19 Things You Might Not Have Known About Albert Einstein

Hulton Archive, Getty Images
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

In 1999, Albert Einstein was awarded Time's Person of the Century. The father of special and general relativity, Einstein's theories introduced concepts that would help make dozens of modern technologies possible. "I have no special talents," Einstein was quoted saying. "I am only passionately curious." Here are some facts about the physicist who gave us crazy hair and E=MC^2.

1. When Albert Einstein was born, his misshapen head terrified the room.

A portrait of a young Albert Einstein with his sister.
A portrait of a young Albert Einstein with his sister.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On March 14, 1879, baby Einstein emerged with a "swollen, misshapen head and a grossly overweight body," according to Denis Brian's book, Einstein: A Life. When she got a look at him later, the chunky child terrified Einstein's grandmother, who screamed, "Much too fat! Much too fat!" Thankfully, Albert would eventually grow into his body. (However, he did have trouble developing in other arenas: He supposedly wouldn't start speaking until the age of 2.)

2. As a child, Einstein was the king of throwing temper tantrums.

The young genius had a habit of throwing objects whenever he was displeased; once, a frustrated Einstein even threw a chair at his teacher. The 5-year-old enjoyed bombarding his tutors and family members: His sister Maja, who was often conked in the head by Einstein's fusillades, later quipped, "It takes a sound skull to be the sister of an intellectual."

According to the biography by Alice Calaprice and Trevor Lipscombe, "When he became angry, his whole face turned yellow except for the tip of his nose, which turned white."

3. Einstein did not struggle in school.

The idea that Einstein had trouble in school is a myth. During summers, a pre-teen Einstein would study mathematics and physics for fun, eventually mastering differential and integral calculus by age 15. But that's not to say he was a perfect student. Einstein hated rote learning and refused to study subjects that didn't interest him. So, naturally, when the obstinate number-lover took the entrance exam to the polytechnic school in Zurich, he flunked the language, zoology, and botany sections.

4. Nobody knows Einstein's IQ.

Einstein's IQ was never tested, though that hasn't stopped people from guessing. Lots of websites claim the physicist's IQ was 160, but there's simply no way of verifying that claim. "One fundamental problem with the estimates I've seen is that they tend to conflate intellectual ability with domain-specific achievement," Dean Keith Simonton, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California, Davis told Biography. For all we know, Einstein's aptitude in arenas outside of physics might have rivaled that of an average Joe.

5. Einstein refreshed his brain by playing the violin.

Einstein violin
Keystone, Hulton Archive // Getty Images

Whenever Einstein needed to relax, he turned to music. He started violin lessons at age 5 and, at around 17, impressed his teachers at cantonal school with his playing during a music exam. Around 1914, when Einstein lived in Berlin, he'd play sonatas with his friend and fellow theoretical physicist, Max Planck. And after he became famous, Einstein would play a handful benefit concerts alongside greats like Fritz Kreisler. "Music helps him when he is thinking about his theories," his second wife, Elsa, said. "He goes to his study, comes back, strikes a few chords on the piano, jots something down, returns to his study." [PDF]

6. Fashion was not Einstein's strong suit.

Einstein hated wearing socks and was immensely proud of the fact that he didn't have to wear them while giving lectures at Oxford in the 1930s. His antipathy apparently stemmed from a childhood realization: "When I was young I found out that the big toe always ends up making a hole in a sock," Einstein reportedly said. "So I stopped wearing socks." As an adult, he typically wore an undershirt, baggy trousers held by rope, and a pair of (occasionally women's) sandals.

7. Einstein loved sailing (and was absolutely terrible at it).

While an undergraduate in Zurich, Einstein fell in love with sailing—a passion that would persist throughout his life. There was just one problem: He was a horrible sailor. He regularly tipped his boat over and required rescue dozens of times. (His sailboat was named Tinef, Yiddish for "worthless.") In 1935, The New York Times reported on Einstein's sailing misadventures with the punny headline: "Relative Tide and Sand Bars Trap Einstein."

