6 Insane True Stories Behind The Stage Names of Celebrities

#3. The Monkees/David Bowie Connection

Rock legend David Bowie is famous for his multiple alter-egos, such as Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, The Thin White Duke and Elton John (they're the same guy, right?). What most people don't know is that Bowie himself is an alter-ego. His real name is Jareth Goblinking.

A rare photo of Bowie without make up.

No, not really, but we wanted to get the Labyrinth reference out of the way fast. Bowie's real name is actually pretty boring: David Robert Jones, which doesn't sound like the name of a man who went through a lot of spoons and needles in the 70s, but rather someone who manufactures them.

At the beginning of his career, Bowie went by the remarkably unimaginative stage name of Davie Jones.

And that's probably what he would be called to this day, if it wasn't for this dude:

At the time Bowie was starting out, another Davy Jones (depicted above contemplating your rape) had gained some prominence at the London stage and would soon go on to become a member of The Monkees, the mid-60s equivalent to winning American Idol (complete with the undignified descent into obscurity). So, in order to make it as a performer, "Davie" was forced to change his surname. He chose Bowie after the bowie knife, itself named by Alamo hero Jim Bowie. Whose mother's maiden name was Jones.

Wait, it Gets Weirder:

While Bowie changed his dull real name to a far more interesting one, his son has done the exact opposite. Duncan Jones is a rising film and commercial director, whose film "Moon" earned him the prestigious BAFTA award earlier this year.

He is also one of the few people in the world to be born with a stage name: All through his childhood he was known by the name of Zowie Bowie. Which, shockingly, he hated. What sort of kid wouldn't want to named after cartoon sound effects? The kind who lives with junkie parents, apparently.

The only normal thing in this picture is that lamp.

At around age 12, Zowie began telling people to call him Joe. Given his background, he probably saw that as wacky and exotic. Later he settled on Duncan, which is actually the first name on his birth certificate (Zowie being the third, with Heywood awkwardly planted in between).

There's More:

Shockingly, Duncan did not grow up to be a mass murderer. After struggling his whole life to escape from his father's shadow, Jones has finally managed to achieve success on his own, thanks to a sci-fi movie about a lonely astronaut trapped in space, who-

Wait a minute, that's the plot of the song "Space Oddity"!

#2. Baby Neglected by Harry Houdini Turns Michael Douglas Into Michael Keaton

There are rare cases where one person can be two different celebrities. The notorious Batman, for instance, is actually billionaire socialite Bruce Wayne in disguise.

Consider your mind blown.

On the off chance that you already knew that one, here's something you didn't know: Michael Keaton, known for playing Bruce Wayne, is in fact the secret identity of Michael Douglas, another rich man who witnessed his father's murder as a child (assuming he went to see the movie Spartacus when it came out and stayed til the end).


OK, Keaton and Douglas aren't really the same person, they only happen to share the same birth name. Yep, Michael Keaton was born Michael Douglas, which probably didn't help him as much as you'd think when he was a struggling actor that kept getting turned down. You can imagine why people might have felt slightly disappointed after hiring the Academy Award winning son of a Hollywood icon only to watch some unknown dumbass show up for work.

Like Michael J. Fox, Keaton ditched his real name when he tried to register at Actors' Equity and found out that both Michael and Mike Douglas were already taken. He'd later say: "One of them is doing quite well from what I understand; the other is making cheap porn movies like Basic Instinct."

While flipping through a newspaper, Michael came across a picture of actress Diane Keaton and "liked the sound of [her] name," so he adopted it as his own.

Wait, it Gets Weirder:

The more famous Michael Douglas wouldn't even be called Michael Douglas if his father, Issur Danielovitch, hadn't changed his name to Isadore Demsky and later Kirk Douglas, before becoming massively famous in the 40s. And the other Mike Douglas? A talk show host whose last name was really Dowd.

