9 Celebrity Stage Names Whose Inspirations Will Surprise You

Lady Gaga's Name Might Have Been Derived From A Song

Actors, musicians, and other notable figures often take on different names for their careers. The name change might be done for creative or practical reasons, or develop somewhat organically. Whatever the reason, famous stage names are likely the names we associate with these people.

Many stage names have been inspired by or taken directly from other famous entities – perhaps the name of another musician, actor, or performer, or a work of art. Other celebrities might just look around the room, see something they like, and decide that’s what they want to be called. 

Finding out the famous things that inspired stage names might actually change how you hear those adopted names. 

1. Gene Wilder’s Stage Name Was An Homage To Literature

Gene Wilder's Stage Name Was An Homage To Literature

When Gene Wilder was 26 years old, the young actor changed his name from Jerome Silberman for professional reasons. He recalled:

I had always liked Gene because of Thomas Wolfe’s character Eugene Gant in Look Homeward, Angel, and Of Time and the River. And I was always a great admirer of Thornton Wilder.

Doubly inspired by literary greats, Wilder also “couldn’t quite see a marquee reading ‘Jerry Silberman as Macbeth.'”

2. Michael Caine Opted For A Name Inspired By His Hero

Michael Caine Opted For A Name Inspired By His Hero

Michael Caine legally changed his name from Maurice Micklewhite – the name he was born with – in 2016. He made the official switch because he had too many issues trying to get through airport security with a passport that had a different name.

But Michael Caine was merely the last in a line of stage names adopted by the actor. When Caine started acting, he went by Michael Scott. His agent told Caine he would have to change it, however, due to another actor with that name who was a member of the actor’s trade union, Equity

Caine’s agent gave him 30 minutes to decide on a new name. The actor explained what happened next in his book The Elephant to Hollywood:

[I] sat down on a bench in the middle of Leicester Square. It was – as now – the venue for all the premiere releases. I looked around at all the cinemas, at all the stars up there with their names in lights, and tried to imagine myself alongside them. Michael—? And then I saw it. Humphrey Bogart, my favorite actor, my hero, was starring in The Caine Mutiny. Caine – because it was short, because it was easy to spell, because I was feeling very mutinous at the time – and because, like Cain in the Old Testament, I, too, was outside Paradise. Michael Caine it would be. 

3. Pink’s Stage Name Comes From A Movie, But That’s Only Part Of The Story

Pink's Stage Name Comes From A Movie, But That's Only Part Of The Story

When Alicia Beth Moore was watching Reservoir Dogs with friends, one made a request of her. Moore (now Pink) recalled:

My best friend had never seen a white girl’s vagina before so he asked me if [he] could see it, so I showed it to him and he said, “It’s pink!” Then my friends started calling me Mr. Pink.

Mr. Pink was a character in Reservoir Dogs played by Steve Buscemi. When Pink actually crossed paths with Buscemi, she tried to thank him, but it didn’t go well. She told the story in vivid detail:

I actually ran into Steve Buscemi on the street in New York before my first album came out… I had these big f**king Elton John sunglasses on, pink hair, and carried a Pink Panther toy… I went, “Steve! Mr. Pink! I’m Pink! Because of you! I’m going to have an album and you’re going to know who I am.” And he was like, “What the f**k lady?” and just ran away from me.

4. David Bowie Took His Name From An American Frontiersman

David Bowie Took His Name From An American Frontiersman

David Jones, as he was known for his early life, is better known to most people as David Bowie. As early as 1967, the singer and actor wrote to a fan:

My real name is David Jones and I don’t have to tell you why I changed it. “Nobody’s going to make money out of you,” said my Manager. 

Bowie’s implication was that his name needed to be more attention-getting. Bowie also changed his name, in part, to avoid any confusion that might exist between him and Davy Jones, the singer who later fronted The Monkees. 

Where Bowie went for inspiration isn’t intuitive, especially for a young man from London. Bowie opted for the surname of Jim Bowie, noted American frontiersman, trader of enslaved individuals, and participant in the Texas Revolution. According to author J. Lyons, the singer was actually one of many Brits fascinated with the United States.

Jim Bowie fought at the Alamo in 1836, and after his soon-to-be namesake saw the 1960 movie The Alamo staring John Wayne and Richard Widmark (as Jim Bowie), the future Ziggy Stardust adopted “Bowie” in homage. 

