Whether we're talking about rappers, Hollywood starlets or even authors, chances are pretty high that they may not go by what appears on their birth certificates. As Toni Morrison revealed in a recent magazine story, names don't necessarily tell the whole truth. For that reason, The Root has looked at several celebrities whose real names may raise more than a few eyebrows.
Which Pulitzer Prize-winning author, activist and scholar was born Chloe Wofford?
In a recent interview with New York magazine, Morrison said she still claims Chloe Wofford as her real name, and regrets using her pen name on her seminal novel, The Bluest Eye. "Wasn't that stupid?" she said. "I feel ruined!" Toni is a derivative of her saint's name in Catholic school, Anthony. Morrison is the last name of her ex-husband.
Which chart-topping R&B diva-actress-cookbook author was born Patricia Louise Holt?
Early in her singing career, Patricia Louise Holt performed as lead vocalist in the Ordettes. By 1961, they changed personnel — replacing two members with Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash — and changed their name to the Bluebelles. A record exec who once thought Holt was "too dark and unattractive" to lead an all-girl group gave her the stage name LaBelle, or "the beautiful one" in French.
Which Grammy-winning composer and producer's middle name is Delight?
Music impresario Quincy Delight Jones Jr. has worked with the giants of soul, jazz and pop from Ray Charles to Michael Jackson. No wonder that his middle name reflects such good fortune. He inherited Delight from his father, Quincy Delight Jones Sr., and lent it to his music producer son, Quincy Delight Jones III, also known as QD3.
Which beaded braids-wearing funk master was born James Ambrose Johnson Jr.?
As a young Naval Reserve officer, James Ambrose Johnson Jr. went AWOL in 1964, fleeing to Toronto to avoid active duty. There he formed the Sailorboys (later the Motown act the Mynah Birds) with rising musicians Garth Hudson and Levon Helm and used the alias Ricky Matthews. By the time his first Motown solo single "You and I" dropped in 1978, he went simply by Rick James.
Which late blue-eyed soul singer's government name was Mary Christine Brockhert?
Using a variation of her reversed first and middle names, Mary Christine Brockhert made her solo debut in 1979 with a seductive funk sound. The Rick James protégée became known as the Ivory Queen of Soul before her death in 2010.
Which harmonica-playing R&B singer was born Stevland Hardaway Judkins?
Legend has it that Berry Gordy wasn't impressed with young Stevland Hardaway Judkins' singing when he first came before the Motown chief. It was the 11-year-old blind phenom's harmonica playing that got him signed to the Detroit label. Gordy and others were so astounded by his ability to play and sing they called him a "little wonder."
Which British pop star's middle and last names are Henry Olusegun Olumide Adeola Samuel?
The son of plumber Francis Samuel and wig maker Adebisi Samuel, the megastar singer's full birth name is Seal Henry Olusegun Olumide Adeola Samuel. Like other mono-monikered pop singers before him (i.e., Madonna, Prince), the ex-hubby of model Heidi Klum has gone by Seal since debuting in 1991 with his eponymous album.
Which West Coast rap icon's middle name is Cordozar?
Calvin Cordozar Broadus, aka Snoop Dogg, was named after his adoptive stepfather, Cordozar Calvin Broadus Sr. And like father, like son: The 40-something multimillionaire rapper loves the Cordozar part of his birth name so much he bestowed variations of it on his two sons, Corde and Cordell, and daughter Cori.
Which '90s R&B heartthrob was born Elgin Baylor Lumpkin?
Named after Elgin Baylor, the former Los Angeles Laker great and Washington, D.C.-born basketball icon, a young Elgin Baylor Lumpkin started his music career in various bands and hip-hop groups in the late '80s, often going by the name Tornado. By 1996, he was discovered by a Jodeci member and changed it to Ginuwine to reflect his "down-to-earth" personality.
Which pint-size Florida rapper was born Algernod Lanier Washington?
This Fort Myers-area rapper was born Algernod Lanier Washington in 1976 and took his MC name from the slang term used to describe the hustlers who ply their drug-dealing trade in the local hood. Teaming with Akon and T-Pain for some of his biggest hits, Plies is now slinging music.
Which "Smack That" R&B singer was born Aliaune Damala Badara Thiam?
Born Aliaune Damala Badara Thiam in 1973, Akon moved with his family from Senegal to New Jersey, where he pursued music and stealing cars. The latter led to jail time that threatened to derail his career before it got started. He told Ellen DeGeneres that Akon is another middle name, but that and his label Konvict Music may be convenient riffs on his sordid past.
Which actress and philanthropist, who is mostly known for her roles in 1990s TV shows and films, was born Nitara Carlynn Long?
Long made her mark in the early 1990s as Will Smith's love interest in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Fans probably remember and love her most for her good-girl role in Boyz in the Hood, and her memorable role as Nina in the cult classic, Love Jones.
Which legendary jazz singer, who is said to have "changed the art of American pop vocals forever," was born Eleanor Fagan?
The imitable Holiday's stage name was inspired by Billie Dove, an early 20th-century actress whom she admired. She borrowed her last name from the man she suspected to be her father, musician Clarence Holiday.
Which iconic funnywoman and talk show host's real name is Caryn Elaine Johnson?
The comedienne's stage name was inspired by a lifelong battle with flatulence. In a 2008 New York Times article, she said, "If you get a little gassy, you've got to let it go. So people used to say to me, 'You're like a whoopee cushion.' And that's where the name came from." She changed her last name to Goldberg because her mother said Johnson wasn't "Jewish" enough to make her famous.
Which hip-pop star's birth name, Onika Tanya Maraj, isn't nearly as suggestive as her stage name?
It's not clear why the pop songstress doesn't go by her full given name, except for the fact that her stage name is easier to remember. But it's also not a stretch to assume that Minaj, who has been open about her bi-curiosity in her music … well, you get the point.
Which Oscar-winning actor and musician's real name is Eric Marlon Bishop?
Foxx, who started his career as a stand-up comic, chose Jamie for its androgynous sound when he realized that female comics were often given preference at stand-up shows. He added Foxx as an ode to the legendary Redd Foxx from the '70s sitcom Sanford and Son.
Which rapper is one of President Obama's favorites and was given as his birth name Jay Wayne Jenkins?
It's not uncommon for a rapper to use a letter from their name and add "eezy" to it to create a new moniker. See Lil' Wayne (Weezy), Kanye (Yeezy) and Chris Brown (Breezy). But there's nothing young about the name Jay Wayne Jenkins, which sounds like someone's grandfather instead of the hottest rapper in the game.
Which big-voiced, big-haired diva from the 1970s was born Carol Yvette Marie Stevens?
As a member of the Black Panther Party in late 1969, Khan took the name Chaka Adunne Aduffe Yemoja Hodarhi Karifi. Once she married her now-ex-husband, Hassan Khan, the diva-in-training took his last name and created the moniker she uses today.
Which rapper, singer and reality-show judge was born Thomas DeCarlo Calloway?
Cee-Lo told VH1 in 2011 that his stage name has everything to do with his middle name. "Yes, my first name is Thomas. But my entire name is Thomas DeCarlo Calloway. So Ceelo is an abbreviation of Carlo," he said.