40 Celebrities Whose Real Names You Probably Don’t Know

Even longtime fans will be surprised.

by Stephanie Downs and Bustle Editors
Originally Published: 
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 13: Blake Lively attends the Michael Kors A/W 2024 fashion show during...
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Although celebrities like Gigi Hadid and Rihanna make headlines regularly, the monikers splashed across newspapers and tabloids aren’t actually their legal names. And they’re not alone. Many A-listers opt for alternative names for their public lives — something longtime fans might not know.

There are several reasons why a celebrity might choose to adopt an alternate name. Some prefer to go by their nickname or middle name, as is the case for the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle. Others make the change as they break into Hollywood or the music world because their given name is unmemorable or taken by someone else. And some people use a second “professional” name in an effort to keep their personal and work lives separate.

So, who’s totally changed things up? Below are 40 celebrities whose legal names don’t match up with the headlines.

1. Meghan Markle

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The Duchess of Sussex goes by her middle name, Meghan, instead of her given first name, Rachel. She’s never publicly addressed the reason.

2. Jason Momoa

Momoa’s first name isn’t actually Jason. (And no, Aquaman fans, it isn’t Arthur either.) According to his bio on IMDb, his given name is Joseph, with Jason being one of his middle names.

3. Miley Cyrus

Miley Cyrus’ parents had a different name in mind for their daughter when she was born. As her father, Billy Ray Cyrus, noted during a 2008 interview with Oprah Winfrey, his daughter’s name at birth was Destiny Hope. But her childhood nickname, “Smiley,” quickly caught on, which is the precursor to the Miley everyone knows.

4. Bella Hadid

The model’s full name is Isabella Khair Hadid, and she uses the shortened “Bella” as her recognized name.

5. Gigi Hadid

As for Bella’s elder sister, Gigi Hadid’s full given name is Jelena Noura Hadid. Yes, her first name is actually Jelena, like the throwback Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez couple name.

6. Blake Lively

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The actor was born Blake Ellender Brown but changed her last name to Lively, which is the last name her mother adopted for her own stage name. The rest of her family has since changed their surnames as well.

7. Mahershala Ali

You might know him as Oscar-winning actor Mahershala Ali, but his given name is actually Mahershalalhashbaz Gilmore. After he converted to Islam, he changed his surname to Ali.

8. Kit Harington

Kit Harington’s real first name is actually Christopher — a fact he didn’t know until he was 11. Yes, really. Kit served as a nickname.

9. Olivia Munn

Olivia Munn’s first name is actually Lisa. The actor and model dropped her first name in 2006 and has been going by her middle name, Olivia, both professionally and personally since.

10. Lily James

Lily James had a personal reason for changing her given name, Lily Chloe Ninette Thomson. When her father, James “Jamie” Thomson, passed away in 2008, she honored him by adopting his first name as part of her stage name.

11. Rihanna

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Rihanna’s full name is Robyn Rihanna Fenty. Her middle name comes from the Arabic word for “sweet basil.”

12. Brad Pitt

Brad Pitt is another star who’s opted to use his middle name professionally. His full name is William Bradley Pitt.

13. Dakota Fanning

Dakota Fanning also goes by her middle name. Her legal first name is Hannah.

14. Elle Fanning

Just like her older sister, Elle goes by her middle name. Her given first name is Mary.

15. Camila Cabello

Camila Cabello’s real first name is Karla. As she explained in a 2017 video, “Karla is my first name. Camila is my middle name. Long story short, my family always called me Camila.”

16. Maisie Williams

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The English actor’s stage name is a nickname for Margaret. Her full name is Margaret Constance Williams.

17. Vin Diesel

The action star was born Mark Sinclair, but changed his name to the catchy moniker he now goes by.

18. Rooney Mara

Like many others on this list, Rooney is actually a middle name. The actor’s given first name is Patricia.

19. Alicia Keys

The singer’s given name is Alicia Cook. The addition of “Keys” is a nod to her music career.

20. Emma Stone

Emma Stone, whose real first name is Emily, made a slight change when forming her stage name because her full name was already taken by another person in the Screen Actors Guild.

