Trading Heritage for Hollywood, How Celebrities Altered their Names for American Audiences!

By Krystal Brown

In pursuit of success and acceptance in the American entertainment industry, numerous celebrities have chosen to change their names, strategically adopting identities that align with Western or mainstream appeal.

Steven Yeun

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Steven Yeun, originally named Sang-yeop Yeun, was born in South Korea. When he was a young child, his family immigrated to Canada and then to the United States, eventually settling in Detroit, Michigan, where his parents opened a beauty-supply store. Steven’s name was changed to Steven after his parents met a doctor with the same name and decided it would be a suitable choice. Steven humorously shared the story during interviews, suggesting that his parents may have hoped the name would inspire him to pursue a career in medicine.

Simone Ashley 

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Simone Ashley, originally named Simone Ashwini Pillai, was born in England to first-generation Indian Tamil parents. Growing up, she had a multicultural upbringing, spending summers with relatives in California. Despite her parents’ initial concerns about her desire to pursue a career in show business, they ultimately supported her passion for the arts. Simone’s mother, in particular, was instrumental in taking her to singing lessons and dance classes. She also credits her father’s love for photography, film, and music as influential in shaping her own artistic interests. Notably, when Simone was cast as Kate in Season 2 of Bridgerton, the show’s writers changed the character’s surname from Sheffield to Sharma to reflect Simone’s Indian heritage.

Kal Penn

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Kal Penn, originally known as Kalpen Suresh Modi, changed his name as a joke to prove his friends wrong but noticed an increase in audition callbacks. He decided to keep the anglicized name, although he prefers his real name, Kalpen Modi. In the sitcom “Sunnyside,” which he co-created, he chose to use his actual surname, Modi, as a tribute to his parents. Despite his father’s initial concerns, Kal embraced the connection to his heritage through his character’s name.

Kelly Marie Tran

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Kelly Marie Tran, originally named Loan Tran, had her name changed by her parents, who wanted her to feel accepted in American society as they were Vietnam War refugees. However, Kelly later realized the impact of that decision and the erasure of her cultural identity. After facing online harassment from Star Wars fans, she penned a New York Times op-ed reclaiming her identity as Loan and expressing her determination to make her mark in the industry as a woman of color. She highlighted the importance of representation and challenged the systemic barriers she faced.

Lana Condor

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Lana Condor, originally named Trần Đồng Lan, was adopted from Vietnam at 4 months old by her parents Mary and Bob Condor. They renamed her Lana, a variation of her birth name Lan, and raised her in various locations, including Chicago, Washington State, New York, and eventually Los Angeles. In 2019, Lana had the opportunity to visit Vietnam for the first time since her adoption, where she retraced her steps and connected with her past. Her father Bob, a health and fitness writer, wrote about their adoption journey and the process of choosing Lana’s name, settling on Lana Therese.

Sir Ben Kingsley

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Sir Ben Kingsley, originally Krishna Pandit Bhanji, is an English actor. He changed his name to Ben Kingsley for better recognition and pronunciation. Despite the irony of adopting a more universal name to play Mahatma Gandhi in the film Gandhi, it proved advantageous for his career.

John Cho

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John Cho, originally named Yo-han Cho in South Korea, moved to the US with his family at the age of 6. Initially, he felt proud that his early acting roles had anglicized names. However, he later became proud when his characters’ last names were changed because of him. This allowed him to play roles that didn’t solely rely on his Asian identity, highlighting the progress towards more diverse and inclusive representation in the industry, as noted by Vanity Fair.

Mindy Kaling

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Mindy Kaling, originally named Vera Mindy Chokalingam, has always been known as Mindy. Her parents chose the name Mindy while living in Nigeria because of the TV show “Mork & Mindy.” As a comedian, she decided to shorten her last name due to emcees struggling to pronounce it correctly and making jokes about it. Mindy had mixed feelings about the decision but found it beneficial for her career, as having a name that people could easily pronounce helped her connect with audiences.

Bruno Mars

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Bruno Mars, originally named Peter Gene Hernandez, was given the nickname Bruno by his father when he was 2 years old. The name was inspired by the wrestler Bruno Sammartino, either due to his chubby appearance or his confident and strong-willed personality. During a studio session, Bruno made a joke about being “out of this world,” which led to the addition of the surname Mars. From then on, Bruno Mars became his stage name, while Bruno remained the name he was known by among family and friends.

Michelle Yeoh

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Michelle Yeoh, originally named Choo Kheng Yeoh, is a Malaysian actress. She started her acting career in Hong Kong and later made her debut in the West with the 1997 James Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies. Initially credited as Michelle Khan to cater to Western audiences, she eventually decided to use her real name, Michelle Yeoh. Despite concerns about pronunciation, she found her original name easy to say and embraced it fully.

Aasif Mandvi

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Aasif Mandvi, originally Aasif Hakim Mandviwala, was born in India and later moved to England and then Florida. Reflecting on his immigrant journey, he expressed the struggle of assimilation and self-discovery. Aasif experienced cultural challenges and prejudice, particularly after the 9/11 attacks when he faced Islamophobia as a Muslim actor with a stage name. Despite these obstacles, he found appreciation for his own cultural background and became a prominent figure on The Daily Show, addressing important issues related to Islam, the Middle East, and South Asia.

Tia Carrere

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Tia Carrere, originally named Althea Rae Duhinio Janairo, is an actress from Hawaii. She acquired her nickname “Tia” from her younger sister who couldn’t pronounce her given name. Tia adopted the last name Carrere after being inspired by actor Barbara Carrera. She was discovered while grocery shopping in Honolulu, which led to her first movie role in Aloha Summer. Tia then moved to Hollywood and began her successful career in the entertainment industry.

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