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14 Celebrities Who Changed Their Names (and Why)

03/18/2015 09:55 am ET | Updated May 18, 2015
Larry Busacca via Getty Images

There are several reasons why celebrities -- and lay folk -- change their names. Norma Jean Baker became Marilyn Monroe, now synonymous with bombshell beauty. Now I, co-founder of BabyNames.com, present 14 celebrities who changed their names, and seven reasons why they may have done so.

  1. Differentiation from other celebrities. One only need to look at the Internet Movie Database to see that there are several celebrities who need disambiguation. Katy Perry was originally Katy Hudson, which was too close to actress Kate Hudson, daughter of Goldie Hawn and Bill Hudson.

  • Separation from famous family members. Celebrities who have a famous (or infamous) family member often change their names to set themselves apart or make it on their own. As an example, Nicolas Cage was born Nicolas Kim Coppola, nephew of Francis Ford Coppola.
  • To achieve name-stealing celebrity. Name stealing is the phenomenon of becoming so famous that your first name, by most accounts, means YOU. In other words, despite there being other people with these first names -- Madonna (Madonna Louise Ciccione), Beyonce (Beyonce Giselle Knowles), and Prince (Prince Rogers Nelson) -- there is only one such person in the public's minds.
  • Religious conversion. People who experience religious conversion often change their names to something with more piety. Muhammed Ali (Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr.) is one such example. There are also people who want to be associated with certain religions, but not have experienced conversion, such as Whoopi Goldberg (Caryl Elaine Johnson), whose first name is also an example of wanting to create a personality (Whoopi equates to excitement).
  • To use a nickname. Miley Cyrus was born Destiny Hope Cyrus, but adopted her childhood nickname (from Smiley to Miley). Another example is Tiger Woods who was born Eldrick Tont Woods.
  • To use a middle name. Often celebrities will drop their first name altogether. Two such examples are Garth Brooks (Troyal Garth Brooks) and Ashton Kutcher (Christopher Ashton Kutcher). Garth and Ashton bring up an interesting dichotomy -- one became more trendy (Ashton) and another dropped an unusual name (Troyal).
  • To make it easier to pronounce. Jon Bon Jovi (John Bongiovi) is a perfect example of a name change to make it easier for the public to pronounce. Akon's real name is controversial and nearly impossible to remember: Aliaune Damala Bouga Time Bongo Puru Nacka Lu Lu Lu Badara Akon Thiam. His name is typically referred to as Aliaune Damala Akon Thiam. Either way, it's a mouthful.
  • So whether you are looking for a pseudonym for stardom or white collar work, keep in mind the image you want to present before putting ink to name change paper.

    Dr. Mallory Moss is a board-certified nurse practitioner in psychiatry and a founding partner of BabyNames.com. Since its launch in 1996, BabyNames.com has been heralded as one of the top parenting sites on the internet. Dr. Moss' passions lay in community-based mental health and destigmatizing mental health diagnoses. Dr. Moss was also the editor of the popular online parenting advice column, "Ask Grandma Maggie."