8. Fatherhood gave Einstein his iconic crazy hair.

As a young man, Einstein sported a well-maintained head of dark hair—that is, until his son Hans was born in 1904. Like many new parents, Einstein discovered that having a new mouth to feed changed everything: The patent clerk was so busy trying to support his family that he stopped combing his hair and visiting the barber. Slowly, an iconic look was born.

Einstein would spurn barbers for the rest of his life. His second wife, Elsa, would cut his mop whenever it became disheveled.

9. Einstein had a habit of mindlessly gorging on food.

When Einstein was a patent clerk, he formed a book club with two friends and called it the "Olympia Academy." The trio usually dined on sausages, Gruyere cheese, fruit, and tea. But on Einstein's birthday, his friends brought expensive caviar as a surprise. Einstein, who had a knack for mindlessly eating when talking about something he was passionate about, began stuffing his face while discussing Galileo's principle of inertia—totally unaware of what he was eating. He later offered this excuse: "Well if you offer gourmet foods to peasants like me, you know they won't appreciate it."

10. Einstein had a bawdy sense of humor.

Einstein enjoyed the occasional dirty joke. When he accepted his first job as a professor, he said, "[N]ow I too am an official member of the guild of whores." And when a member of his book club gave him a nameplate that said "Albert, Knight of the Backside," Einstein proudly kept it tacked on his apartment door. Later in life, he'd tell jokes to his pet parrot, Bibo. (Einstein believed the bird was depressed and needed a laugh.)

11. Einstein loved the famous tongue photo.

Einstein lounging
Three Lions, Hulton Archive // Getty Images

On his 72nd birthday, Einstein was leaving an event held in his honor. As he was getting into his car, photographers asked him to smile for the camera. Einstein, however, was sick and tired of grinning for a photograph—he'd be doing it all evening—so he popped his tongue out instead. Einstein liked the photo so much that he put it on his greeting cards.

12. Einstein was an inventor.

Having spent seven years working in the Swiss Patent Office, Einstein was naturally curious about inventing and would secure approximately 50 patents during his lifetime. He enjoyed tinkering with electronics and would eventually patent a self-adjusting camera, a refrigerator that could last 100 years, and even a blouse.

13. When it came to love, Einstein was no genius.

Einstein, who married twice, had multiple extramarital affairs—including one dalliance with a possible Russian spy. His first marriage with Mileva Marić (a physicist he met at the Swiss Polytechnic School) soured after the birth of their third child. As their marriage crumbled, Einstein imposed a list of brusque—if not cruel—demands which included: "You will obey the following points in your relations with me: 1. You will not expect intimacy from me … 2. You will stop talking to me if I request it." Unsurprisingly, they divorced. Later, Einstein married his cousin, Elsa Löwenthal.

14. A letter Einstein signed helped spark the Manhattan Project.

Einstein was not part of the Manhattan Project, but he was instrumental in getting it started. In the late 1930s, German scientists discovered nuclear fission of uranium, a major step toward the development of the atomic bomb. Much of the world's uranium was held in the Congo—then a colony of Belgium—so two Hungarian-American physicists named Leo Szilard and Eugene Wigner decided to get Einstein to write a letter to his friend, the Queen of Belgium. Einstein suggested a letter to a Belgian minister instead, but an encounter with an economist who knew President Roosevelt resulted in a change in direction and a letter that prompted America to start its own experiments.

15. Einstein loved answering fanmail from children.

Einstein received countless letters from the public, but he always tried to answer mail sent by children. (In one letter, a young girl complained about her troubles with math. The professor supposedly wrote back, "Do not worry about your difficulty in Mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater.") Einstein's many correspondences with children—filled with charm and encouragement—are compiled in a book by Alice Calaprice called Dear Professor Einstein.

