8 Famous People Who Changed Their Names For Hollywood, And 8 Who Absolutely Refused To

1.Changed their name: Michelle Yeoh

Michelle Yeoh in an off-shoulder black dress, adorned with a jeweled feather brooch, smiling on the red carpet

Her real name is Choo Kheng Yeoh (although the name order is switched, so it's really Yeoh Choo Kheng).

Amy Sussman / Getty Images

Back in the '80s, the actor was pressured to change her name. She told USA Today, "I only adopted the name Michelle when I got into the film industry because my producer said at the time, 'No one is going to be able to say your name.'"

Michelle Yeoh poses elegantly on the red carpet, wearing a white jacket adorned with a detailed brooch

Though she reluctantly agreed to the name change, Michelle voiced her disbelief at the time. "What do you mean they can't say it? It's Yeoh as in Yo, that’s easy right? Choo as in 'choo choo train' and Kheng as in 'king.' Why can't you put those three words together?"

Steve Granitz / FilmMagic

2.Refused: Amrit Kaur

Person on a yellow background wearing a stylish pink one-shoulder top with a long, matching scarf-like accessory and gray pants
Errich Petersen / SXSW Conference & Festivals via Getty Images

The actor told Harper's Bazaar that she only recently started correcting people's pronunciation of her name. "For a long time, I was 'Aym-ritt,' which is disgusting. It doesn’t sound good... It was only three years ago I started telling my friends and family that my name is 'Um-rith.' You pronounce it like a U, not an A. All my life, I’d been called 'Aym-ritt.'"

Aparna Nancherla smiles in a beige trench-style dress at a Variety event

"Because I’m a newcomer, I don’t have a lot of clout. But at the same time, that’s my small little form of self-love or activism. But at least we’re starting to normalize being South Asian. If you can pronounce 'Saoirse,' as in Saoirse Ronan, if you can make the effort to learn a Caucasian name, then you can make the effort to learn a South Asian name as well."

Smiling woman in off-the-shoulder top and high-waisted, pleated pants on TIFF red carpet
Unique Nicole / Getty Images

3.Changed their name: Taika Waititi

Taika Waititi smiles, wearing a suit and bow tie at a formal event

His real name is Taika David Cohen.

Arturo Holmes / FilmMagic

His father's last name was Waititi, and his mother's is Cohen. His parents, who never married, wrote Cohen on Taika's birth certificate, but the filmmaker told Cultural Daily that he switched back and forth throughout his childhood. "Growing up, I was doing a lot of acting and stuff. And because Cohen is on my passport, I would use Cohen through school, and I was known as Taika Cohen. And then, when I went to live with my dad on that side of the family, I was known as Waititi. So I always used both names throughout my life, according to where I was living."

Taika Waititi in formal attire, including a bow tie and velvet jacket, poses on the red carpet in front of a backdrop displaying various logos
Matt Winkelmeyer / Getty Images for Critics Choice Association

"As a painter, I often felt like that was more the Waititi side of myself; I would be Taika Waititi as the painter. And then, because I made my first short film in that area where I was known as Waititi, that was the name that was put on the film. And that film did really well, and suddenly I had a career as a filmmaker, and now everyone knows me as Waititi."

Taika Waititi poses in a formal suit with a white shirt at an event
Neil Mockford / FilmMagic

4.Refused: Ki Hong Lee

Young Mazino poses in a dark blazer over a black shirt at a 'Little America' event
Frederic J. Brown / AFP via Getty Images

In an interview with the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment, the actor acknowledged that he has a "very Korean name" and considered Anglicizing it earlier in his career. However, he came across an interview of Uzo Aduba, who recalled asking her mom for a name that was easier for people to pronounce. "And she goes, 'Well, if they can learn to say Dostoyevsky and Tchaikovsky and all those names, they can learn to say your name.' And that resonated with me."

A person with short black hair is sitting indoors, wearing a black T-shirt. The background is blurred with a pattern of ceiling lights

5.Changed their name: Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling at a formal event, wearing an intricately designed gown with structured, flowing details around her shoulders

Her real name is Vera Mindy Chokalingam.

Mike Coppola / Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue

The actor told NHPR that she shortened her name when she got into comedy because no one could pronounce it — some people even made jokes about it. "It's a South Indian name, and it's a long name. As a performer, these comedians would just butcher it, and then be like, 'I don't know what it is! Just this girl, Mindy.'"