5. Lady Gaga’s Name Might Have Been Derived From A Song

Lady Gaga's Name Might Have Been Derived From A Song

The influences behind Lady Gaga’s stage name are not questioned, but who was inspired enough to come up with the moniker is somewhat unclear. Lady Gaga’s given name was Stefani Germanotta and, according to the singer and actress, her music producer Rob Fusari “started to call me Gaga when I’d come into the studio.”

Lady Gaga continued:

When we were getting ready to really start performing, I decided that I’d been playing under my real name for so long I wanted a new way to reinvent myself. So I said, “What about Lady Gaga?” because ”Gaga” is sort of crazy and Lady has such connotations.

Fusari had a different version to offer when he sued her in 2010, in part over her name. Fusari alleged that he was the man behind her rise to fame and her name alike. For the latter, Fusari claimed autocorrect on his phone changed the title of the Queen song “Radio Ga Ga” to “Lady Ga Ga” and that was the origin of the name. 

Fusari’s lawsuit was dropped that same year. 

6. Winona Ryder More Or Less Picked The First Thing She Heard

Winona Ryder More Or Less Picked The First Thing She Heard

Winona Ryder was named for a town near where she was born – Winona, MN. Her last name at birth was Horowitz, the same as her parents, Michael and Cindy. It wasn’t until the the mid-1980s that she became Winona Ryder.

Despite claims to the contrary, Ryder got her new name as a somewhat spur-of-the-moment decision. When David Seltzer, the director of Lucas, asked her how she wanted her name to be credited for the movie, she said, “Ryder.” The choice came because there was a Mitch Ryder album playing at the time. 

Technically, Horowitz wasn’t even Ryder’s original name. She explained, “My original last name is Tomchin. Horowitz was something my dad’s family picked up when they immigrated to Ellis Island because they were traveling with this other family.”

7. Nicolas Cage Took The Last Name Of A Comic Book Character And A Composer

Nicolas Cage Took The Last Name Of A Comic Book Character And A Composer

Nicolas Cage wasn’t born with that name, he chose it. As a member of the Coppola family – he is the nephew of director Francis Ford Coppola – Cage wanted to stand out on his own merits. He kept his first name but changed his surname (Coppola) to Cage professionally after he appeared in Fast Times at Ridgemont High in 1982.

Cage told Wired what prompted the shift:

I was still Nicolas Coppola, and people would not stop saying things like, “I love the smell of Nicolas in the morning,” because of Apocalypse Now [directed by Francis Ford Coppola], and Robert Duvall saying, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning,” and it made it hard to work and I said, “I don’t need this,” and changed it to Cage. It’s a combination of Luke Cage from Marvel comics, who was a character I liked, also named Power Man, and John Cage, the avant-garde composer. Speaks volumes about everything I’ve been up to ever since. 

8. Frank Ocean Was Inspired By Ol’ Blue Eyes

Frank Ocean Was Inspired By Ol' Blue Eyes

When Christopher “Lonny” Breaux chose his stage name, he opted to double down on ol’ Blue Eyes. 

Singer-songwriter Frank Ocean began using the name Christopher Francis Ocean in 2010. The name comes from Frank Sinatra and Ocean’s 11, the 1960s movie staring the crooner. Ocean was reportedly inspired by the movie, making it no real surprise that a song by Sinatra was near the top of his list of favorite songs of all time. 

He legally changed his name to Frank Ocean in 2015 because he needed a name that wasn’t attached to any of his previous work. Ocean said in 2020: 

The genesis of that name change came from me trying to make a project without my label knowing about it. It was born from a need.

9. Whoopi Goldberg’s Name Comes From A Toy (Yes, That Toy)

Whoopi Goldberg's Name Comes From A Toy (Yes, That Toy)

f the name Whoopi Goldberg makes you think of Whoopee Cushions, that’s because the moniker was taken from letting flatulence fly, so to speak.

When Goldberg was a stand-up comic, she wasn’t afraid to, well, fart. The actress and host told The New York Times Magazine in 2006:

When you’re performing on stage, you never really have time to go into the bathroom and close the door. So if you get a little gassy, you’ve got to let it go. So people used to say to me, “You are like a whoopee cushion.” And that’s where the name came from.

Goldberg’s given name is Caryn Johnson, but as she explained during the late 1990s, her adopted surname had some heritage behind it:

The true story is that my family is Jewish, Buddhist, Baptist, and Catholic – none of which I subscribe to, by the way, as I don’t believe in man-made religions… So I took the last name from a Jewish ancestor.