Actors Talk About Their Stage Names
Vote up your favorite actor name backstories.
The saying goes that your name is your brand. This cannot be more true for these professional actors. Some have chosen to keep their birth names, and others have changed them for personal and professional reasons. Meryl Streep was originally named Mary but decided to go by what her father called her. Both Whoopi Goldberg and Jamie Foxx changed their names to get comedy gigs. Rapper turned actor Ice Cube got his rap name from his brother.
While all their stories are different, it's interesting to see how each actor used their name to navigate Hollywood. Vote up your favorite stage name backstories below.
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Originally Eric Bishop, Jamie Foxx changed his name out of comedic necessity. While learning his craft at comedy clubs, he noticed that after he would have a successful set, he wouldn't be called to that venue for a few weeks, as they would go through a list of people. At other clubs, he noticed the women would be called more frequently due to the lower number of comedians.
To solve this issue, Foxx would put down gender-neutral names in order to be called quicker. He recalled his origin story to David Letterman:
So, I went to the list and wrote down unisex names. Stacey Green. Tracey Brown. Jamie Foxx. And I'm the first guy called. He goes, ‘Jamie Foxx, is she here?’ I said, 'No, brother, that's me.' And then, I go on stage, and I get a standing ovation, and that's how my name changed.
- Photo: Grace and Frankie / Netflix
Martin Sheen was born to Irish and Spanish immigrants in Dayton, OH. He was originally named Ramón Antonio Gerardo Estévez, an ode to his father's roots.
In order to get acting roles, he came up with a new name he derived from a CBS casting director and a televangelist bishop. He has said in interviews that the decision bothered his father.
He eventually established a career and starred in Badlands, Apocalypse Now, The Departed, The West Wing, and Grace and Frankie. He told Closer that he still regrets changing his name professionally:
That’s one of my regrets. I never changed my name officially. It’s still Ramon Estévez on my birth certificate. It’s on my marriage license, my passport, driver’s license. 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. But, of course, I’m only speaking for myself.
He has two sons in the business, Charlie Sheen, who took his father's stage name, and Emilio Estevez who kept the original surname.
- Photo: John Wick 4: Chapter 4 / Lionsgate3464 VOTES
Keanu Reeves Almost Changed His Name To Chuck Spadina After An Agent Said His Was 'Too Ethnic'
Shortly after finding Hollywood success and moving to Los Angeles, Keanu Reeves was told by an agent he should consider a name change.
"I got my first car when I was 20, and I drove to Hollywood," Reeves told the Smartless podcast. "Of course, when I got here, they wanted to change my name. Yeah, they were like, Keanu, it's too, uh, ethnic."
Reeves told Jimmy Fallon that he went to the beach in Santa Monica where he almost considered the very wild name of Chuck Spadina. Another name that came to his mind was “Templeton Page Taylor.” Obviously neither were a good fit and he decided ultimately to stick with his much better name.
“It's perfect,” Fallon said with a laugh. "The only thing they can say is ‘Lets stick with Keanu Reeves.’"
- Photo: Boyz n the Hood / Columbia Pictures
It's no secret Ice Cube grew up in Compton, CA, but did you know his cool moniker was something he had been using since childhood?
Originally named O'Shea, he was always getting in trouble with his brother Clyde for flirting with his girlfriends. When Cube was about 13, Clyde finally had enough, as he told Stephen Colbert:
Back in the day when you had an old refrigerator you would push it on the curb and guys would come by and pick it up. Well, my brother was like, 'Yo, that refrigerator down the street? I'm going take you down there, going to slam you into the freezer and when they pull you out, you're going to be an Ice Cube.'
So that day, when I went outside I told everybody. 'Don't call me O'Shea no more. My new name is Cube. Call me Ice Cube.' And then from then on it just snowballed.
She's a talented and decorated actress with a unique name, but she wasn't born with it. Meryl Streep decided to go by the childhood nickname her father gave her, the same one she once despised.
She recounted her name's origins on The Graham Norton Show:
I had to be named Mary because my mother's name was Mary and her mother's name was Mary and her mother's name was Mary. I named my first daughter Mary because I'm that way… So I was born Mary and Louise was my mother's best friend so I was named after her. But I was always called Meryl. My father made that name up and he liked that name. I hated it. I wanted to be named Patty or Cathy.
- Photo: Everything Everywhere All at Once / A24
Ke Huy Quan's acting journey had its ups and downs. His family fled Vietnam, staying at a refugee camp in Hong Kong, before immigrating to America. He was famously cast in The Goonies and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom before his career started to peter out due to a lack of diversity in casting.
When Quan won the Academy Award for best supporting actor in 2023 for Everything Everywhere All at Once, he told press about how his struggles led him to change his first name to Jonathan to try and get roles:
When it got really tough my manager told me that maybe it would be easier if you were to have an American-sounding name. And I was so desperate for a job that I would do anything. It's insane at one point that I would try a different name, not the name that was given to me. It can only show you how desperate I was to try to make things different. When I decided to get back into acting, the very first thing that I wanted to do was to go back to my birth-given name.