Mindy Kaling wearing a leather jacket and matching outfit, smiles at a red carpet event

"And so, I would go do stand-up nights, and I already felt, like, a huge distance from the audience — just as a new comedian, but then an even more distance because it had been made so clear that I was ethnic."

Gilbert Flores / WWD via Getty Images

"When you do comedy...these are all comedians who changed their names, and I felt it was the easiest thing for me to do, and ultimately, it was really beneficial to do it. 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."

Mindy Kaling in a sequined, plunging neckline gown at a celebrity event
John Shearer / WireImage

6.Refused: Keanu Reeves

Keanu Reeves on the red carpet in a black tuxedo with a bow tie
Steve Granitz / WireImage

On the Smartless podcast, he recalled being told his name was "too ethnic" when he first got to Hollywood. Though he was annoyed about it, he came up with a few different options that his agent didn't approve: Chuck Spadina and Templeton Page-Taylor. They agreed to try out Casey Reeves, but Keanu couldn't do it. "Eventually, I went back to my agents, and I was like, 'I can't change my name.'"

Keanu Reeves at the "Toy Story 4" premiere wearing a dark suit with a black tie

"One of the first plays I ever did, I was playing John Procter. And one of the lines is like, 'Because it is my name, because I can have no other,' and that was just running through my head," he added.

Matt Winkelmeyer / Getty Images

7.Changed their name: Jo Koy

Jo Koy

His real name is Joseph Glenn Herbert.

Daniel Zuchnik / WireImage / Getty Images

During the Netflix special In His Elements, the comedian shared that people would laugh at his name when he did stand-up early in his career. He was mulling over different options when his aunt called him over to eat with her nickname for him: Jo Koy. For over 30 years, he's used that as his stage name.

Jo Koy onstage

However, reporters kept asking him for the meaning behind the nickname, so he asked his aunt a few years ago. To his surprise, she told him that she never called him Jo Koy.


"I go, 'Then what do you call me?' She goes, 'I call you Jo ko. That is your nickname. Jo ko.' And for all of you at home who don't know what that means: In Tagalog, ko means my. My nickname is my Jo. Jo ko. How fucking sweet is that?"

Jo Koy onstage

"Why didn't she tell me this 30 years ago? All my merchandise, misspelled."


8.Refused: Maitreyi Ramakrishnan

Maitreyi Ramakrishnan on the red carpet in a one-shoulder dress, smiling at the camera
Steve Granitz / FilmMagic

During an interview with Variety, the Never Have I Ever actor spoke about the importance of respecting names. "Obviously, Tamil names are super long. My entire full name — Maitreyi Ramakrishnan — I have 20 letters... I think one of the greatest disrespects you can do to a person is not put the effort into somebody’s name."

Maitreyi Ramakrishnan

She shared that she used to Anglicize her name in high school. "And then when I landed in LA, they were like, 'How do you say your name? Sorry, I don’t want to mix it up.' And I’m like, 'Oh my God, this is my chance to reclaim my name' because I love my name. Why would I change it?"

Leon Bennett / Getty Images

9.Changed their name: KJ Apa

A man in a black blazer and yellow shirt stands in front of a pink background, smiling slightly at the camera

His real name is Keneti James Fitzgerald Apa.

Leon Bennett / Getty Images

On an episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live!, the TV show host asked what KJ stands for. The actor replied, "KJ is short for Keneti James, which is a Samoan name. I'm named after my father."

Closeup of KJ Apa
ABC / Via youtube.com

10.Refused: Nicole Scherzinger

Nicole Scherzinger poses on the red carpet, wearing a black strapless dress with gold chain straps
Pool / Getty Images

Though the singer was born Nicole Prascovia Elikolani Valiente, Scherzinger isn't a stage name. Her biological father left when she was a few years old, and her mother remarried. Nicole's stepfather adopted her, and she took his last name. She told The Guardian, "It's a crazy name, Scherzinger. It comes from my adoptive father, and the Austrian translation is jokester, which explains Schamazeballs [her phrase coined on the X Factor]."

Nicole Scherzinger smiles in a floral one-shoulder crop top and matching skirt on the red carpet
Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

11.Changed their name: Kal Penn

Kal Penn in a checkered suit jacket and black shirt, poses at an event with a purple background

His real name is Kalpen Suresh Modi.

