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“I Changed The Name On My Resume And Auditions Increased”: Here Are 14 Celebrities Who Made The Decision To “Americanize” Their Real Name
"I Changed The Name On My Resume And Auditions Increased": Here Are 14 Celebrities Who Made The Decision To "Americanize" Their Real Name,"I put [the new name] on my résumé and photos. Auditions did increase, and I was amazed."

“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.

Walt Disney StudiosMotion PicturesIt should go without saying that it was incredibly common for immigrants in the 20th-century US to Americanize their names in an effort to assimilate. Moreover, Americanizing one’s name can result in increased economic payoff (like getting better jobs) and more acceptance within American society. Of course, that’s not to say that Americanizing one’s name comes without consequence — it can still take a mental toll.

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.

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He explained, “Almost as a joke to prove friends wrong, and half as an attempt to see if what I was told would work (that anglicized names appeal more to a white-dominated industry), I put ‘Kal Penn’ on my résumé and photos. Auditions did increase, and I was amazed. It showed me that there really is such an amount of racism (not just overt, but subconscious as well). I kept the anglicized version of my name on pictures so that I had a better chance of auditions, but I never intended to be known as ‘Kal Penn.’ Ironically, once you start working under any name, you can’t easily be known by another — even if it is your real name. I still prefer Kalpen Modi.”

In 2019, Kal played Garrett Modi in Sunnyside — a sitcom he co-created with Matt Murray. When choosing the character’s last name, Kal decided to use his real surname, Modi, in honor of his parents. 

“I thought Modi, my real birth last name, that’ll be a great gift to the parents,” he revealed. “I called my dad, and I was like, ‘Hey, listen to what I just did. I used our last name as my character’s name.’ And he said, ‘That’s a terrible idea. Why would you do that? People will be confused.’ You just can’t win sometimes.”

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.

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In an interview with Vanity Fair, John revealed he was originally proud that his first acting roles had anglicized names, but now, he’s proud that they’re “changing the last name because of [him].” 

As the article notes, “He’s not playing a part because he’s Asian; he’s playing one that doesn’t require him to be Asian.” 

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.

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When speaking with the Washington Post, Kelly reflected on her parents’ choice to give her an English name, saying, “They did what I think I probably would have done in their same place — which was [to] give me a name that was easily pronounced. What I didn’t understand was that even that act, and what an act of love that is to want your child to feel accepted, what I didn’t realize is I don’t even know who I am outside of this system. Because at first, already something was changed to make me fit into that system, and that is a problem.”

In her NYT op-ed, titled “I Won’t Be Marginalized by Online Harassment,” she elaborated on the impact of being given an English name to go by rather than her Vietnamese name: “It reinforced within me rules that were written before I was born, rules that made my parents deem it necessary to abandon their real names and adopt American ones — Tony and Kay — so it was easier for others to pronounce, a literal erasure of culture that still has me aching to the core.”

She continued, “You might know me as Kelly. I am the first woman of color to have a leading role in a Star Wars movie. I am the first Asian woman to appear on the cover of Vanity Fair. My real name is Loan. And I am just getting started.”

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).

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During an interview with NHPR, Mindy explained how she felt about shortening her last name: “I shortened my name because emcees for these comedy shows would have trouble pronouncing it, and then, they’d make a joke about my last name. My real name is Vera Mindy Chokalingam, and it’s a South Indian name, and it’s a long name. As a performer, these comedians would just butcher it and then be like, ‘I don’t know what it is! Just this girl, Mindy.’ And so I would go do stand-up nights, and I already felt, like, a huge distance from the audience — just as a new comedian, but then even more distance because it had been made so clear that I was ethnic.”

She continued, “When you do comedy — everyone from Albert Brooks, Woody Allen — these are all comedians who changed their names, and I felt it was the easiest thing for me to do. And ultimately, it was really beneficial to do it. It was something that I had a lot of mixed feelings about. But my parents didn’t mind. I talked to them about it. And then, I ended up shortening it. It’s bittersweet, but I have to say, it was such a help to my career to have a name that people could pronounce.”

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.

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“I was born in Vietnam. I was adopted at 4 months old. My parents are from Chicago. They went to China first and then to Vietnam, and adopted me and my brother who’s not my biological brother,” Lana explained in an interview with Anthem. “From there, we moved to Chicago, and I lived there for about six years. Then we moved to Washington State and lived on an island. … Then I moved to New York, and I lived there for about four years. … Then we moved to LA — all due to my dad’s job — and I started my sophomore year.”

