17 Celebrity Stage Names That Are The Result Of Strict Union Rules, Copyright Infringement, Or The "Old Hollywood Culture" Of Anglicization

    Michael Keaton had to use a stage name because his real name, Michael Douglas, was taken by an already famous movie star, and his nickname, Mike Douglas, was taken by a talkshow host. However, he's glad he didn't go with his first choice, Michael Jackson!

    Oftentimes, celebs decide to use a stage name for personal reasons. Sometimes, however, they have to use a stage name because someone else told them to — either because there was already an actor or singer with their name or because an agent thought their real name wasn't "marketable enough."

    Here are 17 celebs who were forced to changed their names professionally or personally:

    1. Onika Maraj goes by Nicki with friends. However, a man she signed a production deal with early in her career fought her to change her last name to Minaj and won, making her Nicki Minaj.

    Nicki Minaj

    She told the Guardian, "I fought him tooth and nail. But he convinced me. I've always hated it."

    2. When Jelena Hadid was in first or second grade, her teacher kept confusing her name with that of her classmate, Helena. So, the teacher asked her mom to give her a nickname, and she's gone by Gigi Hadid ever since.

    Closeup of Gigi Hadid

    She told Vogue, "My mom was called [Gigi] as a kid by her mother when she was younger, but only around the house. I was called that around the house when I was really young, kind of like how my mom was called it."

    3. At 16, David McDonald adopted the stage name David Tennant because there was already an actor named David McDonald in the UK actors' union. However, when he grew up and joined the Screen Actors Guild in the US, there was an issue where they wouldn't let him keep his stage name unless he changed his legal name to match.

    Closeup of David Tennant

    He told the Guardian, "Faced with the prospect of working under two different names on either side of the globe, I had to take the plunge and rename myself! So, although I always liked the name, I'm now more intimately associated with it than I had ever imagined."

    4. After an audition, the casting directors told Krishna Bhanji, "Beautiful audition, but we don’t quite know how to place you in our forthcoming season." However, after he changed his name to Ben Kingsley and auditioned again, they asked him, "When can you start?"

    Closeup of Ben Kingsley

    He told the Radio Times, "I suppose it says more about the 1960s than anything else. But the irony is, of course, I changed my clunky invented Asian name to a more pronounceable, and acceptable, universal name in order to play Mahatma Gandhi. There’s your irony."

    5. At the start of her music career, Tahliah Barnett used her childhood nickname, Twigs, as a stage name. However, after another artist named Twigs asked her to change it, she decided to go by FKA Twigs — making her the artist formerly known as Twigs.

    FKA Twigs

    6. Abel Tesfaye initially used the stage name The Weekend because he "hated [his] name at the time." However, he had copyright issues with a Canadian band called The Weekend, so he slightly altered his name to The Weeknd.

    The Weeknd

    7. On Twitter, Chloé Wang said she changed her stage name to Chloe Bennet because she "had to pay my rent, and Hollywood is racist and wouldn't cast [her] with a last name that made them uncomfortable."

    Chloe Bennet

    She told the Daily Beast, "The first audition I went on after I changed my name, I got booked. ... I want to be clear because some of my Asian American fans seem to think I [changed last names] because I didn't want to [be] known as Chinese, but it's so the opposite. I just wanted to be known as me and let my personality define who I was, rather than my ethnicity."

    8. Yvonne Strzechowski changed her name to Yvonne Strahovski because of "this 'old Hollywood thinking' to anglicize your name a bit more or make it less complicated or less of a mouthful."

    Closeup of Yvonne Strahovsky

    She told Collider, "But I kept thinking, if everyone could get past Schwarzenegger and learn how to say that, then surely they can learn how to say my name as well. It just always rubbed me the wrong way to change it to something completely different, which was suggested, so I kind of went for this phonetic spelling version. Yeah, it was a cultural thing back then that’s something that I don't think that I would do now if I were to start now and move forward."

    9. When Lucille LeSueur signed a contract with MGM, the studio decided her last name sounded too close to "sewer." So, they ran a contest in a magazine to let the public decide her new stage name — Joan Crawford.

    Closeup of Joan Crawford

    10. Margarita Cansino began acting under the name Rita Cansino. However, her first husband/agent decided that name was "too ethnic" and made her start using her mother's maiden name. She became famous as Rita Hayworth.

    Rita Hayworth

    11. When John Mellencamp was about to release his first album, MCA Records gave him an ultimatum — he could change his name, or he could go home to Indiana. He begrudgingly complied, and the label chose Johnny Cougar because they "wanted something uniquely American, something hot and wild."

    Closeup of John Mellencamp

    After being dropped by MCA Records, he altered his stage name to John Cougar. Then, a few successful albums laters, he changed it to John Cougar Mellencamp. Finally, nearly two decades into his career, he reclaimed the name John Mellencamp professionally.

    12. When Emily Stone started acting at 16, her name was already taken. Her initial choice for a stage name, Riley Stone, only lasted for six months before she changed it to Emma Stone.

    Closeup of Emma Stone

    She told W Magazine, "I landed a guest spot on Malcolm in the Middle, and one day they were calling, 'Riley! Riley! Riley! We need you on set, Riley!' and I had no idea who they were talking to. At that moment, I realized that I just couldn't be Riley." 

    13. Michael Fox's name was already taken by another SAG member, but he didn't want to use his real name, Michael A. Fox, because he thought it sounded too much like 'Michael, a fox." So, he changed his middle initial, becoming Michael J. Fox.

    Closeup of Michael J. Fox

    He chose the J as a tribute to actor Michael J. Pollard.

    14. Early in his career, Ramón Estévez gave in to the pressure to use the stage name Martin Sheen because "sometimes, you get persuaded when you don’t have enough insight or even enough courage to stand up for what you believe in, and you pay for it later."

    Closeup of Michael Sheen

    He told Closer Weekly, "The only influence I had on [my son] Emilio was to keep his name. When he started out, his agent was advising him to change his name to Sheen, and he wouldn't do it. And I thank God he didn't."

    15. Harry Bratsberg was proud of the Norwegian heritage his last name honored, but when he became an actor, he was pushed to anglicize it as Harry Morgan.

    Closeup of Harry Morgan

    He told the Chicago Tribune, "I wish I hadn't changed my name, to tell you the truth. I like my name. It sounds like I look."

    16. When Michael Douglas got his first role, his name was taken by an already famous movie star, and Mike Douglas was taken by a talkshow host. So, though he didn't want to change his name, he chose the stage name Michael Keaton.

    Michael Keaton holding his Emmy

    On The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, he said, "My middle name's John. [His family] used to call me Johnny Jackson. I thought, 'You know, I'm gonna put Michael Jackson down.' Can you imagine?"

    He ultimately decided on Keaton because he was looking through the K section of an alphabetical list of names.

    17. And finally, when Diane Hall signed up for her Actors' Equity card, there was already a member registered under her name. She used Dorrie Hall (her sister's name) for one play, then switched to Cory Hall for another. Afterwards, she decided to use her mother's maiden name to honor her family and became Diane Keaton.

    Closeup of Diane Keaton