Celebs Who Shared The Story Behind Their Stage Names

Ashley Hunte
A distant shot of the Hollywood sign at sunset.
Unsplash | Venti Views

A lot of celebrities go by stage names. Sometimes, it's a matter of their name already being taken by someone else in the Screen Actors Guild. Other times it's because they like the sound of another name better.

But why do they choose the names they use in particular? Well, these celebs sat down and told the stories behind their stage names.

John Legend

John Roger Stephens uses the surname Legend professionally, telling MTV, "John Legend is a nickname that some friends started calling me, and it kind of grew into my stage name. 'Legend' is something that I never would have chosen for myself originally."

"It grew to the point where more people in my circle would know me by that name than by my real name."

"I was just like, 'You know what? Let's just go for it. People are going to pay attention and I'm going to either live up to my name or I'm not.'"

It's a pretty safe bet to say he does live up to the name.

Nicolas Cage

Nick Cage in a Panama hat bowing and saying "Nick Cage"
Giphy | The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

It's a pretty well-known fact that Nicolas Cage is part of the movie powerhouse family, the Coppolas. In fact, his uncle is the great Francis Ford Coppola, the director responsible for a number of critically acclaimed films, like Apocalypse Now and the Godfather trilogy.

But being associated with a big name like that can be difficult.

Nicolas Cage in the film Con Air.

So Nicolas Kim Coppola became Nicolas Cage. In a video for Wired, Cage said that he got the name from the comic book character Luke Cage, as well as the avant-garde composer John Cage.

Frank Ocean

Singer-Songwriter Frank Ocean.

Frank Ocean was born Christopher Edwin Breaux, but he doesn't use that name anymore. In 2011, he made the first attempt to change his name legally, to Christopher Francis Ocean. The name Ocean apparently came (at least in part) from the film Ocean's 11.

He later wanted to change his name to his stage name.

Frank Ocean at the Grammys red carpet.

Ocean began the process to change his name to Frank Ocean, but was unable to complete it in 2014 due to speeding offences. However, as of 2015, his name is legally Frank Ocean.

Mindy Kaling

Kaling's full name is Vera Mindy Chokalingam, which she shortened to just Mindy Kaling when she started out doing comedy. "I shortened my name, because emcees for these comedy shows would have trouble pronouncing it, and then they'd make a joke about my last name," she said.

"It was something that I had a lot of mixed feelings about."

"But my parents didn't mind. I talked to them about it. And then I ended up shortening it. It's bittersweet, but I have to say, it was such a help to my career to have a name that people could pronounce."


It's definitely pretty obvious that Awkwafina's name isn't actually Awkwafina. Unlike other celebs in this list, her stage name doesn't sound like it could be a real name.

Born Nora Lum, Awkwafina thought of the name, and it kind of stuck after that.

"I just really thought it was funny when people try to subtilize products like Neutrogena," she said.

"Because I just imagine someone sitting there thinking about all these weird names, especially the water names. But anyways, I just came up with it when I was sixteen and thought it was really funny. And then I eventually adopted it."

Bruno Mars

Mars's real name is Peter Hernandez, and he got both parts of his stage name at two different points in life. The first, Bruno, came when he was a toddler. Apparently, he looked like Bruno Sammartino, a famous wrestler, when he was a toddler. So he got the nickname Bruno.

He chose the last name Mars because he didn't want to be associated solely with Latin music.

"Your last name's Hernandez, maybe you should do this Latin music, this Spanish music.... Enrique's so hot right now," he said, imitating the kinds of things he'd hear before he adopted the stage name.

Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys was born Alicia Augello Cook. But she wanted to use a different surname for her stage name. Before settling on Keys, she went through the dictionary to find different names.

"I get to the W's and I pick Wild," she said.

"'Alicia Wild, how does that sound, Ma?'"

"She said, 'It sounds like you're a stripper.' But I liked Keys. It's like the piano keys. And it can open so many doors."

It definitely did open a lot of doors for the Grammy-winner.

Emma Stone

Emma Stone during the film, Easy A.

Emma Stone's full name is Emily Jean Stone. When registering with SAG, the name Emily Stone was already taken, meaning she'd have to choose another.

"I had the option of Emily J. Stone, and it's kind of like Michael J. Fox, which I love Michael J. Fox, but I don't think I could pull off the J," she said.

So she went with the name Riley.

Emma Stone delivering an SNL monologue.
Giphy | Saturday Night Live

But she soon realized that she couldn't be Riley, because she was having a hard time responding to that name. "So, then I changed it to Emma because, you know, it's closer to Emily," she continued.

Shay Mitchell

Mitchell's full name is Shannon Ashley Garcia Mitchel, which isn't too far off from what her stage name ended up being. Apparently, the name came from a nickname given to her by her friends, because of her love for Jennifer Lopez.

"I love J.Lo, Jennifer Lopez. And when I was in high school, people would be like, 'Shay-Lo,' and then 'Shay' kinda stuck," she said.

"We dropped 'Lo,' because no one can be J.Lo."

The Pretty Little Liars alum also noted that her unique name helped her out in audition rooms. "When I was auditioning, I would go into rooms, and because it was a unique name, they'd ask me about it."

Jamie Foxx

Foxx's real name is Eric Marlon Bishop. He got the name Jamie Foxx while doing stand-up comedy: "I noticed it would be, like, 1,000 guys show up and only three girls, but the three girls would always get a spot, and they would choose from the list," he said in an interview with David Letterman.

"So, I went to the list and wrote down unisex names. Stacey Green. Tracey Brown. Jamie Foxx."

Jamie Foxx saying "I gotta work the system harder than it's working me"

"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."