In 2019, Lana traveled to Vietnam for the first time since her adoption with former First Lady Michelle Obama and visited the orphanage she was adopted from. During an interview with People Magazine, Lana recounted her trip to Vietnam: “We retraced our steps, my parents’ steps to finding us. We went back to the orphanage, and we met the manager of the orphanage. He’s the one that gave Artie and [me] away to our parents. We saw every part of our past life.”

In 1997, Lana’s father Bob — then the health and fitness writer of the Chicago Tribune — wrote an article detailing his and his wife Mary’s journey to adopting Lana and Arthur. In it, he writes about naming Lana, saying, “During our stop in Taipei, we decide on names. We have been trying combinations on each other for five years. Lana Therese is fairly new among the candidates. The first name is a variation on Lan, while the middle name is one we like and the same as Mary’s sister Janet’s.”

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.”

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In 2017, while on Live with Kelly and Ryan, Steven elaborated on the story of his name change. “My dad and mom met a doctor, and they didn’t know what to name me,” he began. “They were like, ‘Hey, doctor, what’s your name?’ And he was like, ‘Uh, my name’s Steven.’ And they were like, ‘Cool, that’s his name.'”

“They just needed, like, what I could possibly do,” Steven joked about his parents naming him after a doctor in hopes he’d become a doctor one day, too. 

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.

Karwai Tang / WireImage

Simone told Glamour that her parents were at first unsettled by her desire to get into show business. “My parents were quite protective over me,” she said. “They’re first-generation. They came from India to this country, so they didn’t really have a life where they could choose to be whatever they wanted to be.”

Nevertheless, her parents encouraged her ambition. “My mum in particular,” Simone noted, “she was so supportive, taking me to my singing lessons and dance classes.” She also credits her father’s passion for photography, film, and music with inspiring her love for the arts: “My dad had this really cool record player. He would always have Bob Marley playing, Fleetwood Mac, The Doors, or The Rolling Stones. Really great bands, great artists.”

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.

Dominik Bindl / Getty Images

“I only adopted the name Michelle when I got into the film industry because my producer said at the time, ‘No one is going to be able to say your name,'” she told USA Today.

Though she kept the name Michelle Khan in her early career (she even suggested Sheryl instead of Michelle), she found her producer’s comment to be ridiculous. “What do you mean they can’t say it? It’s Yeoh as in Yo, that’s easy, right? Choo as in ‘choo choo train,’ and Kheng as in ‘king,'” she continued. “Why can’t you put those three words together?” 

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.

Arturo Holmes / Getty Images

In an interview with Parade Magazine in 1995, Tia revealed the origin of her stage name, explaining, “My first name’s Althea, but my little sister couldn’t say Althea, and it came out Tia.” 

Tia officially adopted her stage name after she was discovered while at a grocery store in Honolulu. “I was shopping in the Food Pantry in Waikiki, and a producer’s mother and father approached me and said, ‘Darling, you’re gorgeous. My son’s doing a movie here. You’d be perfect for the female lead,'” she told Oprah.

“I thought, ‘I’ve never acted before. I don’t know… What do I do?’ They said, ‘You just go in and read the words for her and make pretend,'” she continued. After going to audition, Tia ended up starring in the movie, Aloha Summer, and began her Hollywood career.

“I got the female lead in the film, got my Screen Actors Guild union card before I even knew what it was, and then I moved to Hollywood,” she said.

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.

Gregg Deguire / FilmMagic

During his comedy special, Good Deal, Jimmy revealed how he, his father, and his brother came about their English names. “My real name is not even Jimmy, that’s my ‘English name.’ My real name’s Man-sing,” he said on stage while making air quotes, “It stands for 10,000 successes. Yeah, I have very ambitious parents, and now I’m telling dick jokes and doing tai chi on stage.”

“Jimmy was just kind of an arbitrary English name that just sounded easy. And my dad, he named himself Richard. I was like, ‘Dad, why’d you name yourself Richard?’ And he was like, ‘Because I want to be rich.’ It makes so much sense,” he continued. 

“Then they named my older brother Roger after the James Bond actor, Roger Moore,” Jimmy explained. “But my brother hated that name, he was like, ‘Man, it makes me sound like an old white guy.’ Eventually, he changed his own name to Roy, so now he sounds like an older white guy, and now his full name is Roy Roger, which is the oldest white guy to ever white.”

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.”