16. Einstein turned down the presidency of Israel.

E=MC2
The world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier the USS Enterprise gives Einstein a shout-out as it launches the first nuclear-powered circumnavigation of the world in 1964.
Keystone, Hulton Archive // Getty Images

After the first president of the State of Israel, Chaim Weizmann, died in 1952, the Prime Minister asked Einstein to step into the (mostly ceremonial) role. The physicist declined, writing: "I am deeply moved by the offer from our State of Israel, and at once saddened and ashamed that I cannot accept it. All my life I have dealt with objective matters, hence I lack both the natural aptitude and the experience to deal properly with people and to exercise official functions."

17. Einstein was an outspoken advocate for racial justice.

Having abandoned Germany in 1933 to avoid Nazi persecution, Einstein was sensitive of the racial discrimination he saw in the United States. He championed the rights of African Americans and was a member of the NAACP. When the famed black singer Marian Anderson came to perform at Princeton in 1937 and was denied a hotel room, Einstein invited her to stay in his home. He was also pen pals with W.E.B. Du Bois and, when Du Bois became the target of the Red Scare, Einstein effectively saved Du Bois by offering to be his character witness. In a 1946 speech he delivered at Pennsylvania's Lincoln University, he called segregation "a disease of white people," vowing, "I do not intend be quiet about it."

18. Einstein was the inspiration for Yoda.

Yoda's face was partly modeled after Einstein's. According to Star Wars special-effects artist Nick Maley, "A picture of Einstein ended up on the wall behind the Yoda sculptures and the wrinkles around Einstein's eyes somehow got worked into the Yoda design. Over the course of this evolutionary process Yoda slowly changed from a comparatively spritely [sic], tall, skinny, grasshopper kind of character into the old wise spirited gnome that we all know today."

19. Einstein's theories are more relevant than you think.

It's easy to assume that Einstein's theories of relativity are purely theoretical, but they really do affect your everyday life. For instance, the theory of general relativity states that gravity affects time: Time moves by faster for objects in space than objects here on Earth. And that has profound implications for many space-based technologies, especially the accuracy of your GPS. His theories also explain how electromagnets work and are foundational to nuclear technology.

8 Surprising Facts About Andy Kaufman

Andy Kaufman in 1981.
Andy Kaufman in 1981.
Joan Adlen, Getty Images

For fans of the late comedian Andy Kaufman (1949-1984), the debate over whether Kaufman was more interested in antagonizing audiences or making them laugh still rages. During a career that saw him appear on stage and on television (Taxi), the performer often blurred the lines between his real persona and the characters he inhabited.

For more on Kaufman, keep reading. Thank you very much.

1. Andy Kaufman got a letter from his doctor that kept him from being drafted.

Born in New York City on January 17, 1949, Kaufman was raised in Great Neck, Long Island and displayed an interest in performing from an early age, entertaining children at their birthday parties when Kaufman himself was only 8 years old. After graduating from high school in 1967, Kaufman though he might be drafted for military service but didn’t wind up serving. His doctor wrote a letter explaining that Kaufman seemed to have no basic grasp of reality, let alone the Vietnam conflict. Joining the Army, the doctor wrote, might cause Kaufman to completely lose his mind. The letter, which likely contained a good measure of hyperbole, earned him a permanent 4-F deferment from service. He went on to attend Grahm Junior College in Boston.

2. Andy Kaufman’s stand-up act was very, very bizarre.

Kaufman got his start in the early 1970s performing at comedy clubs in New York and Los Angeles. Unlike most comics of the time, Kaufman didn’t write a conventionally-structured act. Instead, he would take on the role of performance artist, confusing audiences with stunts like reading from The Great Gatsby and threatening to start over if they complained. He would also drag a sleeping bag on stage and climb into it or do his laundry with a portable dryer. These appearances were sufficiently provocative that Kaufman sometimes hired off-duty police officers to break up fights in the crowd or intercept people trying to attack him.

