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The Stories Behind 15 Celebrity Stage Names

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Christopher Polk/Getty Images for DirecTV

It's hard to overestimate the importance of having a solid, memorable name if you want to have a successful show business or literary career. So if you're born with a dud moniker, it might not hurt to change it. Have you ever wondered how some famous writers and performers came up with their pseudonyms? Here's a look at how some notables got their stage names.

1. Snoop Dogg

Snoop Dogg was born Calvin Broadus, but his parents nicknamed him "Snoopy" because he looked like the famous cartoon beagle.

2. Albert Brooks

Albert Brooks is a brilliantly funny man, but even he might not have made it too far in show business with his birth name: Albert Einstein.

Brooks originally tried to go by his first and middle names, Albert Lawrence, but decided that "sounded like a Vegas singer." The name Brooks was already in his family, so he ran with that. His brother, Bob Einstein, actually kept the family surname when he entered show biz, but even he's better known by an alias: Super Dave Osborne.

3. Whoopi Goldberg

Whoopi Goldberg took her stage name from the whoopee cushion. The actress, who was born Caryn Johnson, said that a tendency to break wind led a number of friends and colleagues to accuse her of being "like a whoopee cushion." According to Goldberg, she considered going by the name "Whoopi Cushion" when she advanced her comedy career, but her mother warned her that nobody would take her seriously with such a silly name. Her mom thought it would be smarter to pair "Whoopi" with a more serious name and proposed that her daughter use "Goldberg."

4. Jackie Chan

Jackie Chan was working at a construction site in Australia when he got his famous nickname: one of his co-workers couldn't pronounce Chan's first name, Kong-sang, so he called him "Little Jack" instead. The name soon morphed into "Jackie," and stayed that way.

5. Harry Houdini

Harry Houdini was born Ehrich Weiss, but he took on the stage name Harry Houdini as a tribute to famed French magician Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin. "Harry" was the Americanized version of his childhood nickname, "Ehrie."

6. MC Hammer

MC Hammer got his nickname from his childhood job with the Oakland Athletics. Eccentric longtime A's owner Chuck Finley loved Stanley Kirk Burrell, the talented kid who danced in the team's parking lot and eventually became a batboy for the club. The benevolent owner called him "Little Hammer" because he thought Burrell looked like "Hammerin'" Hank Aaron. When Little Hammer picked up the mic, he became MC Hammer.

7. Alice Cooper

Alice Cooper, who was born Vincent Furnier, was supposedly playing with a Ouija board in the late 1960s when a 16th-century witch doctor named Alice Cooper contacted him. Furnier and his buddies then started a band called Alice Cooper with the magnetic Furnier in the lead role of "Alice." Since the name originally referred to the whole band and not just Furnier, he continues to pay an annual royalty to his old bandmates for the commercial use of the Alice Cooper name.

8. Sugar Ray Robinson

Sugar Ray Robinson was born Walker Smith, Jr., but once he began to make some noise as a boxer, commentators described his fighting style as "sweet as sugar." So beginning in 1939, his manager began promoting him as "Sugar Ray Robinson," and every future boxer named Ray suddenly had a nickname.

9. Michael Keaton

Michael Keaton was born Michael Douglas. He changed it because we already had a famous actor by that name. You may have heard of him.

10. LL Cool J

LL Cool J stands for "Ladies Love Cool James," as you may already know. What you might not know, though, is that the name wasn't necessarily true when it made its debut. When James Todd Smith and a buddy were 16 years old, they began calling themselves LL Cool J and Playboy Mikey D in the hopes that it would help their stock with the girls they tried to woo. In a 2008 interview with CBS' Early Show, LL admitted that the ladies didn't actually love cool James quite yet, saying, "It was just wishful thinking, just hoping for the best."

