What’s in a name? Well, a whole lot, actually — especially for celebrities. Sometimes there’s a great story or secret meaning behind a name we’ve all come to know so well, other times it’s an accidental label that stuck. Some babies are born with star names (courtesy of their star parents), others need to adjust their moniker before they make it big in Hollywood. Either way, the naming process can be a lot of fun.
Enjoy these 10 origin stories, just in case you’ve ever wondered how celebrities landed on their famous names — or need inspiration for your own name search.
Portia de Rossi
The Australian-born Arrested Development actress was actually born Amanda Lee Rogers, but legally changed her name at age 15 to forge a new sense of self. “I picked Portia because I was a Shakespeare fan,” she said. “De Rossi because I was Australian, and I thought that an exotic Italian name would somehow suit me… When you live in Australia, Europe is so far away and so fascinating, so stylish and cultured and sophisticated.”
“Miley” Cyrus grew up on TV with that very unique name attached to her celebrity — but it was only a nickname until the actress and singer legally changed it in 2008. Miley’s parents first named her Destiny Hope Cyrus, but gave her the nickname “Smiley” to reflect her sunny childhood demeanor. Pretty soon, they dropped the “s” and a star moniker was born.
Although we all know this big-screen belle as Reese Witherspoon, she was actually christened Laura Jean Reese Witherspoon. The Tennessee native dropped the super-Southern “Laura Jean,” choosing her mother’s maiden name as a stage name when she hit Hollywood. Sounds like a starlet to us!
One of the biggest celebrity births of the new millennium? Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s little girl with a super-recognizable name: North West. Although pairing those directional labels together might seem natural, her parents put more thought into it. According to grandma Kris: “The way [Kim] explained it to me was that North means highest power, and she says that North is their highest point together,” she revealed on The View. “I thought that was really sweet.” Sweet indeed.
This talented entertainer was born Peter Gene Bayot Hernandez — a mouthful that didn’t last long. His father started calling him Bruno, because he felt he resembled wrestler Bruno Sammartino. To avoid being pigeonholed into Latin music, Bruno eventually swapped the last name “Hernandez” for “Mars.” He’s made it work, no?
Susan Alexandra Weaver just wasn’t doin’ it for this legendary actress, who began going by her more dramatic moniker in 1963. “At 14, I changed my name from Susan to Sigourney – a minor character in The Great Gatsby,” she told The Guardian. “It was an act of desperation, because I didn’t like being called Susie. Now I’m ‘Siggy,’ so it doesn’t matter.” Ah, yes. And so it goes.
Lana Del Rey
Born Elizabeth Woolridge Granthen, this songstress wanted a name that felt more soulful than prep school when she started her career — and she put a lot of thought into what name would best suit her music and style. “I wanted a name I could shape the music towards. I was going to Miami quite a lot at the time, speaking a lot of Spanish with my friends from Cuba,” she explained to British Vogue. “Lana Del Rey reminded us of the glamour of the seaside. It sounded gorgeous coming off the tip of the tongue.”
The origin of this comedic actress’ name is as quirky as she is. Originally given the name Emily Jean Stone by her parents, the name was taken when she went to register for the Screen Actor’s Guild at age 16. How’d she solve the issue? Riff on a second-grade dream, of course. “…I did ask the teacher on the first day of school to call me Emma because I always wanted to be Baby Spice,” she said. “It stuck for, like, a day and I didn’t know that years later everybody would be calling me Emma instead of Emily. So I’m Baby Spice for life!”
Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin caused a huge stir when they named their baby girl Apple — but the couple’s child wasn’t the first Apple to come along. Martin’s North American booking agent had a daughter with the same name, and the couple asked for permission to use it should they have a girl. Paltrow also told Oprah: “…When we were first pregnant, her daddy…said, ‘If it’s a girl, I think her name should be Apple.’ It sounded so sweet, and it conjures such a lovely picture for me, you know apples are so sweet and they’re wholesome, and it’s Biblical and it’s just, they’re so, and I just thought it sounded so lovely.” A son would follow for the duo, also given a Biblical name: Moses.
Bryce Dallas Howard
The daughter of Hollywood heavyweight Ron Howard, actress Bryce Dallas got her middle name based on the location she was conceived. In fact, all her siblings got a middle moniker for that very reason — which is why twins Paige Carlyle and Jocelyn Carlyle share middle names. As for the director’s son Reed Cross, his name refers to a street, because “Volvo isn’t a very good middle name.” Howard is right, of course. Totally lacks that flow.