Stage names

For the Okkervil River album, see The Stage Names.

A stage name, also called a screen name, is a pseudonym used by performers and entertainers such as actors, wrestlers, comedians, and musicians.

Motivation to use a stage name

A performer will often take a stage name because his/her real name is considered unattractive, dull, unintentionally amusing or difficult to pronounce or spell, or because it has been used by another notable individual or because it projects an undesired image. Sometimes a performer adopts a name that is unusual or outlandish to attract attention. Other performers use a stage name in order to retain anonymity. The equivalent concept among writers is called a nom de plume or pen name, while the term ring name is used in professional wrestling. In radio, the term "radio name" or "air name" is used. For example, well-known talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who now uses his real name, was known under the radio name Jeff Christie in his days as a top-40 disk jockey.

Family connection

Some individuals who are related to a celebrity take a different last name so that they are not perceived to have received undue advantage from their family connection. Examples of these include Joan Fontaine (real name Joan de Havilland, sister of Olivia de Havilland), Luka Bloom (real name Kevin Barry Moore, brother of Christy Moore), and Mike McGear (brother of Paul McCartney). Sisters Loretta, Peggy, and Brenda Webb adopted the names Loretta Lynn, Peggy Sue, and Crystal Gayle, respectively. Actor Nicolas Cage, born Nicolas Coppola, chose a new last name to avoid comparisons with his uncle, director Francis Ford Coppola, who gave him his big break in the movie Peggy Sue Got Married. Conversely, individuals who wish to receive benefit from their family connections may take that person's first or last name. For example, Lon Chaney Sr.’s son Creighton spent a number of years appearing in minor roles before renaming himself Lon Chaney Jr. Actress Rebecca Isabelle Laemmle rechristened herself Carla Laemmle in reference to her uncle, Universal Studios head Carl Laemmle. Emilio Estévez and his sister Renee chose not to take their father Martin Sheen’s professional name and use their birth names; however, their brother Carlos chose to use their father's professional name, and took the name Charlie Sheen.

Guild and association rules

Guilds and associations that represent actors, such as the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) in the United States and British Actors' Equity Association in the United Kingdom, stipulate that no two members may have identical working names. An actor whose name has already been taken must choose a new name. Notable examples include David Tennant, born David McDonald, who said in an interview that he adopted the surname "Tennant" after seeing Neil Tennant in a copy of Smash Hits, Nathan Lane, whose birth name Joseph Lane was already in use, Stewart Granger, whose birth name was James Stewart, and Michael Keaton, born Michael Douglas. (The rumor that Michael Keaton changed his surname because of an attraction to actress Diane Keaton is incorrect.[1] He chose Keaton because of an affinity for the physical comedy of Buster Keaton.[2]) Diane Keaton, whose birth name is Diane Hall, took her mother's maiden name as a stage name after learning that there was already a registered actress named Diane Hall in the Actors' Equity Association. Michael Andrew Fox became Michael J. Fox because a Michael Fox was already a member of the Screen Actors' Guild. Ugly Betty actress Vanessa Williams officially uses "Vanessa L. Williams" due to SAG guidelines, although the other actress with same first and last names (Vanessa A. Williams) is arguably less notable. Similarly, David Walliams changed one letter in his surname due to there being another "David Williams". Terry O'Quinn of Lost fame changed his surname from Quinn to O'Quinn as another registered actor already had the name Terrance Quinn. Long time writer for The Simpsons, David X. Cohen changed his middle initial from S to X because there was already a David S Cohen registered with the Writer's Guild of America.

A person hoping to become successful as an entertainer who has a name identical to a name already familiar to the public (in any field of endeavor) may change his/her name in order to not have his/her name evoke the other person with that name. By way of example, the actor/writer/director Albert Brooks was born "Albert Einstein" and changed his surname so that his name would not be a distraction that would evoke the renowned physicist of the same name. Singer Katy Perry, born Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson, released her self-titled album under the name Katy Hudson, but later used her mother's maiden name to avoid confusion with actress Kate Hudson. Singer David Bowie, born David Robert Jones, changed his name to avoid confusion with Davy Jones of The Monkees.

Involuntary name changes

A performer may also have had their stage name chosen for them by their agent – such was the case with Barbara Eden, born Barbara Jean Huffman[3] – or, in the heyday of the Hollywood studios, by a movie studio. Joan Rivers (born Joan Alexandra Molinsky) went one step further and named herself after a former agent, Tony Rivers, after he told her to change her name.