Axelle / FilmMagic

In 2008, the actor told Nirali Magazine that Anglicizing his name resulted in a 50% increase in audition callbacks. "Almost as a joke to prove friends wrong, and half as an attempt to see if what I was told would work (that Anglicized names appeal more to a white-dominated industry), I put 'Kal Penn' on my résumé and photos. Auditions did increase, and I was amazed. It showed me that there really is such an amount of racism (not just overt, but subconscious as well)."

Kal Penn in a casual green T-shirt under a navy blazer, standing against a plain background

12.Refused: Ke Huy Quan

Closeup of Ke Huy Quan
Frederic J. Brown / AFP via Getty Images

After winning an Oscar for Everything Everywhere All at Once, he told reporters that he started out in Hollywood using his real name. "When it got really tough, my manager told me that 'maybe, you know, 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," he recalled. But after using the name Jonathan and taking a long break from acting, "The very first thing that I wanted to do was to go back to my birth given name."

Ke Huy Quan holding his Oscar

"Tonight, to see Ariana [DeBose] open that envelope and say 'Ke Huy Quan,' that was a really, really special moment for me. And then immediately, I was so emotional."

Handout / Getty Images

13.Changed their name: Awkwafina


Her real name is Nora Lum.

Rich Polk / Getty Images for IMDb

The actor told Galore, "I just really thought it was funny when people try to subtilize products like Neutrogena. 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 16 and thought it was really funny. And then, I eventually adopted it."

Awkwafina smiles on the red carpet at the Critics' Choice Awards, wearing a black and lace outfit

"People started calling me that name, and I was like, 'I can't believe they're actually calling me this fucking name, it's so stupid.'"

Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic

"My rap name was just Aquafina, but then I think when we were putting out the video, the guy that made the video...he was like, 'Well, we should change the spelling so you don't get sued,'" she recalled. "So, he spelled it so extra. He spelled it in the most extra way ever. So, I was like, 'I feel like people aren't going to understand this,' and he was like, 'Yeah, but I feel like it would be unique, so then people [will] look it up.' But then, no one knows how to spell it. So, you know, it came back to bite me in the ass."

Closeup of Awkwafina
Axelle / FilmMagic / Getty Images

14.Refused: Hasan Minhaj

Closeup of Hasan Minhaj
Santiago Felipe / Getty Images

In 2019, the comedian went viral for correcting Ellen DeGeneres's pronunciation of his name during her show. He later explained on Patriot Act that people pressured him to change his name when he first got into comedy. So, he spent two months introducing himself at open mics as Sean.

Hasan Minhaj and Ellen DeGeneres
Warner Bros. / Via youtube.com

But he quickly realized that didn't align with his principles — though many Asian folks are similarly pressured to change their names. "You'll have people who are like, 'This is my Chinese name, this is my American name.' But I'm like, 'Dude, fuck that.' Your name's your name."

Closeup of Hasan Minhaj
Netflix / Via Twitter: @patriotact

15.Changed their name: Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars performs on stage in a red suit, holding a microphone, with a guitar player in the background and an audience raising their hands

His real name is Peter Gene Hernandez.

John Esparza / via Getty Images

During an interview with Rap-Up, the singer shared the story behind his stage name. "Bruno is after Bruno Sammartino, who was this big, fat wrestler. I guess I was this chunky little baby, so my dad used to call me that as a nickname. The Mars came up just because I felt like I didn’t have no pizzazz, and a lot of girls say I’m out of this world, so I was like I guess I’m from Mars."

Bruno Mars performs on stage in a stylish suit, singing into a microphone, with an enthusiastic crowd and backup band
John Esparza / via Getty Images

16.And finally, refused: Jamie Chung

Jamie Chung smiles at a celebrity event, wearing a sleeveless black dress with her hair down
Steve Granitz / FilmMagic

In an interview with Byrdie, the actor spoke about the racism she's encountered — both in Hollywood and out in the world. "I can never hide my Asianness. But nor would I want to. I've been married for five years, and I won't even change my last name! I’ll never do it. I love my husband [actor Bryan Greenberg], but it’s just my identity. I’m never gonna change it."

Jamie Chung poses with a sleek braided hairstyle in an off-the-shoulder outfit at a celebrity event
Jc Olivera / FilmMagic

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