3. Andy Kaufman once opened for Barry Manilow.

Before Kaufman got television exposure, it was easy for bookers to assume he was a polished and conventional performer. As a result, Kaufman got a number of gigs in the early 1970s opening for established musical acts like the Temptations and Barry Manilow. Appearing onstage in 1972 before the Temptations came out, Kaufman wept and then shot himself in the head with a cap gun. Similarly bizarre behavior was also displayed before a Manilow concert, with irate members of the audience having to be calmed down by Manilow himself.

4. Andy Kaufman was once voted off of Saturday Night Live.

Kaufman succeeded in drawing attention to himself on stage, which led to being invited to perform on Saturday Night Live beginning in 1975. During these appearances, Kaufman would take material from his act, including his lip-syncing of the theme to the Mighty Mouse animated series. Such stunts drew a mixed reception from viewers. From 1975 to 1982, Kaufman made a total of 14 appearances on the show. Then, producers decided to offer viewers the chance to “vote” Kaufman off by calling in to cast their ballot. On the November 20, 1982 broadcast, 195,544 callers asked that the show not permit him to come back on. They outnumbered the 169,186 viewers who called in support of him. While the bit was intended to be humorous, Kaufman honored the results and never appeared on Saturday Night Live again.

5. Andy Kaufman once took his entire audience out for milk and cookies.

Kaufman eventually took his show to Carnegie Hall in 1979, where he was greeted by 2800 people who had come to appreciate his eccentric approach to performing. At the show's conclusion, he invited the entire audience to board buses waiting outside the building. Kaufman took them to the New York School of Printing in Manhattan, where he served the nearly 3000 attendees milk and cookies. He later gave them a ride on the Staten Island Ferry.

6. Andy Kaufman thought about franchising Tony Clifton.

One of Kaufman’s great ruses on the public was dressing as the abrasive lounge singer Tony Clifton, complete with prosthetic chin and torso padding, all while insisting Clifton was an entirely different person. Kaufman sometimes enlisted associates, including his brother Michael and his writing partner Bob Zmuda, to put on the make-up. In 2013, Michael told Vice that Kaufman’s plan was to have Clifton become a roving character. “Andy had been talking about franchising Tony Clifton before he died,” Michael Kaufman said. “He was going to have one in every state.”

7. Andy Kaufman insisted on an Andy Kaufman stand-in for Taxi.

When Kaufman agreed to appear on Taxi (1978-1983) as Latka Gravas, a version of the “Foreign Man” character he had been performing on stage, he had a peculiar request: He wanted to be expected on set for only two of the five shooting days for each episode. While Kaufman didn’t seem to want to do it at all, the paycheck allowed him to pursue his more experimental brand of comedy. Producers agreed. In 2018, co-star Carol Kane, who played Kaufman's love interest, told The Hollywood Reporter that the cast “would work with a fake Andy who wore a sign around his neck that said ‘Latka.’”

Kaufman also showed up to shoot an episode as his alter ego Tony Clifton, insisting that he was not Kaufman. Star Judd Hirsch got so angry that he had Clifton thrown off the set.

8. Andy Kaufman broke character for Orson Welles.

While there were certainly times Kaufman spoke from the heart, it was rare to see him break any one of his myriad characters in front of an audience. That happened—fleetingly—when Kaufman appeared on The Merv Griffin Show in 1982 on a night it was being guest-hosted by legendary film director Orson Welles. Sporting a neck brace from his stint in professional wrestling, Kaufman didn’t keep up appearances for long. After Welles told him he was “fascinated” by his characters, talk turned to Kaufman’s “Foreign Man,” his Elvis Presley imitation, and his “third character,” Tony Clifton. “Well, he wasn’t a character,” Kaufman said, correcting himself. “There’s a lot of debate over whether it’s a character or a real guy, and that’s Tony Clifton, but that’s a whole other story.”

“That’s metaphysics,” Welles replied.

The Full Names of 37 One-Name Celebrities

Rihanna and Madonna attend the Tidal launch event in New York City.
Rihanna and Madonna attend the Tidal launch event in New York City.
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images For Roc Nation

A rose by any other name probably wouldn't smell as sweet, at least not in the cases of some of these one-named celebrities. From A-Z, here are the full names of some of your favorite mononymous stars, and the reasons they dropped the rest of their names.