Former child star Patty Duke (whose real name is Anna Marie Duke) had her stage name chosen for her by her first managers. Their choice of the name "Patty" was inspired by another child actress named Patty McCormack (Patty Duke later entitled her autobiography Call Me Anna (ISBN 0-553-27205-5) ).

Cary Grant (born Archibald Leach) had his name selected for him by Paramount Pictures. He had been using the name "Cary Lockwood", but the studio decided against it, deeming it too similar to another actor working at the time. Cary and the studio eventually settled on "Cary Grant" (Grant thought the letters "C" and "G" to be lucky: they had brought previous success for both Clark Gable and Gary Cooper).


In the past, a stage name was often used when a performer's real name was considered to denote a specific ethnicity that faced potential discrimination. An example of this type of name change involved Freddie Mercury of the British rock band Queen, who was born Farrokh Bulsara to Parsi parents; his name change was partly intended to conceal his heritage. Italian-American actress Bernadette Peters, who was born Bernadette Lazzara, changed her last name to avoid being typecast as women who were Italian or of Italian heritage. Similarly, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith changed his name from the original Stephen Victor Tallarico "for more promotional appeal".[4] The actor Kal Penn changed his name from Kalpen Modi for professional purposes; after changing his name, calls back increased by 50%. Historically, Jews in Hollywood were encouraged to anglicize their names to avoid possible discrimination. This still happens to a degree (Jason Alexander, Jon Stewart, Brad Garrett, Jonah Hill, Winona Ryder and Natalie Portman for instance), but the growing acceptance of ethnic performers in the performing arts has made this occurrence less frequent. Ramón Estévez changed his name to Martin Sheen because he expected a better reception for an Irish name than a Spanish name ; his sons made divergent choices: Carlos Irwin Estévez is now Charlie Sheen, while Emilio Estévez left his name unchanged. German-born actor Hans Gudegast adopted the non-German stage name of Eric Braeden. Cherilyn Sarkisian is now known to the world by the single name Cher.

Legendary actors Anthony Quinn and Anne Bancroft were also advised to anglicize their names because 'Antonio Rodolfo Quinn Oaxaca' and 'Anna Maria Louisa Italiano', respectively, were considered too 'ethnic' for Hollywood and Broadway at the time. Eydie Gorme (born Edith Garmezano), Sophia Loren (born Sofia Villani Scicolone), and Rita Hayworth (born Margarita Carmen Cansino), are three more well known examples of this trend.

Ease of use

Another consideration in choosing a stage name is ease of use. The Actors' Equity Association (AEA) advises performers to select a name that is easy for others to pronounce, spell, and remember. Some performers while paying great attention to their skills and abilities give little thought to the difference that a well-thought-out name can make to their career. Often it is only after the realization that a poorly chosen name results in an undesired impression that a person or group decides on a different name.

Actor Michael Caine was born Maurice Micklewhite and chose the name Michael because he preferred the sound of it to the less glamorous-sounding "Maurice". He chose the name Caine reputedly because at the precise instant he needed to decide upon his new stage name, he saw a cinema marquee for the then-current movie The Caine Mutiny and thought that it would make a good last name in conjunction with Michael. ("Had I looked the other direction," he would later quip, "I'd be known as Michael The One Hundred and One Dalmatians.") Similarly, actor Pete Postlethwaite was advised to adopt a different surname by peers who quipped that his "would never be put up in lights outside theaters because they couldn't afford the electricity" (Postlethwaite rejected the advice).[5]

Relevance to image

Commonly in the music world, and especially those of heavy metal, punk rock, industrial and hip hop, musicians will rename themselves with names more menacing or striking than their birth names. Rock music examples include Deuce, Davey Havok, Slash, Sting, Darby Crash, Marilyn Manson, Sid Vicious, Johnny Rotten, Zakk Wylde, Nikki Sixx, Spider One, Count Grishnackh, Necrobutcher, Blasphemer, Nivek Ogre, Rob Zombie, Dimebag Darrell, Trey Azagthoth and Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein as well as every member of Avenged Sevenfold (M. Shadows, Synyster Gates, Zacky Vengeance, Johnny Christ, and the late The Rev). Every member of the punk band The Ramones took the pseudonymous "Ramone" surname as part of their collective stage persona. Being that those genres pride themselves on a larger-than-life quality, larger-than-life names are desirable.

