17 Celebrities You Didn’t Know Changed Their Last Names

Actress Kat Dennings arrives on the red carpet for The 41st Annual People's Choice Awards at the Nokia Theatre LA Live in Los Angeles, California on January 7, 2015. AFP PHOTO/FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
Source: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

Sure, I know that a lot of my favorite celebrities use stage names, because that's unfortunately just (forgive the pun) the name of the game. The Hollywood bigheads might shy away from names that might be too hard to pronounce, too long, or that may be deemed too "difficult" for the general public, whatever that means. In some cases, there is already another actor or famous scientist who has made the name known, so aspiring celebrities have to tweak theirs a bit. And sometimes, this means just changing their last name, rather than switching up their first.

So, without further adieu, here are 17 celebrities who kept their first names, but decided to change their last names for that extra "star quality." Many of these might come as a shock, so bravo to these celebs for picking a name that embodies their stage persona so well.

Olivia Wilde

Real name: Olivia Cockburn.

Unfortunately, Cockburn might have given the wrong impression to casting directors when she was just starting out her career…

Nicole Richie

Real name: Nicole Escovedo.

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Nicole started going by Richie to honor her adoptive father, Lionel Richie.

George Michael

Real name: Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou.

Greek names are notoriously long and difficult to pronounce for many non-Greek speakers, so he got rid of his last names entirely and added a very common first name, Michael.

Kat Dennings

Real name: Katherine Litwack.

Litwack doesn’t quite roll off the tongue. Try saying in five times in a row.


Albert Brooks

Real name: Albert Einstein.

Yes, I had to confirm this one multiple times because it was just too good. It is quite fitting for a comedian, though.

Julianne Moore

Real name: Julie Anne Smith.

Moore explained her professional name change to The Hollywood Reporter, “When I went to join SAG as Julie Smith, they were like, ‘There’s a Julie Smith, there’s a Julie Anne Smith. You have to choose another name… My dad’s name was Peter Moore Smith, and my mother’s name was Anne Smith, and I used both their names so I wouldn’t hurt anybody’s feelings.”

Michael Keaton

Real name: Michael Douglas.

Well, there’s already another famous Michael Douglas and Keaton seemed to work well for Diane…

Alicia Keys

Real name: Alicia Cook.

I am just going to keep believing that she was born as a “Keys,” and that her name sealed her fate as a piano player. 

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers

Real name: Jonathan Michal Francis O’Keefe.

Rhys-Meyers changed his name to really separate his actor self and his “real self,” and Johnny O’Keefe didn’t have the ring to it that he wanted. He told The Independent, “Jonathan Rhys-Meyers was the name I wanted the world to know me by, and not my birth name… I wanted to create almost this different person, which I suppose doesn’t really exist.”

Winona Ryder

Real name: Winona Horowitz.

I would love to share a name with Cher Horowitz. Winona, however, didn’t.

Ralph Lauren

Real name: Ralph Lifshitz.

He told Oprah Winfrey in an interview, “My given name has the word ‘s--t’ in it… When I was a kid, the other kids would make a lot of fun of me. It was a tough name. That’s why I decided to change it. Then people said, ‘Did you change your name because you don’t want to be Jewish?’ I said, ‘Absolutely not. That’s not what it’s about.’”

Courtney Love

Real name: Courtney Harrison.

Add Love to any name, and it’s an instant stage name. 

Natalie Portman

Real name: Natalie Herschlag.

Natalie decided to pay homage to her grandmother’s maiden name.

Diane Keaton

Real name: Diane Hall.

She actually shared a last name with her most famous character, Annie Hall.

Joaquin Phoenix

Real name: Joaquin Bottom.

Doesn’t quite have that majestic ring to it, does it?

Miranda July

Real name: Miranda Grossinger.

You don’t really want "gross" to be anywhere in your name. Kids can be mean.

Katy Perry

Real name: Katheryn Hudson.

Katy Perry famously started off as a Christian singer under her birth name, Katy Hudson. She changed it as she got more recognition, since it was too similar to Kate Hudson.