12 celebrities who have changed their names because of mispronunciation, mockery or prejudice

Harriet Brewis
Tuesday 06 April 2021 12:52
Showbiz

From left: Thandiwe Newton, Ramon Antonio Gerardo Estevez and Jennifer Linn Anastassakis

(Getty Images)

Thandie Newton will, from now on, be known as Thandiwe after the British actress announced she was reclaiming the Zimbabwean spelling of her name.

Until now, the West World star, 48, has been referred to as Thandie – an anglicised version of the name which omits the “w”. Her full name is Melanie Thandiwe Newton.

The Bafta award-winner, who was born in London to a white British father and Zimbabwean mother, said her name was misspelled in the credits to her first film, Flirting, back in 1991.

“Thandie” stuck, lumbering the actress with the wrong name for three decades.

But she’s by no means the only celebrity to have adopted a stage name for reasons of mispronunciation, prejudice or mockery.

Read more:

Here’s a look at some of the stars who felt forced to change their names for the sake of their careers:

Aaron Paul

(Getty Images)

Real name: Aaron Paul Sturtevant

Why did he change it? Casting directors couldn’t pronounce his surname – which has its origins in Middle English and Norman French – so the Breaking Bad star decided to replace it with his middle name.

Bruno Mars

(Getty Images)

Real name: Peter Gene Hernandez

Why did he change it? The Grammy Award-winner didn’t want to be stereotyped as a Latin singer.

Jennifer Aniston

(Getty Images)

Real name: Jennifer Linn Anastassakis

Why did she change it? The Friends star’s father, also an actor, changed his Greek last name to get more work.

Lea Michele

(Getty Images)

Real name: Lea Michele Sarfati

Why did she change it? The Glee star says she largely avoids using her Sephardic Jewish surname because she was teased for it throughout her childhood. “I got ‘Lea So-fatty,’‘Lea So-farty’ at school,” she explained in an interview back in 2011.

Dame Helen Mirren

(Getty Images)

Real name: Ilyena Lydia Mironoff

Why did she change it? Mirren was born to a Russian father and English mother in 1945. Her father decided to change the family name in the Fifties, again, in order to improve his chances at finding work and to remove any obstacles for his children, according to a letter from Mirren’s grandfather. He also anglicised his daughter’s name – so Ilenya became Helen.

Michael Caine

(Getty Images)

Real name: Maurice Joseph Micklewhite

Why did he change it?: Caine was keen to ditch his “risible” name which audiences seemed to find amusing. Deciding to change it, he sat down on bench in the middle of Leicester Square one day and “looked around at all the cinemas,” he explained in his autobiography The Elephant To Hollywood.

“Then I saw it,” he said. “Humphrey Bogart, my hero, was starring in The Caine Mutiny. Caine I would be – because it was short, because it was easy to spell, because I was feeling very mutinous at the time...”

Woody Allen

(Getty Images)

Real name: Allan Stewart Konigsberg

Why did he change it? Lots of Jewish performers felt the need to anglicise their names in the Fifites. Allen claimed that he did it to “simplify pronunciation, to enhance euphony [and] disarm bigotry”.

There are numerous stories about the origins of Woody. Allen says it came from his skills with a wooden Stickball bat as a kid, according to Empire magazine. Meanwhile, a friend claims he named himself after a dog belonging to his unrequited love Nancy Kreissman.

Martin Sheen

(Getty Images)

Real name: Ramon Antonio Gerardo Estevez

Why did he change it? Again, Sheen found that his name was attracting prejudice at auditions so decided to opt for a stage moniker. He chose Martin in honour of CBS casting executive Robert Dale Martin, while Sheen comes from the Catholic televangelist Fulton J. Sheen, whom he considered to be a “magnificent actor”.

He has since expressed regret at not sticking with his family name, admitting that the change hurt his father. His son Charlie Sheen has since re-adopted his birth name of Carlos Estevez.

Jackie Chan

(Getty Images for BAFTA LA)

Real name: Chan Kong-sang

Why did he change it? Chan spent a brief stint as a construction and restaurant worker in Australia in his early 20s. One of his co-workers at the site allegedly had trouble pronouncing Kong-sang and so started calling him “little Jack”. This soon became Jackie and the name stayed put.

James Garner

(Getty Images)

Real name: James Scott Bumgarner

Whay did he change it? Having “bum” in your name understandably comes with some challenges. However, it was Warner Bros. studios which sparked the change – naming him as Garner in Toward The Unknown without even consulting him first. The Rockford Files star didn’t seem to mind, and later dropped the ‘Bum’ legally.

Fred Astaire

(Getty Images)

Real name: Frederick Austerlitz

Why did he change it? Fred and his sister Adele adopted a new surname because his mother feared that their real one sounded too militaristic (it was the site of a famous Napoleonic battle in 1805). It is believed that Astaire comes from an uncle whose name was L’Astaire.

A few others….

While these celebs weren’t mocked for their names, they changed them for their own personal and career-motivated reasons.

Nicolas Cage

(Getty Images)

Real name: Nicolas Kim Coppola

Why did he change it?: To forge his own path away from his uncle, Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola.

He told an interview with The Talks back in 2014: “I had to reinvent myself. I am still legally Nicolas Coppola, but I am Nicolas Cage. I love my family and all of their accomplishments, but as a young actor going into casting offices I couldn’t get that off of me. I had to focus on the character and the audition and there was pressure because of my name.

“As soon as I went into the casting office under a new name and they didn’t know that there was a connection and I got the part, I was like, ‘I can really do this.’ I felt liberated. It gave me the freedom to become what I wanted to be in my dreams.

Jamie Foxx

(Getty Images for LACMA)

Real name: Eric Marlon Bishop

Why did he change it? Foxx began his career in stand-up comedy and, despite showing talent wasn’t often given the stage time he needed. He noticed that female comics were often called first to perform during open mic nights, so he chose an ambiguous, gender neutral first name: Jamie.

Foxx, meanwhile, was an homage to one of his favourite performers, Redd Foxx, who also used it as a pseudonym. The actor – best known for his role in Seventies sitcom Sanford and Son was born John Elroy Sandford.

Natalie Portman

(Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

Real name: Natalie Hershlag

Why did she change it? Portman adopted her paternal grandmother’s maiden name to protect her privacy after landing the lead role in Luc Besson’s Leon.

Trending