The names we are born with shape our personality and stay with us for life. However, many of us while growing up have opted for a different name for various reasons. While for some it denotes new beginnings, for others it was an alternative to a difficult-to-pronounce name.
This holds true for celebrities too. Among several reasons, they choose a different name over privacy concerns, uniqueness, and something that would resonate with fans while adding a personal touch that reminds them of their past.
In the entertainment industry, stars usually change their names before foraying into stardom. However, there are some, like Kanye West (now known as Ye), who have opted for different names at the peak of their careers.
Whatever the reason may be, such names continue to represent their true selves and the past, lending uniqueness at the same time. From paying tribute to their favourite superheroes and pets to childhood nicknames, here are 12 celebrities who have changed their names for different reasons.
The most recent one to join this bandwagon is rapper, record producer and clothing entrepreneur Kanye West, who has legally changed his name to Ye.
On 24 August, 2021, the 44-year-old artist filed a petition to change his name to simply ‘Ye’. Citing “personal reasons” behind his decision, West chose to use his new name without a middle or last name; it was approved by a Los Angeles judge on 18 October.
In a radio interview with radio host Big Boy the same year, he said: “I believe ‘ye’ is the most commonly used word in the Bible, and in the Bible it means you. So I’m you, I’m us, it’s us.”
West added that he “went from Kanye, which means the only one, to just Ye – just being a reflection of our good, our bad, our confused, everything.”
Born Joaquin Rafael Bottom — the actor-producer who won over audiences and critics with his work in Joker (2019) — his parents left the infamous religious cult Children of God, which began in the United States in the late 1960s. After leaving the sect in 1978, the family adopted the last name Phoenix to represent “rebirth”.
Around this time, when he was about four years old, Phoenix changed his first name to ‘Leaf’ because he wanted it to depict nature, similar to his other siblings’ names River and Rain. The actor was known as Leaf till he was 16 and has a few acting credits under it too. At 16, he went back to using his original name in 1991.
The Godfather actress’ real last name is Hall. In a 2017 interview with Irish Examiner, she shared: “My name is Diane Hall and what happened was I had to change my name when I joined Actors’ Equity, which is our union, because there was a Diane Hall. So I picked my mother’s maiden name, which was Keaton.”
The 26-year-old supermodel was born Jelena Noura Hadid. In a 2015 interview with Vogue, the star explained that her mother Yolanda Hadid’s nickname was Gigi and how it was passed down to her when she was young.
In the same interview, she said, “In first or second grade, there was a girl named Helena and it got confusing with the teacher who had to call out our names. So the teacher asked my mom, ‘If I needed to call Jelena a nickname, what would it be?’ And my mom was like, ‘I call her Gigi sometimes,’ and the name stuck.”
The Australian rapper-singer’s real name is Amethyst Amelia Kelly, but only a handful of people are allowed to call her by this name. In a 2020 tweet, she said that those who are “allowed” to address her by her real name are “elite”.
Later, a fan asked her if she would name one of her albums after her actual name, she tweeted: “No because I feel names are very personal and I never wanted strangers to be able to use mine when talking ***t and putting weirdo negative energy on it. Gotta protect your vibe.”
Her stage name is a combination of her Iggy — her first pet’s name — and the street she grew up in Australia — Azalea.
Jennifer Aniston is one of the prominent celebrities who have changed their names. The star’s actual last name is Anastassakis. Her Greek father John Aniston, who also forayed into show business as an actor, changed his name from Yannis Anistasskakis to John Aniston as the former was difficult for some people to pronounce. The adopted surname was passed on to his daughter too.
Oscar-winning actor Nicolas Cage was born Nicolas Kim Coppola and is the nephew of The Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola.
To separate his identity from his famous uncle, he started using the last name Cage, which was also an ode to superhero Luke Cage.
Multifaceted Israeli-American actress Natalie Portman’s original name is Neta-Lee Hershlag. She took up her maternal grandmother’s surname when she was making her acting debut at the age of 13 with Léon: The Professional in 1994, to protect her privacy as a child actor.
The singer, songwriter and television show judge changed her name from Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson to Katy Perry in the early 2000s.
After her debut album Katy Hudson didn’t get much success, she moved to Los Angeles to pursue her dreams to succeed in the music industry and adopted her mother’s maiden name to ensure that people don’t confuse her with Bride Wars (2009) actress Kate Hudson.
Born Vera Mindy Chokalingam, the actress, comedian and screenwriter has been using her middle name Mindy since childhood. She shortened her last name to Kaling when she was starting to establish herself as a standup comedian. The change came after her last name was mispronounced on several occasions.
The award-winning singer-songwriter attributes his name to the multi-hyphenated J. Ivy and Kanye West.
In a March 2021 episode of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, he explained how the nickname ‘Legend’ caught on: “It was a nickname that some friends started calling me in the studio, just guys that I was collaborating with. The first guy to call me that was J. Ivy. He’s a spoken-word artist from Chicago.”
He went on to say, “I met him through Kanye (West). We were all in the studio together. He just started calling me ‘The Legend’ because he thought I sounded like one of our old school soul legends. And it just caught on with our little group of friends, and then they were like, ‘We should call you John Legend.’ And it just really was in our little circle.”
Born Elizabeth Stamatina Fey, the actress-producer-playwright uses a shortened version of her middle name as her first name.
Fey has borrowed parts of her birth name to create the nickname Betty, which close friend Amy Poehler uses to address her, and Fey’s character in the TV series 30 Rock (2006–2013), Liz Lemon.
(Main and Featured image: Angela Weiss/AFP)