21. Bruno Mars

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Bruno Mars was actually born Peter Gene Hernandez. The name Bruno comes from a childhood nickname — his family thought he resembled wrestler Bruno Sammartino.

22. Nina Dobrev

Nina Dobrev was born Nikolina Konstantinova Dobreva, but shortened her given name when it came to acting.

23. Dove Cameron

Dove Olivia Cameron was born Chloe Celeste Hosterman. In 2017, she replied to a Twitter user who asked about the change, saying, “My father always called me dove. he took his own life when i was 15, i didn’t get to say goodbye, so i changed it in honor of him.”

24. Lana Del Rey

The singer-songwriter was born Elizabeth “Lizzy” Woolridge Grant. She chose Lana Del Rey after spending time in Miami. The name reminded her of being near the sea.

25. Olivia Wilde

The actor’s real name is Olivia Jane Cockburn. Her stage name pays tribute to author and playwright Oscar Wilde.

26. Katy Perry

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Katy Perry was born Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson. She changed it as she pursued a career in music to differentiate from Kate Hudson.

27. John Legend

His real name is John Roger Stephens. While attending the University of Pennsylvania, someone supposedly gave him the idea to change his name to John Legend, because his voice sounded like an old-school soul singer.

28. Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga was born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. When she started making music, she was inspired by Queen’s song “Radio GaGa,” and Gaga became her nickname among friends and producers.

29. Reese Witherspoon

The actor was born Laura Jeanne Reese Witherspoon. Her second middle name is her mother’s maiden name. When she embarked on an acting career, she adopted Reese as a stage name.

30. Jamie Foxx

Jamie Foxx was born Eric Marlon Bishop. As he told David Letterman in 2014, he decided to use a gender-neutral name, like Jamie, to get an advantage during his stand-up comedy career, saying that women were more likely to be picked first on open mic nights.

31. Alexis Bledel

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The Gilmore Girls alum was originally Kimberly Alexis Bledel. She decided to ditch her first name professionally.

32. Prince Harry

Prince Harry was actually born Henry Charles Albert David, but he’s been called Harry by his family and the press his whole life. As he told WellChild Award winners in 2022, he has no idea why.

33. Drake

The rapper was born Aubrey Drake Graham, which he went by as teenage actor on Degrassi. He opted to use his middle name as a mononym for his rap career, but still frequently refers to his first name in songs.

34. Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman was born Neta-Lee Hershlag. After moving from Israel to the United States as a kid, she adopted the English spelling of her first name. When she became an actor, she started using her maternal grandmother’s maiden name as her own.

35. Jason Sudeikis

The Ted Lasso star was born Daniel Jason Sudeikis, but was often called Jason as a child, since he shared his first name with his father. He decided to use his middle name professionally.

36. Julianne Moore

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Julianne Moore was born Julie Anne Smith. When she started acting, she realized her name wasn’t unique within the Screen Actors Guild. To differentiate, she combined “Julie” and “Anne” and used her father’s middle name, Moore, as her surname.

37. Joaquin Phoenix

Joaquin Phoenix was born Joaquin Bottom. When he was 4, his entire family changed their surnames after leaving the Children of God religious group. He then went by Leaf as a child actor to match his siblings, who were all named after nature. He started using Joaquin again as an adult.

38. The Weeknd

The singer was born Abel Makkonen Tesfaye. When he began releasing music anonymously, he chose The Weeknd as a stage name to preserve his identity. However, he used his birth name on The Idol and told W that he wanted to “kill the Weeknd” in the next phase of his career.

39. Tina Fey

Even though the actor and comedian was born Elizabeth Stamatina Fey, she’s gone by Tina — a shortened version of her middle name — since elementary school. A fun fact: She named her 30 Rock character, Liz Lemon, after herself.

40. Cardi B

The rapper was born Belcalis Marlenis Almánzar. Growing up, friends used to call her Bacardi after the rum brand, since her sister’s name is Hennessy. She decided to make Bacardi her stage name, but after her Instagram page kept getting deleted — she suspects it was the brand itself — she switched it to Cardi B.

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