1. Adele

Singer Adele performs
Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images

Real Name: Adele Laurie Blue Adkins

As far as we can tell, Adele’s first name is simply distinctive enough to stand on its own. Plus, “Adele Adkins” sounds a bit like she should be playing at the Grand Ole Opry (which would be lovely, but not quite the sound she’s going for).

2. Awkwafina

Awkwafina attends the 2020 Critics' Choice Awards in Santa Monica, California.
Awkwafina attends the 2020 Critics' Choice Awards in Santa Monica, California.
MATT WINKELMEYER/GETTY IMAGES FOR CRITICS CHOICE ASSOCIATION

Real Name: Nora Lum

“There’s really no great, symbolic story,” Awkwafina told Cosmopolitan of her chosen moniker. "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 anyway, I just came up with it when I was 16 and thought it was really funny. And then I eventually adopted it."

3. Beck

Musician Beck attends the KROQ Absolut Almost Acoustic Christmas 2019 at Honda Center on December 07, 2019 in Anaheim, California
Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

Real Name: Bek David Campbell

He added the “c” to his real name, hoping that it would prevent people from pronouncing his name as Brock, Breck, Beak, or Bic. Fun Fact: Beck's mother is Bibbe Hansen, an original Warhol superstar.

4. Bono

Bono of music group U2 performs onstage at the 2016 iHeartRadio Music Festival at T-Mobile Arena on September 23, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Real Name: Paul David Hewson

Without a doubt, Bono is the only rock star in the world named after a hearing aid. His school friends in Dublin all gave each other nicknames, and his was "Bono Vox," Latin for "good voice," based on the Bonavox hearing aid store. Eventually he dropped the "Vox" and became the Bono we all know today.

5. Charo

Pop music icon Charo attends "Dancing with the Stars" Season 24 at CBS Televison City on March 27, 2017 in Los Angeles, California
David Livingston/Getty Images

Real Name: Maria Rosario Pilar Martinez Molina Baeza

I mean, Charo is 31 characters (not including spaces) shorter than her real name, so you can see why she decided to shorten things up. But why “Charo” instead of “Maria” or even something more distinctive like “Rosario”? As it turns out, “Charo” is actually not an uncommon nickname for “Rosario.”

6. Common

Rapper Common performs on stage at The Moore Theatre on July 14, 2019 in Seattle, Washington
Mat Hayward/Getty Images

Real Name: Lonnie Corant Jaman Shuka Rashid Lynn

Lynn adopted the stage name "Common Sense" at a young age, then shortened it to Common after he was sued by a band using the name handle.

7. Drake

Drake accepts the Top Billboard 200 Album award for "Views" during the 2017 Billboard Music Awards at T-Mobile Arena on May 21, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Real Name: Aubrey Drake Graham

Drake is a better rapper name than Aubrey. Back when he was an actor on Degrassi, though, Aubrey served him well.

8. Eminem

Eminem
Christopher Polk/Getty Images for MTV

Real Name: Marshall Bruce Mathers III

The rapper’s stage name was originally M&M, a reference to his initials. He eventually began spelling it phonetically instead.

9. Enya

Singer Enya attends the Clive Davis annual Pre-Grammy Gala at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 11, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California
Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

Real Name: Eithne Ní Bhraonáin

Because she knew that most of the world would scratch their heads when presented with the Irish “Eithne,” Enya changed her name to the phonetic spelling of her real name. Yep, “Eithne” = “Enya.”

10. Flea

Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers performs in concert during The Getaway World Tour at the AT&T Center on January 5, 2017 in San Antonio, Texas
Rick Kern/Getty Images

Real Name: Michael Peter Balzary

The itchy moniker goes back to Balzary's high school days, when friends called him “Mike B the Flea.”