11. Pee-wee Herman

Paul Reubens' Pee-wee Herman character got his name from two different sources: Reubens owned a brand of harmonica called a Pee-wee, and he remembered a particularly high-strung grammar school classmate named Herman. Reubens later told Vanity Fair that he ran with the combination because, "I like that it didn't sound like a made-up name, that it was just kind of cruddy."

12. Sid Vicious

Sid Vicious—who was born John Simon Ritchie, and later went by John Beverley—got his famous stage name from Sex Pistols frontman John "Johnny Rotten" Lydon's old pet hamster, Sid. The bassist was playing with Lydon's hamster one day when the rodent bit him and forced him to exclaim, "Your Sid is vicious!" Lydon thought the remark was so amusing that he started calling his friend "Sid Vicious."

13. O. Henry

O. Henry wanted to send out some of his stories when he was a young writer working in New Orleans, but he wanted to use a pseudonym in case the tales weren't very good. One of his chums suggested that they scour the society page of a local newspaper for a good name, so they read an account of a fashionable ball and settled on the last name Henry. The writer then said he didn't want a long first name, so his buddy suggested going by an initial. They decided "O" was the easiest letter to write, so that's the initial that went on the stories.

14. John le Carré

John le Carré was working as a diplomat when he began writing novels, but the British Foreign Office didn't allow its employees to publish under their real names. The writer, who was born David John Moore Cornwell, claims that he took his pseudonym from a store he saw in London called "Le Carre."

15. Iron Eyes Cody

Iron Eyes Cody was one of Hollywood's most beloved Native American actors throughout the 20th century; you might remember him as the "Crying Indian" in the famous "Keep America Beautiful" ads. One thing most audiences didn't know, however, was that Cody was actually the son of Sicilian immigrants, not Native American. For most of his life, though, he maintained that he was actually part Cree and part Cherokee and even married a Native American woman. This arrangement surely made it easier to land Native American roles than his real name, Espera Oscar de Corti, would have.

An earlier version of this post originally appeared in 2010.

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By Napoleon Sarony - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
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25 of Oscar Wilde's Wittiest Quotes
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By Napoleon Sarony - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On October 16, 1854, Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland. He would go on to become one of the world's most prolific writers, dabbling in everything from plays and poetry to essays and fiction. Whatever the medium, his wit shone through.

1. ON GOD

"I think that God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability."

2. ON THE WORLD AS A STAGE

"The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast."

3. ON FORGIVENESS

"Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much."

4. ON GOOD VERSUS BAD

"It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious."

5. ON GETTING ADVICE

"The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on. It is never any use to oneself."

6. ON HAPPINESS

"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go."

7. ON CYNICISM

"What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing."

8. ON SINCERITY

"A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal."

9. ON MONEY

"When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old I know that it is."

10. ON LIFE'S GREATEST TRAGEDIES

"There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it."

11. ON HARD WORK

"Work is the curse of the drinking classes."

12. ON LIVING WITHIN ONE'S MEANS

"Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination."

13. ON TRUE FRIENDS

"True friends stab you in the front."

14. ON MOTHERS

"All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his."

15. ON FASHION

"Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months."

16. ON BEING TALKED ABOUT

"There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about."

17. ON GENIUS

"Genius is born—not paid."

18. ON MORALITY

"Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike."

19. ON RELATIONSHIPS

"How can a woman be expected to be happy with a man who insists on treating her as if she were a perfectly normal human being?"

20. ON THE DEFINITION OF A "GENTLEMAN"

"A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone’s feelings unintentionally."

21. ON BOREDOM

"My own business always bores me to death; I prefer other people’s."

22. ON AGING

"The old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything, the young know everything."

23. ON MEN AND WOMEN

"I like men who have a future and women who have a past."

24. ON POETRY

"There are two ways of disliking poetry; one way is to dislike it, the other is to read Pope."

25. ON WIT

"Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit."

And one bonus quote about Oscar Wilde! Dorothy Parker said it best in a 1927 issue of Life:

If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 

PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole

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