Also, the woman who inspired Michael to adopt the name Keaton wasn't originally called that. Diane Hall ("Annie" to her friends and family) switched to Keaton, her mother's maiden name, for the same reason Michael did: someone else was already using her real name. However, some say the change was partly inspired by her being a fan of legendary comedy actor Buster Keaton, after whom her cat is named, and whose films she tributed in Woody Allen's Sleeper.

And by the way, Joseph "Buster" Keaton was given his nickname at 18-months old, when Harry Houdini saw him fall down a flight of stairs without harm and remarked, "That's a real buster!" No, we did not just make that up.

We'll assume Houdini was cracking jokes while a baby fell down the stairs because he was too indisposed to, you know, HELP IT.

Incidentally, Houdini too was a stage name, inspired by French magician Jean Robert-Houdin, who had actually borrowed the Houdin part from his father in law, who- ah, we should probably stop this now or we'll be here all day.

There's More:

Diane Keaton went through the trouble of changing her real name... and then used it in her most famous starring role: "Annie Hall" the title character from the Oscar-award winning film of the same name, which is based on her real life relationship with Woody Allen. So, union rules forbid her from showing her real name on the credits, but it was OK to put it up on a marquee.

We need to sit down for a moment.

#1. Mel Brooks Inspires Albert Einstein (through Johnny Carson)

Albert Brooks is arguably the funniest man alive. If you're having trouble remembering where you've seen his name, try picturing it on yellow letters opposite a black background.

Yep, besides being an accomplished actor, writer, director, stand-up comic and living person, Brooks is also the voice of some of the most popular one-time characters on The Simpsons, such as Hank Scorpio and the adulterous Jacques. Plus he's done some other obscure roles, like Cowboy Bob or the main antagonist of The Simpsons Movie.

However, the name credited at the end of those episodes was almost A. Einstein. Brooks's real last name is Einstein, and for some reason his parents thought it would be a good idea to name their son "Albert". Perhaps they simply didn't expect him to be funny at all, since his father Harry (a comedian who died while performing at a Friar's Club Roast for Lucy and Chachi) had to change his last name to Parke to go into show business. Albert's brother Bob is better known as "Super Dave Osborne," and his mother had three different names, none of which were Einstein.

To our knowledge, Brooks has never explained why he chose his new name. However, he has told the following story several times: When he was a kid, he went to Beverly Hills High School with fellow future overweight director and comedian Rob Reiner. The kids soon became good friends.

Aaron Spelling would later produce a show loosely based on their escapades.

Rob's father, Carl Reiner, was a regular guest at The Tonight Show. One time Johnny Carson asked him who the funniest people in the world were, to which he replied: "Mel Brooks and a 12-year-old kid named Albert Einstein." According to Albert, that quote "was a big deal" for him, so it's possible that he got his stage name from there.

As an adult, some 20 years later, Albert Brooks became became a regular guest of The Tonight Show himself, proving that Johnny Carson had an outstanding memory.

Wait, it Gets Weirder:

Of course, Mel Brooks's name isn't Mel Brooks--it's Melvin Kaminsky.

Believe it or not THIS MAN IS JEWISH.

Who knows, maybe if Carl Reiner had answered "Melvin Kaminsky and a 12-year-old kid named Albert Einstein," those three additional syllables would have made the quote a little harder to remember for Carson and he wouldn't have invited the same kid on his show decades later.

There's More:

It's interesting to note that the "other" Albert Einstein (the unfunny one) has had almost as many guest appearances in The Simpsons as Brooks: He shows up on posters in Homer's college dorm and Bart's genius kids class, and as a zombie in a "Treehouse of Horror" episode. In another Halloween special, Lisa literally turns into Albert Einstein--in a way reversing the process Albert Brooks went through.

Maxwell Yezpitelok lives in Chile, and when he's not being harassed by earthquakes he likes to waste his time writing back to scammers or making stupid comics.

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For more in the celebrity world of naming, check out The 20 Most Bizarre Celebrity Baby Names. Or find out which stars had to change more than their names to make it big, in 5 Celebrity Careers Launched by Ethnic Makeovers.

And stop by our Top Picks (Updated 06.23.10) to find out which columnist's real name is Frances Q. Begonia.

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