gumm Sisters” well into their teens, selling out shows across the U.S. Actor George Jessel, who performed alongside the Gumm Sisters for years, had publicly taken credit for choosing Garland as their surname. He claimed he named them after Carole Lombard’s character Lily Garland in the movie, Twentieth Century. Frances eventually changed her first name to “Judy” after the popular Hoagy Carmichael song.
Birth name: Maurice Micklewhite
Story: He got into acting at the age of 20, starting with small walk-on roles at the Carfax Electric Theatre in Horsham, Sussex. In 1954, he adopted the stage name “Michael Scott”—that is, until his agent called and informed him there was already another Michael Scott performing in the same theatre company. Desperate for a new name, he noticed the Odeon Cinema across the street from him was playing The Caine Mutiny and, just like that, he had his new surname.
Birth name: Marion Morrison
Story: Growing up, the screen icon was always referred to by friends and family as “Little Duke.” In fact, in his first movie role he appeared in the credits as Duke Morrison. But when his film career began to gain traction he opted for something entirely different, calling himself “John Wayne” after the American Revolution hero, General Anthony Wayne.
Birth name: Lucille LaSueur
Story: An MGM executive demanded the actor-singer-dancer triple threat adopt a new moniker, claiming her surname sounded too close to the word “sewer.” So MGM set up a “Name a Star” contest, where fans submitted examples of what they thought best suited the up-and-coming beauty. The winning entry was “Joan Arden”—but, alas, the new name was short-lived when studio execs realized it was identical to another blossoming actress they were prepping for fame. “Crawford” was then randomly selected from a list of studio-approved names as a suitable alternative—and so Lucille LaSueur became Joan Crawford.
Birth name: Archibald Leach
Story: According to B.P. Schulberg, general manager of Paramount Pictures, the British actor needed an “all-American name, like Gary Cooper” in order to make it into the big leagues. He’d initially suggested “Cary Lockwood,” but then nixed the idea, claiming it wasn’t the right fit. The surname “Grant” was eventually selected from a list of studio-approved names.
Birth name: Krishna Bhanji
Story: It was during an audition while in college when Kingsley first considered changing his name. As he told the Daily Mail: “I was sitting there waiting to go on with my audition piece and someone said, ‘Christina Blange?’ And I said, ‘I think that’s me.'” In order to retain ties with his family name and history, Kingsley drew inspiration for his stage name from his paternal grandfather’s nickname (“King Cloves”) and his father’s childhood nickname (“Benji”).
Birth name: Natalia Zakharenko
Story: Born to Russian immigrant parents, her father initially changed the family name to “Gurdin” shortly after arriving in the U.S. But it was the executives at RKO Radio Pictures who later decided to make little Natalia’s name “more American,” settling on Natalie Wood.
Birth name: Allan Stewart Konigsberg
Story: As a 17-yar-old budding comedian, he legally changed to Heywood Allen and started calling himself “Woody” a short time later.
Birth name: Norma Jeane Mortenson
Story: She was a woman of many monikers. The name on her birth certificate read Norma Jeane Mortenson, however she was baptized as Norma Jeane Baker. During her brief marriage to first husband James Dougherty, she took his surname. But by 1946, she’d started going by “Marilyn Monroe” although she didn’t legally change her name until 1956. “Monroe” was her mother’s maiden name and she reportedly nabbed her first name from stage actress Marilyn Miller.
Birth name: Susan Weaver
Story: Weaver hated the name Susan ever since childhood because she loathed being referred to as “Susie.” At the age of 14, Weaver cracked open her copy of The Great Gatsby and there was one name (mentioned only once in the entire book) that popped out at her: Sigourney. Well before she ever became a household name—and a celebrated alien hunter—she left the days of “Susie” behind her.
Birth name: Michel Chalhoub
Story: The Egyptian actor, whose adopted surname means “nobleman,” changed his name and converted to Islam (he was raised a Melkite Catholic) in order to marry fellow Egyptian actress Faten Hamama. Although the couple divorced in 1974, he remained Omar Sharif.
Birth name: Albert Einstein (yes, really!)
Story: By the age of 19, after dropping out of school to focus on a career in comedy, he legally changed his name to Albert Brooks, joking that “the real Albert Einstein changed his name to sound more intelligent.”
Birth name: Audrey Ruston
Story: During the Second World War, her father legally changed the family name to Hepburn-Ruston after (mistakenly) thinking he was a descendant of James Hepburn, the third husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. Oops!