11. Gotye

Musician Gotye, winner Best Alternative Music Album for "Making Mirrors" and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for "Somebody That I Used To Know", poses in the press room at the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards at Staples Center on February 10, 2013 in Los Angeles,
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Real Name: Wouter “Wally” De Backer

It’s the French version of his real name, Wouter. "Wouter translates into French as 'Gaultier,'" Gotye told Interview Magazine. "When I was in my early 20s, I wanted a name for my project that was kind of personal and similar to the way that I felt about my music: using the past to broaden into the present. I called her up, and she reminded me of that name. I decided how to spell it as a kind of jumbled surname, Gotye. I wanted a name that had passion. I came up with my own spelling for it, and that’s where it comes from."

12. Hammer

MC Hammer attends the premiere of Lionsgate's "All Eyez On Me" on June 14, 2017 in Los Angeles, California
David Livingston/Getty Images

Real Name: Stanley Kirk Burrell

Yeah, if you’re of a certain age, you probably know him as MC Hammer, but he dropped the Master of Ceremonies a while back. The “U Can’t Touch This” rapper and former batboy for the Oakland A's received his nickname from an unlikely source: Pedro Garcia, then of the Milwaukee Brewers, who thought a young Burrell was a dead ringer for Hammerin’ Hank Aaron. (Reggie Jackson has also taken credit for the nickname.)

13. Ice-T

Ice-T performs onstage at the Premiere Ceremony during the 60th Annual GRAMMY Awards at Madison Square Garden on January 28, 2018 in New York City
Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Real Name: Tracy Lauren Marrow

The name is a tribute to Iceberg Slim, a reformed pimp who later wrote novels. “I’d taken my name as a tribute to Iceberg, and then it hit me one day—dude is a writer. I thought he was fly because he was a pimp, but I realized that I really admired him because he was a writer,” Ice-T wrote in his autobiography.

14. Jay-Z

Shawn "Jay Z" Carter makes an announcement on the Steps of City Hall Downtown Los Angeles for a Labor Day Music Festival at Los Angeles City Hall on April 16, 2014 in Los Angeles, California
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Real Name: Shawn Corey Carter

There are a few theories as to where Jay-Z came from, including that he was paying homage to his mentor, Jaz-O, or that it was a nod to the spot in Brooklyn where the J and Z trains meet up. But Carter maintains that it’s just a variation on his childhood nickname, “Jazzy.”

15. Ke$ha

Kesha attends the 2018 Billboard Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 20, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada
John Shearer/Getty Images

Real Name: Kesha Rose Sebert

Kesha is her real name, but the dollar sign was part of her party girl image. She’s actually just Kesha now; she dropped the symbol several years ago. In a discussion at SXSW, Kesha told Refinery 29, “I let go of my facade about being a girl who didn't care. My facade was to be strong, and I realized it was total bullshit. I took out the $ because I realized that was part of the facade.”

16. Liberace

Liberace in the back seat of a limo
Terry Disney/Getty Images

Real Name: Władziu Valentino Liberace

It's just his last name. After using the stage name “Walter Busterkeys” for a time, Liberace decided to go by his surname only as a nod to his idol, pianist Igancy Paderewski, who did the same.

17. Lizzo

Recording artist Lizzo performs at The Chelsea at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas on October 25, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada
David Becker/Getty Images

Real Name: Melissa Jefferson

Contrary to popular belief, Jefferson swears that her moniker was not inspired by the Jay-Z song “Izzo.” It came about in middle school, when she and her friends created nicknames by adding “O” to the end of their names. “You would be Gayle-O,” she told Gayle King. Because the musician went by Lissa at the time, she became Lisso, which eventually evolved into Lizzo.

18. Ludacris

Rapper Ludacris performs in concert during So So Def 25th Cultural Curren$y Tour at State Farm Arena on October 21, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images

Real Name: Chris Bridges

"Ludacris' is something that I made up," Bridges told MTV News in 2000. "It just kind of describes me. Sometimes I have like a split personality. Sometimes I'm cool, calm, and collected, and other times I'm beyond crazy. I'm ridiculous, I'm ludicrous. Plus my birth name is Chris, so it kind of incorporates that.”

