“I Changed The Name On My Resume And Auditions Increased”: Here Are 14 Celebrities Who Made The Decision To “Americanize” Their Real Name
It’s pretty common knowledge that celebrities often adopt stage names for various reasons. However, one particular reason that celebrities and non-celebrities alike often change their names is for the sake of “Americanization” (or more generally, “Anglicization”) — adopting English names or names that are more easily pronounceable for English speakers.
Without further ado, here are 14 celebrities who have either adopted English names or simplified their real names before they became famous — plus, what their real names are, and why they chose to Americanize them:
1. Kal Penn was born Kalpen Suresh Modi in New Jersey. He originally anglicized his name as a joke to prove his friends wrong. However, after noticing his audition callbacks increase by 50 percent, he decided to keep it.
2. John Cho was born Yo-han Cho — or, rather, Cho Yo-han since Korean names follow Eastern name order, in which your surname comes before your given name — in South Korea. His father, who was a minister, named him Yo-han (like Johan) after John the Baptist. When John was 6 years old, their family immigrated to the US.
3. Kelly Marie Tran was born Loan Tran in California. However, her parents — who immigrated to the US as Vietnam War refugees, adopted English names, and met in an English as a second language class in San Diego — legally gave her an English first name so that she would, as Kelly described to the Washington Post, be accepted and feel comfortable within American society. After months away from social media due to online harassment (including racist and sexist comments) by Star Wars fans for being cast in The Last Jedi, Kelly penned a New York Times op-ed asserting her identity as a woman of color and revealed that her real name is Loan.
4. Mindy Kaling was born Vera Mindy Chokalingam in Massachusetts the same year her family immigrated to the US. However, Mindy revealed she’s never been called Vera. “I’ve been Mindy since I was born,” she explained. “When my mom was pregnant, my parents were living in Nigeria and wanted a cute American name — because they were moving here — and they knew Mindy from Mork & Mindy.” After emcees constantly butchered her last name at comedy shows, Mindy decided to shorten it (with her parents’ OK).
5. Lana Condor was born Lan Đồng Trần — or, more accurately, Trần Đồng Lan, as Vietnamese names (last name, middle name, first name) follow Eastern name order — in Vietnam. Her parents, Mary and Bob Condor, adopted her at 4 months old and renamed her Lana as a variation of her birth name, Lan.
6. Steven Yeun was born Sang-yeop Yeun — or Yeun Sang-yeop in Korean — in South Korea. When he was 4–5 years old, Steven’s family immigrated first to Canada for a year and then to the US, where his parents ultimately opened a beauty-supply store in Detroit, Michigan. “My first name is Sang-yeop originally,” Steven once told Conan O’Brien. “Then [my parents] changed it to Steven because we met a doctor, and his name was Steven.”
7. Simone Ashley was born Simone Ashwini Pillai in England to first-gen Indian Tamil parents and often spent her childhood summers with relatives in California. After being cast as Kate in Season 2 of Bridgerton, the show’s writers changed Kate’s surname from Sheffield (as the character is named in the books) to Sharma to reflect Simone’s Indian heritage.
8. Michelle Yeoh was born Choo Kheng Yeoh — again, that’s actually Yeoh Choo Kheng — in Malaysia. In the mid-1980s, Michelle began her acting career in Hong Kong. In hopes of making her more marketable to Western audiences, the film production company she worked with credited her as Michelle Khan. However, when Michelle did debut in the West in the 1997 James Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies, she changed her stage name to Michelle Yeoh.
9. Tia Carrere was born Althea Rae Duhinio Janairo in Hawaii. She got the nickname “Tia” from her younger sister, who was unable to pronounce Althea, and took the last name Carrere after actor Barbara Carrera.
10. Jimmy O. Yang was born Man-sing Au-yeung — Au-yeung Man-sing — in Hong Kong. When Jimmy was 13, his family immigrated to the US for him and his brother to have access to a better education. Though his parents named him Man-sing because it means “10,000 successes” in Cantonese, Jimmy jokingly revealed that they picked Jimmy because it was an arbitrary English name that was easy to pronounce.
11. Sir Ben Kingsley was born Krishna Pandit Bhanji in England. As a boy, his friends called him Krish. When he began auditioning for roles, Ben used his real name, but it was often mispronounced, so his father suggested he use a more English name. Together, they came up with the surname Kingsley from King Clove, the nickname of his grandfather, a successful spice trader from India. He eventually played the titular role in Gandhi (1982) and remarked, “The irony is, of course, I changed my clunky, invented Asian name to a more pronounceable and acceptable, universal name in order to play Mahatma Gandhi.”
12. Aasif Mandvi was born Aasif Hakim Mandviwala in India before his family immigrated to England when he was 1 year old. In the early 1980s, when Aasif was 16, his family then moved to Florida. “I think it’s often the journey of the immigrant to assimilate and then go, ‘Who the fuck am I?'” he told the Tampa Bay Times.
13. George Takei was born Hosato Takei in California in 1937. His father later gave him his English name after King George VI, who was coronated less than a month after George’s birth. In his autobiography, George explains that Hosato is Japanese for “Village of the Bountiful Harvest,” and that when choosing an English name, his father — an avid reader and Anglophile — was between George and Neville, after UK Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain who took office a few weeks after King George VI’s coronation. “To them, this baby was as great as a prime minister, even a king,” he describes.
14. Bruno Mars was born Peter Gene Hernandez in Hawaii. When Bruno was 2 years old, his father nicknamed him Bruno after professional wrestler and WWWF (now WWE) World Heavyweight Champion Bruno Sammartino. Though Bruno has said his father called him Bruno because he was a chubby child, his older sister has said it’s because he was a confident, strong-willed, independent, and brutish kid. His stage surname, Mars, comes from a joke he made in the studio one day after telling people he was “out of this world.”
Did you know that these celebrities had adopted English names or shortened their real names? Do you go by an English name? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!
For more reading about the Americanization of names, see:
· The Economic Payoff of Name Americanization
· Americanizing Asians: The mental toll of being asked to change your name
· American Immigrants and the Dilemma of ‘White-Sounding’ Names