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11 Historical Figures You Didn’t Realize Used Fake Names

These household names wouldn't always have rolled off the tongue.

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Ulysses S. Grant

When he was young, Hiram Grant went by his middle name, Ulysses, so when he was applying for West Point, the congressman nominating him assumed it was his first name. The politician used Simpson (the maiden name of Grant’s mother) as his middle name. From then on, the president-to-be started signing his name Ulysses S. Grant.

NELSON MANDELA ON A VISIT IN LONDON, BRITAIN - 1990Shutterstock

Nelson Mandela

Before Nelson Mandela won a Nobel Peace Prize for helping to bring down the apartheid in South Africa, he was known as Rolihlahla Mandela. He started using the name “Nelson” as a kid because one of his teachers gave all her students “Christian” names.

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Joseph Stalin

The Soviet dictator’s birth name was quite the mouthful: Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili. During a series of arrests and exiles as the Russian Revolution was getting its wheels going in the early 1900s, Iosif (Westernized to Joseph) started using the name “Stalin,” which translates to “steel” in Russian. Find out which famous moments in history never actually happened.

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Leon Trotsky

Lev Davidovich Bronshtein was arrested in 1898 for his Marxist revolutionary endeavors, and he was imprisoned and exiled to Siberia. When he escaped Siberia and made his way to London, he used the name Leon Trotsky on his forged passport, which he started calling himself from then on. Test your knowledge with these 16 history questions everyone gets wrong.

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Yogi Berra

Which came first: Yogi Bear or Yogi Berra? The baseball Hall of Famer debuted first, but not before Lawrence Peter Berra. He got his nickname as a teenager when a friend told him he looked like a Hindu yogi. Check out these 10 iconic characters you never knew were based on real people.

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George Orwell

Before becoming a favorite author for books like Animal House and 1984, Eric Arthur Blair was living in the slums of London and Paris, begging for money when he wasn’t working as a dishwasher. His experience inspired the book that put him on critics’ radars, Down and Out in Paris and London. He didn’t want to ruin his family’s reputation by connecting their last name with poverty, so he went with the pen name George Orwell, allegedly inspired by England’s River Orwell. Find out how you should be pronouncing these 18 famous author names everyone says wrong.

YANKEES BABE RUTH 1923AP/Shutterstock

Babe Ruth

It’s not so surprising that “Babe” wasn’t on George Herman Ruth Jr.’s birth certificate, but there’s a back story to his nickname. Ruth was just 19 when he was offered a contract with the Baltimore Orioles, which meant a legal guardian would need to sign for him. The team’s owner, Jack Dunn, became his guardian so Ruth could sign on with the team, and the other players jokingly called him “Jack’s newest babe.”

Muhammad Ali 1967, USAAnonymous/AP/Shutterstock

Muhammad Ali

Muhammad is thought to be the most popular name in the world, but it wasn’t the one given to the world-famous boxer. The heavyweight champion was born as Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. until a Nation of Islam leader gave him his more famous name: Muhammad Ali.

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Che Guevara

The guerrilla leader and communist Cuban Revolutionary was named Ernesto Guevara de la Serna when he was born. Argentineans like him sometimes use “che” as an interjection when they’re talking, so he earned his nickname during his time in Guatemala in the 1950s.

PABLO PICASSOAP/Shutterstock

Pablo Picasso

The world-famous painter and Cubist creator didn’t exactly use a fake name, but he did shorten his full name a bit. Advertising for Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno Crispín Crispiniano María Remedios de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz Picasso might not have fit on his exhibit’s flyers, after all. Until 1901, he sometimes went by Pablo Ruiz or Pablo Ruiz Picasso, but he eventually dropped his father’s last name. Learn how 14 famous companies got their names.

Marilyn Monroe - 195320th Century Fox/Kobal/Shutterstock

Marilyn Monroe

The name Marilyn Monroe is a bit too perfect to be real—because it was the stage name picked for Norma Jeane Dougherty, whose maiden name was Mortenson. Reportedly, a studio executive told the actress that Dougherty had too many possible pronunciations, so she chose to go by her mom’s maiden name Monroe. The executive picked Marilyn because she reminded him of Broadway star Marilyn Miller, who—in an eerie foreshadow to Monroe’s early death—had died when she was just 37. Monroe also happens to be one of these 13 celebrities you never knew had FBI files.

Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s Medscape.com and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.