19. Madonna

Madonna performs a tribute to Prince onstage during the 2016 Billboard Music Awards at T-Mobile Arena on May 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Real Name: Madonna Louise Ciccone

While we're in the M section: Madonna's given name is, in fact, Madonna.

20. Moby

Moby performs onstage during The Last Weekend Kickoff LA Presented by Swing Left at The Palace Theatre on November 1, 2018 in Los Angeles, California
Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

Real Name: Richard Melville Hall

“The basis for Richard Melville Hall—and for Moby—is that supposedly Herman Melville was my great-great-great granduncle,” Hall once explained.

21. Nenê

Nene Hilario #42 of the Houston Rockets reacts on the bench during the second half against the Washington Wizards at Toyota Center on April 3, 2018 in Houston, Texas
Tim Warner/Getty Images

Real Name: Maybyner Rodney Hilário

Nenê is one of the few mononymous people in the U.S. to have legally switched to a single name. The Brazilian basketball player, who most recently played for the Houston Rockets, was called “Nenê” as a child because he’s the youngest kid in his family and nenê is Portuguese for “baby.”

22. Pink

Recording artist Pink performs on stage during Pink at Nomadic Live! at The Armory on February 2, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

Real Name: Alecia Beth Moore

According to the magenta musician herself, it was a cruel childhood nickname: "It was a mean thing at first; some kids at camp pulled my pants down and I blushed so much, and they were like, 'Ha ha! Look at her! She's pink!' And then the movie Reservoir Dogs came out and Mr. Pink was the one with the smart mouth, so it just happened all over again."

23. Prince


BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images

Real Name: Prince Rogers Nelson

The artist formerly known as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince was, indeed, born Prince Rogers Nelson.

24. ?uestlove

Questlove of music group The Roots performs onstage during the 2016 BET Awards at the Microsoft Theater on June 26, 2016 in Los Angeles, California
Kevin Winter/BET/Getty Images for BET

Real Name: Ahmir Khalib Thompson

Before he was ?uestlove, the former Ahmir Khalib Thompson wanted to be plain old ?, which he meant to mean “anonymous.” When people started calling him “Question Mark,” he changed his name again to “B.R.O. the R. ?” That didn’t work either: fans thought his name was Brother Question Mark. He finally arrived at ?uestlove because “in the old days, your name ended in rock, ski or love. ?uestrock was not happening and neither was ?uestski. So ?uestlove became my new old school name, ’cause I’m so old school!”

25. Raffi

Real Name: Raffi Cavoukian

Because when your name is actually Raffi, you don’t need a surname.

26. Rihanna

Rihanna attends the Queen & Slim at AFI FEST 2019.
Rihanna attends the Queen & Slim premiere at AFI FEST 2019.
FRAZER HARRISON/GETTY IMAGES

Real Name: Robyn Rihanna Fenty

The singer/actor from Barbados goes by her middle name professionally. "I get kind of numb to Rihanna, Rihanna, Rihanna," she told Rolling Stone, noting that her close friends and family still call her by her first name. "When I hear Robyn, I pay attention."

27. Sade

Singer/songwriter Sade performs at the MGM Grand Garden Arena September 3, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Real Name: Helen Folasade Adu

Though her given name may be Helen, no one has ever referred to the velvet-voiced singer as such. Her parents called her Sade, a shortened version of her middle name, from a young age.

28. Sinbad

Sinbad attends Pilot Pen & GBK Celebration Lounge - Day 2 at LÕErmitage on September 15, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California
Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images for GBK Productions

Real Name: David Adkins

Adkins thought using one distinctive name would help him stand out in the saturated world of stand-up comedy. He chose Sinbad after the mythological seafarer, telling Ebony magazine: “Sinbad was a leader. When monsters would show up, the men would scream out Sinbad’s name. He wasn’t the biggest guy, but he was clever and resourceful. He was a loner and lived life as a journey.”

