The Stories Behind 15 Celebrity Stage Names

Christopher Polk/Getty Images for DirecTV
Christopher Polk/Getty Images for DirecTV / Christopher Polk/Getty Images for DirecTV

It's hard to overestimate the importance of having a solid, memorable name if you want to have a successful show business or literary career. So if you're born with a dud moniker, it might not hurt to change it. Have you ever wondered how some famous writers and performers came up with their pseudonyms? Here's a look at how some notables got their stage names.

1. Snoop Dogg

Snoop Dogg was born Calvin Broadus, but his parents nicknamed him "Snoopy" because he looked like the famous cartoon beagle.

2. Albert Brooks

Albert Brooks is a brilliantly funny man, but even he might not have made it too far in show business with his birth name: Albert Einstein.

Brooks originally tried to go by his first and middle names, Albert Lawrence, but decided that "sounded like a Vegas singer." The name Brooks was already in his family, so he ran with that. His brother, Bob Einstein, actually kept the family surname when he entered show biz, but even he's better known by an alias: Super Dave Osborne.

3. Whoopi Goldberg

Whoopi Goldberg took her stage name from the whoopee cushion. The actress, who was born Caryn Johnson, said that a tendency to break wind led a number of friends and colleagues to accuse her of being "like a whoopee cushion." According to Goldberg, she considered going by the name "Whoopi Cushion" when she advanced her comedy career, but her mother warned her that nobody would take her seriously with such a silly name. Her mom thought it would be smarter to pair "Whoopi" with a more serious name and proposed that her daughter use "Goldberg."

4. Jackie Chan

Jackie Chan was working at a construction site in Australia when he got his famous nickname: one of his co-workers couldn't pronounce Chan's first name, Kong-sang, so he called him "Little Jack" instead. The name soon morphed into "Jackie," and stayed that way.

5. Harry Houdini

Harry Houdini was born Ehrich Weiss, but he took on the stage name Harry Houdini as a tribute to famed French magician Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin. "Harry" was the Americanized version of his childhood nickname, "Ehrie."

6. MC Hammer

MC Hammer got his nickname from his childhood job with the Oakland Athletics. Eccentric longtime A's owner Chuck Finley loved Stanley Kirk Burrell, the talented kid who danced in the team's parking lot and eventually became a batboy for the club. The benevolent owner called him "Little Hammer" because he thought Burrell looked like "Hammerin'" Hank Aaron. When Little Hammer picked up the mic, he became MC Hammer.

7. Alice Cooper

Alice Cooper, who was born Vincent Furnier, was supposedly playing with a Ouija board in the late 1960s when a 16th-century witch doctor named Alice Cooper contacted him. Furnier and his buddies then started a band called Alice Cooper with the magnetic Furnier in the lead role of "Alice." Since the name originally referred to the whole band and not just Furnier, he continues to pay an annual royalty to his old bandmates for the commercial use of the Alice Cooper name.

8. Sugar Ray Robinson

Sugar Ray Robinson was born Walker Smith, Jr., but once he began to make some noise as a boxer, commentators described his fighting style as "sweet as sugar." So beginning in 1939, his manager began promoting him as "Sugar Ray Robinson," and every future boxer named Ray suddenly had a nickname.

9. Michael Keaton

Michael Keaton was born Michael Douglas. He changed it because we already had a famous actor by that name. You may have heard of him.

10. LL Cool J

LL Cool J stands for "Ladies Love Cool James," as you may already know. What you might not know, though, is that the name wasn't necessarily true when it made its debut. When James Todd Smith and a buddy were 16 years old, they began calling themselves LL Cool J and Playboy Mikey D in the hopes that it would help their stock with the girls they tried to woo. In a 2008 interview with CBS' Early Show, LL admitted that the ladies didn't actually love cool James quite yet, saying, "It was just wishful thinking, just hoping for the best."

11. Pee-wee Herman

Paul Reubens' Pee-wee Herman character got his name from two different sources: Reubens owned a brand of harmonica called a Pee-wee, and he remembered a particularly high-strung grammar school classmate named Herman. Reubens later told Vanity Fair that he ran with the combination because, "I like that it didn't sound like a made-up name, that it was just kind of cruddy."

12. Sid Vicious

Sid Vicious—who was born John Simon Ritchie, and later went by John Beverley—got his famous stage name from Sex Pistols frontman John "Johnny Rotten" Lydon's old pet hamster, Sid. The bassist was playing with Lydon's hamster one day when the rodent bit him and forced him to exclaim, "Your Sid is vicious!" Lydon thought the remark was so amusing that he started calling his friend "Sid Vicious."

13. O. Henry

O. Henry wanted to send out some of his stories when he was a young writer working in New Orleans, but he wanted to use a pseudonym in case the tales weren't very good. One of his chums suggested that they scour the society page of a local newspaper for a good name, so they read an account of a fashionable ball and settled on the last name Henry. The writer then said he didn't want a long first name, so his buddy suggested going by an initial. They decided "O" was the easiest letter to write, so that's the initial that went on the stories.

14. John le Carré

John le Carré was working as a diplomat when he began writing novels, but the British Foreign Office didn't allow its employees to publish under their real names. The writer, who was born David John Moore Cornwell, claims that he took his pseudonym from a store he saw in London called "Le Carre."

15. Iron Eyes Cody

Iron Eyes Cody was one of Hollywood's most beloved Native American actors throughout the 20th century; you might remember him as the "Crying Indian" in the famous "Keep America Beautiful" ads. One thing most audiences didn't know, however, was that Cody was actually the son of Sicilian immigrants, not Native American. For most of his life, though, he maintained that he was actually part Cree and part Cherokee and even married a Native American woman. This arrangement surely made it easier to land Native American roles than his real name, Espera Oscar de Corti, would have.

An earlier version of this post originally appeared in 2010.