It is old news that Hollywood celebrities, stage actors, and even those in the music industry don’t go by their actual names especially when placed under the spotlight. Pseudonyms or better known as stage names are either requested by the performer or used because they are advised by their agency to do so.
There are various reasons this is done and it doesn’t necessarily boil down to their lackluster birth names, although that can be defining factor. Some actors even take it to the next level, by making their stage names official. Take Miley Cyrus for example, she was born Destiny Hope Cyrus, but she had it legally changed in court to Miley Ray at age 15.
Ultimately, the decision to use a stage name is made by the actor. Agencies do have the right to advise on a name that may fit their image or if there are issues with a performer’s guild or association. Actors are given the option to change their name, but many still stick to their birth names in the end. All payment due to a performer bear their their legal name, while their registration in unions or IMDB for example uses their screen name.
While there are numerous reasons on why a performer changes their stage name, here are the most common:
1. Guild and association policy
Associations such as the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) or Equity (formerly known as the British Actors’ Equity Association) have strict rules that no two actors should share a name. An example of which is Birdman actress Emma Stone. She was born Emily Stone, but upon registry in SAG, there had already been a listing for that specific name. She then went for Riley Stone after but ended up with “Emma” as her final choice. Other changes are more subtle, as some associations allow an additional middle name to avoid confusion. It is strictly implied that the newer union member shall make the changes.
2. Family connections or common names
Not many people may know this, but Nicolas Cage has a very famous last name: Coppola. Yes, the Hollywood actor’s uncle is renowned filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. Cage’s father, on the other hand, made use of the famous last name during his career as a film executive. But for Cage, he wanted his acting career to kick off without the need to assert his last name in the business and avoid issues like nepotism. He changed it from Coppola to Cage, reportedly taken from the Marvel superhero Luke Cage.
As for common names, a lot of people know Whoopi Goldberg for her long-standing career in television and movies. Her name may not be the sole reason behind it, but it does add to the wow factor. Goldberg was born Caryn Elaine Johnson. The change in name was a personal choice and people would have to admit, it isn’t a name that anyone can overlook.
3. Names should represent your image
Hollywood is all about looks and imagery, so it is no wonder that celebrities change their real names to something outlandish. A notable example is pop singer Lady Gaga, who presented an avant-garde image when she burst into the music scene. She went from Stefani Germanotta to Lady Gaga in an instant and went on to appeal to numerous crowds because of her equally unique name.
4. Stage names are generally easier to remember
If Asa Butterfield of Ender’s Game went with his full name Asa Maxwell Thornton Farr Butterfield, then it wouldn’t fit into an award invitation card, even legendary actor Rudolph Valentino changed his name for the same reason.
Names being shortened are understandable, and they’re going to be easier to remember. Even famous artists or designers such as Yves Saint Laurent have shortened their name to appeal to the public better. This is mostly done by simply dropping surnames or even omitting some letters to make their names a lot easier to pronounce.
When an actor takes the spotlight, their personal lives are quickly made public. Many of them choose to conceal it by choosing a screen name. This is a common case for child actors, to keep their personal information private since they are still minors. Other actors or performers do it to preserve their ethnicity, like Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury, who was born Farrokh Bulsara, and actress Natalie Portman—both changed their names to protect their heritage and avoid potential discrimination.