Pop music examples of artists seeking to utilize catchy, marketable names include Madonna, Lady Gaga, Prince, Keith Sweat, Pink, and Alicia Keys, though both Madonna and Prince were given those names at birth (Lady Gaga named herself after the song "Radio Ga Ga" by Queen).

Actor Marion Morrison adopted the stage name John Wayne because 'Marion' had come to be more common as a female name and he felt it was at odds with the masculine cowboy characters he portrayed. Similarly, Norma Jeane Baker changed her name to the far more glamorous-sounding Marilyn Monroe.

Hip Hop artists are known to use stage names but at times do advertise or bring out their real names such as rappers Jay-Z (born Shawn Carter), 50 Cent (born Curtis Jackson), Diddy (born Sean Combs), Ludacris (born Chris Bridges), Lil' Wayne (born Dwayne Carter Jr.), and Soulja Boy (born DeAndre Way). Eminem has used his real name, Marshall Mathers, in various public events and as an alter ego as his real name gained recognition following the release of his multi-platinum album, The Marshall Mathers LP. Similarly, LL Cool J released the albums Mr. Smith and Todd Smith in 1995 and 2006, respectively, under his real name Todd Smith. Rapper-Singer-Actress Queen Latifah released The Dana Owens Album under her own given name, Dana Owens, after changing her musical focus from Hip Hop to Vocal Jazz.

Euphony and ease of remembrance

Some performers and artists may choose to simplify their name to make it easier to spell and pronounce, and easier for others to remember. For instance, Fall Out Boy vocalist and guitarist Patrick Stump removed the "h" from his original name, Stumph. It was still pronounced "stump," but the change ensured his audience wouldn't think to pronounce it "stumf." Andy Warhol dropped an "a" from his original name, Warhola, while couturier Yves Mathieu-Saint-Laurent dropped the first of his two surnames. Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Piero Filiberto Guglielmi adopted the stage name Rudolph Valentino in part because American casting directors found his original surname difficult to pronounce. Singer George Michael (the son of a Greek Cypriot restaurateur in North London) was born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou.

Some surnames may carry unfortunate connotations in English. Hal Linden, born Harold Lipshitz, adopted his stage name for fear that the embedded obscenity in his original surname could cost him work. Ralph Lauren's brother (who was his guardian) changed their family name from Lifshitz for a similar reason: fear of mockery.

Musical use

Some types of music are more associated with stage names than others. For example hip hop and EDM artists almost always use stage names, whereas "classical" composers and performers virtually never do (violinist Hahn-Bin, born in South Korea as Yoo Hanbin, being a rare exception). Some Algerian raï musicians use the prefix Cheb (for men) or Chaba (Chebba) for women. Both Arabic words mean "young" (e.g. as in Cheb Khaled, or "Young Khaled").

Some performers take a series of different stage names. The British pop singer successful in the 1970s as Alvin Stardust previously went by the stage name of Shane Fenton in the 1960s. He had been born Bernard William Jewry. Some performers will use different names in different settings. Charles Thompson, singer/songwriter for the alternative band the Pixies, was known in that band as Black Francis. He was called Frank Black as a solo performer, and again called Black Francis in a reunited Pixies.

Many performers refer to their stage name as their "professional name". In some cases performers subsequently adopt their stage name as their legal name. For instance, the former Robert Allen Zimmerman's legal name has been Robert Dylan (Bob Dylan) since he changed it in New York City Supreme Court in August 1962. Elton John was born Reginald Dwight but changed his name by deed poll, making Elton John his real name. When he was knighted, he became Sir Elton John rather than Sir Reginald Dwight. Elvis Costello (born Declan MacManus), who had adopted his professional name as a legal name, changed it back to his birth name in 1986. Another example is Marvin Lee Aday, known by his stage name, Meat Loaf. . In a similar way, actress and singer Miley Cyrus was born Destiny Hope Cyrus, but found "Miley" more comfortable, making it her legal name.

Due to recording contracts which do not permit them to openly record for competing companies, musicians may appear on other performers' recordings using other names. For example, Michael Jackson appeared on a Simpsons episode as John Jay Smith.[6]

See also