Karwai Tang / WireImage

Describing an early audition to the Daily Mail, Ben shared, “I was sitting there waiting to go on with my audition piece, and someone said, ‘Christina Blange?’ I said, ‘I think that’s me.’ And I couldn’t quite get my cojones back to do a decent audition.”

During an interview with RadioTimes, Ben reflected on his birth name and his identity: “The first name [Krishna] is Hindu, and the second name [Pandit] is Muslim. Such a name would never exist in the whole of the Indian sub-continent; it’s a nonsense name. It’s more invented than the name I chose.”

When asked if he still thinks of himself as Krishna, Ben said, “I don’t think I think of myself. When I was on stage, I thought of myself as a landscape painter. Now that I’m blessed with a film career, I see myself as a portrait artist, and for many, many years, I have signed my portraits Ben Kingsley. That’s who I am.”

“As soon as I changed my name, I got the jobs,” he continued. “I had one audition as Krishna Bhanji, and they said, ‘Beautiful audition, but we don’t quite know how to place you in our forthcoming season.’ I changed my name, crossed the road, and they said, ‘When can you start?'”

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.

Unique Nicole / Getty Images

In 2009, Aasif reflected on his childhood in Bradford, England, and moving to the US. “I grew up on Les Dawson and Yorkshire pudding, but also on being chased down the streets by gangs of skinheads,” he told the Guardian. “In Britain, you never get away from the fact that you’re a foreigner. In the US, the view is it doesn’t matter where you come from. But you also have to remember that America is so huge and has so many immigrant populations, that it is only in the last decade that the United States is getting to know South Asians.”

Despite moving to Tampa as a teenager, Aasif revealed he had no nonwhite friends in the US until he moved to New York. “I had contempt for my own culture [back then],” he acknowledged. “And it wasn’t until much later that I started to appreciate the richness of my own experience.”

In 2016, Aasif — who joined The Daily Show in 2006 and appeared in segments commenting on Islamic, Middle-Eastern, and South-Asian-related issues with titles like “Senior Muslim Correspondent” — talked to Esquire about experiencing Islamophobia as a Muslim actor with a stage name after the 9/11 attacks: 

“I remember getting on a plane a month later to fly to London. My professional name is Aasif Mandvi, but my legal name is Aasif Mandviwala, and they weren’t going to let me on the plane with two names. It was the first time this had happened. I had to pull out a copy of a play that I had written, which had my name Aasif Mandvi on it and my picture, and say, ‘Look, I am that same person.'”

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.

David M. Benett / Alan Chapman/Dave Benett / Getty Images

George’s father was born in Yamanashi, Japan, and immigrated to the US when he was around 10 years old. His mother was born in California after her parents emigrated from Hiroshima, Japan. In 1942, shortly before George turned 5 years old, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. As a result, George and his family — along with roughly 120,000 Japanese people (most of whom were born in the US) — were forcibly sent to a Japanese incarceration camp. 

Before War World II began, George’s maternal grandparents returned to Hiroshima with his mother’s younger siblings. Though his grandparents survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, his aunt and her 5-year-old son were killed. After the war ended, George and his family were released from the camp and ended up living on Skid Row in Los Angeles for five years.

“Our bank accounts were taken, our home was taken, our business was gone, and the only place where we could find housing was on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles, which to us kids — I mean, I was 8 by then — was as traumatic as the day that the soldiers came and took us away,” George told CBC.

In 1960, George earned his bachelor’s degree at UCLA, and a few years later, he was cast as Hikaru Sulu on Star Trek. When talking about his success as an actor and platform, George said, “It’s my responsibility, as an American who went through and was shaped by my childhood incarceration, to do what I can to bring our democracy closer to the ideals that it holds dear.”

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.”

Kevin Mazur / Getty Images for SelvaRey

While chatting with Pete Lewis for Blues & Soul Magazine, Bruno revealed how he came to be called Bruno Mars: “My dad nicknamed me ‘Bruno’ when I was 2 years old! You know, I guess I was this chubby kid, and at the time, there was this chubby wrestler called Bruno Sammartino. So, my name has been Bruno ever since I can remember! My mom always called me Bruno; my sisters always called me Bruno. In fact, the only place I was ever Peter was in school because that was my government name!” 

He continued, “And then the ‘Mars’ came about through a joke in the studio. One day, I was in there messing around and just telling people, ‘Hey, I’m out of this world! I’m Bruno Mars!’ And from that, it just stuck.”

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

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BuzzFeed / Kathy Hoang, Brooke Greeneberg