29. Skrillex

Skrillex performs during the SnowGlobe Music Festival 2019 at Bijou Park on December 31, 2019 in South Lake Tahoe, California
Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Real Name: Sonny John Moore

Here’s another case of a high school nickname that got carried over into adulthood. “Throughout my teen years my friends would call me Skrillex or Skril or Skrilly. Just became a stupid nickname that came out of the social online networking handles," Moore explained. "Really means nothing.”

30. Slash

Slash performs onstage at the GIBSON NAMM JAM Opening Party 2020 at City National Grove of Anaheim on January 16, 2020 in Anaheim, California
Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for Gibson

Real Name: Saul Hudson

The Guns N’ Roses guitarist credits a rather surprising source for his badass nickname: character actor Seymour Cassel. Slash was friends with Cassel’s son, and after observing him always running around “in a hurry, hustling whatever it is I was hustling at the time,” Cassel dubbed him Slash.

31. Twiggy

Twiggy Lawson attends a private screening of 'The Boy Friend' hosted by Twiggy at Kings Cross Everyman Cinema on October 23, 2019 in London, England
David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Everyman

Real Name: Lesley Lawson (née Hornby)

When the fashion model was just a girl, kids at school referred to her as “Sticks” because she was so thin. Her boyfriend later gave her a slightly nicer (?) version of the nickname, which became her name when she hit it big. “Twiggy is a stupid name for a woman in her 40s,” she once remarked, “But it would be hard to drop.”

32. Usher

Usher performs at the 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards on January 26, 2020 in Los Angeles, California
John Shearer/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Real Name: Usher Terry Raymond IV

Let’s just say it’s a good thing Usher didn’t go the route of Drake and other celebs who eschewed their first names for their “cooler” middle names.

33. Voltaire

Portrait of French writer, essayist and philosopher Francois Marie Arouet de Voltaire (1694-1778), author of "Candide
The Print Collector/Getty Images

Real Name: François-Marie Arouet

Is it any surprise that Voltaire liked wordplay? The Latinized spelling of his surname is “AROVET LI,” and “Voltaire” is an anagram of that.

34. will.i.am

Will.i.am attends The Voice UK 2019 photocall at The Soho Hotel on December 16, 2019 in London, England
Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images

Real Name: William James Adams, Jr.

“I liked playing with words. I noticed that my name was a sentence, meaning one with will, who is strong-willed. And so I called my mom and said, ‘Hey, Mom, do you mind if I call myself Will.i.am?’ She was like: ‘Whaaa? You’re crazy.’ She was cool with it.”

35. Yanni

Yanni performs at The Greek Theatre on June 9, 2018 in Los Angeles, California
Oliver Walker/Getty Images

Real Name: He was born Yiannis Chryssomallis, though that's sometimes Americanized to John Yanni Christopher.

See “Raffi,” above. Actually, Yiannis is a very common name in Chryssomallis's native Greece. He was known as “John” to his classmates at the University of Minnesota. Yanni is a just a slight variation of his given name.

36. Zendaya

Zendaya attends the Bvlgari B.zero1 Rock collection event at Duggal Greenhouse on February 06, 2020 in Brooklyn, New York
Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Real Name: Zendaya Maree Stoermer Coleman

Zendaya is her real name. She’s never used her last name professionally, though, because her first name is so distinctive. “I [dropped my last name because I] just thought it was cool, like Cher or Prince,” she told Allure.

37. Zucchero

Zucchero Sugar Fornaciari attends the 70° Festival di Sanremo (Sanremo Music Festival) at Teatro Ariston on February 05, 2020 in Sanremo, Italy
Daniele Venturelli/Getty Images

Real Name: Adelmo Fornacirari

Zucchero is the Italian word for sugar, a name given to him by one of his elementary school teachers. It’s also an apt description for his sweet, sweet music: The Italian musician has worked with everyone from Ray Charles to Pavarotti and has a couple of World Music Awards and a Grammy nom under his belt.

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