Carmen Electra

Jerome Ware/ZUMA

Why do some celebrities change their names or take a stage name before starting out in Hollywood? Do agents or studios ever encourage someone to take a stage name?

You may assume that some woman out there did not voluntarily name her child Blake Lively. She did. Real name. So is Vanessa Hudgens; found that out from an agent whose wife used to rep her. Now, Zac Efron, that HAS to be a stage name, right? Hunh. No. Real name.

My point: Stars change their names less often than you might think. For every Carmen Electra, who dropped her birth name of Tara Leigh Patrick at the behest of mentor Prince (yes, really), there's a Lindsay Lohan, who changed nothing much at all. Yes, to answer your question, agents say there are cases of reps imposing fake names on talent. But most of the time when names get changed, the catalysts are...

...the actors themselves, or more often their union.

Take Hallie Eisenberg, that cutie-pie child actor who is now 16. She used to go by Hallie Kate Eisenberg, until she marched up to her agent one fine day.

"She just wanted a shorter name," her agent, Bonnie Shumofsky, explains to me. "Honestly, the subject doesn't come up that often."

(Earlier in her career, Shumofsky, of the Abrams talent agency, assisted the agent of Sarah Michelle Gellar and Melissa Joan Hart. "Real names," Shumofsky says.)

When actors are forced to change their names, the biggest reason isn't lack of zazz or memorability, agents tell me. It's something much more concrete.

"Sometimes it all comes down to the Screen Actors Guild and the IMDB," says Matt Fletcher, who represents Hannah Montana actor Moises Arias, another real name. The actors union has rules dictating there can be no two members with the exact same name, so—by way of very real example—a man who was born Michael Douglas may become Michael Keaton (and he did).

Now, Leslie Elizabeth Gornstein is signing off for the day.

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