Musicians have all sorts of reasons to change their names, from wanting to create a persona, to wanting something that was easier to remember or say, to just having a terrible name to start out with.
Here is a list of musicians who have changed their names, and the story behind the name change. If you can think of any more, please leave them in the comments!
Flea, aka Michael Peter Balzary
He was on a ski trip with bandmates Anthony, Hillel and Barry. They decided not to use their real names on the trip so Anthony was “Swan” and Barry became “Tree.” They called him “Flea” because his nickname was “Mike-B the Flea,” as he was always jumping around and full of energy.
Ice-T, aka Tracy Marrow
Iceberg Slim was a reformed pimp who later wrote novels. From Ice-T’s autobiography: “I’d taken my name as a tribute to Iceberg, and then it hit me one day – dude is a writer. I thought he was fly because he was a pimp, but I realized that I really admired him because he was a writer.”
Sting, aka Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner
Sting’s nickname came after he performed wearing a black and yellow sweater with hooped stripes while onstage with the Phoenix Jazzmen. The bandleader, Gordon Solomon, thought that the sweater made him look like a bee, which prompted the nickname “Sting”. In the 1985 documentary Bring on the Night he was addressed by a journalist as “Gordon”, to which he replied: “My children call me Sting, my mother calls me Sting, who is this Gordon character?”
Björk, aka Björk Guðmundsdóttir
So this one isn’t a made-up name, but you can probably guess why she decided to shorten her name. By the way, if you want to pronounce it properly, it rhymes with “jerk”.
Cher, aka Cherilyn Sarkisian
Her first solo recording was an unsuccessful single released as “Bonnie Jo Mason”. Her second attempt was released under the name “Cherilyn” (written and produced by Sonny Bono) in 1964. Sonny and Cher then released under the name “Caesar and Cleo”, which again didn’t get anywhere. The first “Sonny and Cher” album (“Look At Us”) was released in 1965, and contained the hit “I Got You Babe”, and the name stuck. Basically, she kept changing her name until her music stuck.
Interestingly, after an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1965, Ed mispronounced her name ‘Chur’ during their introduction, so for about 9 years after that , she started spelling her name with an accent mark: Chér.
Seal, aka Seal Henry Olusegun Olumide Adeola Samuel
Once again, this is a case of “OK, so nobody is going to remember my name, let along how to pronounce it”.
Bono, aka Paul David Hewson
All of Pauls’ school friends in Dublin gave each other nicknames, and his was “Bono Vox,” which was Latin for “good voice,” based on the Bonavox hearing aid store in his hometown. Eventually he dropped the “Vox” and became just Bono.
Drake, aka Aubrey Drake Graham
In terms of street cred, you get further with Drake than Aubrey (except when he was on Degrassi, where he was still called Aubrey)
Enya, aka Eithne Ní Bhraonáin
“Eithne” is actually pronouced “Enya”, so instead of torturing people with having to figure out how to pronounce her name, she changed it to the phonetic spelling.
Gotye, aka Wouter “Wally” De Backer
This one is simple, “Gtye” is the french version of “Wouter”. He said: “I figured my own name was, a) not very showbiz, and b) just didn’t really feel very right. Wally is my nickname but you know, Wally doesn’t really feel right for a performing artist – maybe if I was writing kind of novelty music! I don’t know. Gotye is a name that my mum used to call me sometimes when I was little.”
Hammer, aka MC Hammer, aka Stanley Kirk Burrell
Because I’m of the generation that listened to 80’s music when it actually was the 80’s, I of course know him as “MC Hammer”, but he dropped the “MC” a while ago. While Stanley was a bat boy for the Oakland A’s, Pedro Garcia thought that he looked so much like Hammerin’ Hank Aaron that he started calling him “Hammer”.
Jay-Z, aka Shawn Corey Carter
Although there are a few people claiming that his name comes from the spot in Brooklyn where the J and Z trains meet up, Carter says that it’s a shortened form of his nickname when he was a kid: “Jazzy”.
Ke$ha, aka Kesha Rose Sebert
OK, so it’s her first name – buw what’s ith the dollar sign? In her own words: “It’s actually just being ironic about the whole money thing, because I actually stand for the opposite of putting a lot of emphasis on money”.
