The entertainment world is filled with stage names, from Joan Crawford (née Lucille LeSueur) to Lady Gaga (née Stefani Germanotta). For this list, I chose those actors who, unlike Maurice Micklewhite (a.k.a. Michael Caine) and Frances Gumm (a.k.a. Judy Garland), could have easily worked under their birth names – if only it weren't for other actors already having those names, which forced the young hopefuls to assume noms de theatre. Much of this is due to SAG and Actors' Equity guidelines, which is why Emily Stone and Joseph Lane now go by Emma Stone and Nathan Lane. Although the "original" Emily Stone and Joseph Lane never attained such celebrity, they still had first dibs. The reasons behind the following nine alterations are more understandable.
- Michael Keaton. Keaton was born Michael Douglas in 1951. By the time he nabbed a bit part in the 1978 Joan Rivers/Billy Crystal flop Rabbit Test, he had changed his surname to Keaton, as everyone knew Michael Douglas from TV's The Streets of San Francisco. Douglas himself became an A-list movie star in '78 with the medical thriller Coma.
- William H. Macy. The Fargo/Shameless actor might be "Bill" to his friends, but he was credited as "W.H. Macy" for years, so as not to be confused with Maude costar Bill Macy. (Bill Macy, for his part, was born Wolf Martin Garber!) Time and renown allowed the younger Macy to finally expand "W.H." into "William H."
- Stewart Granger. Hollywood Golden Age mainstay Granger was born James Stewart in 1913. That other James Stewart was world famous by the time Granger began making a name for himself, no pun intended. Granger left us with no major classics – the 1950s adventures King Solomon's Mines, Scaramouche, and The Prisoner of Zenda are his best-known films – but he was quite the idol in his day.
- David Bowie. Obviously, Bowie was first and foremost a rock star, but he certainly did his share of screen acting. In any event, when he first struck out as a singer, he realized he had to abandon his birth name, David Jones, since the Monkees' Davy Jones was so big. Although he performed as Bowie for the rest of his life, he never legally changed his surname from Jones, nor did he ever shy away from it.
- Elizabeth Banks. The actress-director was born Elizabeth Mitchell. The other Elizabeth Mitchell, just five years older, was already something of a TV veteran by the time Banks embarked upon her career, so the young ingenue was billed as "Elizabeth Maresal Mitchell" until she adopted the surname Banks in 2001. The "real" Mitchell has since starred on the TV shows Lost, Revolution, and Once Upon a Time. Banks has starred in the Hunger Games and Pitch Perfect franchises, among many other movies. Advantage: Banks.
- Vanessa Williams. Will the real Vanessa Williams please stand up? Here you have a pair of African-American women, born ten weeks apart, with the same name. Vanessa Lynn Williams is the more recognizable of the two: you know her as the Miss America who rose above a nude photo scandal to become a successful actress and singer. But Vanessa Estelle Williams, an accomplished performer in her own right, was the first to register with SAG as "Vanessa Williams", forcing the former Miss America to bill herself as "Vanessa L. Williams". SAG arbitration eventually allowed both actresses to be credited as Vanessa Williams, no middle initial. Confusing? Then get this: Vanessa L. starred in the 1997 hit film Soul Food – and Vanessa E. starred in the 2000 TV adaptation! At least they played different characters.
- Fannie Flagg. Flagg did plenty of acting in her day, but she's mostly remembered as a panelist on Match Game and as the novelist and screenwriter of Fried Green Tomatoes. She was born Patricia Neal in 1944. During her childhood, a grown actress named Patricia Neal was starring in landmark films like The Fountainhead, A Face in the Crowd, and The Day the Earth Stood Still. (She also married Roald Dahl.) Neal the elder won an Oscar for Hud around the same time Neal the younger chose the kooky "Fannie Flagg" for her stage name.
- Gemma Jones. While this British thespian has a CV as long as your arm, you'll probably recognize her as Bridget's "mum" in the Bridget Jones franchise or as Madam Pomfrey in the Harry Potter films. Jones's screen career dates all the way back to 1962. That was around the time she eliminated "Jennifer" as her first name, as the Oscar-winning Jennifer Jones was still an A-lister.
- Albert Brooks. The neurotic actor/filmmaker was born Albert Einstein. 'Nuff said.