?uestlove, aka Ahmir Khalib Thompson
Ahmir at one point wanted to be called “?”, because it sounded anonymous. To his disappointment, people started calling him “Question Mark” instead – so he changed his name to “B.R.O. the R. ?”. Of course, people didn’t know what to make of that either, and started calling him “Brother Question Mark”. Finally, he changed it to “?uestlove” – here’s why: “In the old days, your name ended in rock, ski or love. ?uestrock was not happening and neither was ?uestski. So ?uestlove became my new old school name, ’cause I’m so old school!”. Yeeesh.
Ludacris, aka Christopher Brian Bridges
A perversion of his name Chris. Here’s what he said when asked about his name: “I made my name up. My first name is Chris, and Ludacris means beyond crazy, ridiculous — which describes my personality, where I’m comin’ from with my music, everything.”
Skrillex, aka Sonny John Moore
Aside from being one of the most mispronounced names around (Skillrex, anyone?), the nickname came from high school. People used to call him Skrillex or Skril or Skrilly. He started using the name Skrillex as a username for social networking, and it stuck.
Moby, aka Richard Melville Hall
According to Hall, his middle name and the nickname “Moby” were given to him by his parents because of an ancestral relationship to Moby Dick author Herman Melville: “The basis for Richard Melville Hall—and for Moby—is that supposedly Herman Melville was my great-great-great-granduncle”. He has also released music under the names “Voodoo Child”, “Schaumgummi”, and as a member of the bands Vatican Commandos, AWOL, Caeli Seoul, and Gin Train.
Pink, aka Alecia Beth Moore
“Pink” was a name that kids at school used to tease her with: “It was a mean thing at first; some kids at camp pulled my pants down and I blushed so much, and they were like, ‘Ha ha! Look at her! She’s pink!’ And then the movie Reservoir Dogs came out and Mr. Pink was the one with the smart mouth, so it just happened all over again.”
Prince, aka The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, aka Prince Rogers Nelson
He shortened his name to just “Prince” for his career, the same way Madonna did. When his label started limiting his creativity, he did not want to continue making money for them. From his vantage, they could have “Prince” (the artist they signed), because he decided to change his name to the symbol and become an entirely new artist, verbalized as “the artist formerly known as Prince” or just “the artist” for short.
The “Love Symbol” that he used was explained as a combination of the symbols for male (♂) and female (♀).In order to use the symbol in print media, Warner Bros. had to organize a mass mailing of floppy disks with a custom font. Because the symbol had no stated pronunciation, he was often referred to as “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince”, as well as “The Artist”.
When his contract expired and he was able to switch labels and was restored full ownership and creativity over his music, he dropped the symbol and went back to being Prince.
Will.i.am, aka William James Adams, Jr.
William describes in his own words: “I liked playing with words. I noticed that my name was a sentence, meaning one with will, who is strong-willed. And so I called my mom and said, ‘Hey, Mom, do you mind if I call myself Will.i.am?’ She was like: ‘Whaaa? You’re crazy.’ She was cool with it.”
Deadmau5, aka Joel Zimmerman
Pronounced “Deadmouse”, the name “deadmau5” originated when Zimmerman claimed to have found a dead mouse in his computer while replacing his video card. He discussed this with chat room users and became known as “that dead mouse guy”. The nickname “Deadmouse” was too long for the chat server, so he shortened it to deadmau5. Very 1337 of him.
Sade, aka Helen Folasade Folusade
Her stage name, a shortened form of her middle name, was adopted almost immediately, because her Nigerian neighbors refused to call her by the English name Helen.
Slash, aka Saul Hudson
He was given the nickname “Slash” by family friend Seymour Cassel, because he was “always in a hurry, zipping around from one thing to another.”
Coolio, aka Artis Leon Ivey Jr.
As a kid, Coolio’s mom had always called him Boo. He even had it tattooed on his arm in eighth grade. Although Boo or Artis is still what the family calls him, the street name Coolio came about in a more amusing fashion. Sitting around one day in Compton in his 20s playing guitar, one of Coolio’s friends came up and said, “Who do you think you are, Coolio Iglesias?,” referringto Latin crooner Julio Iglesias. The name stuck.
The Edge, aka David Howell Evans
From his biography: “Many theories exist concerning how Edge came to get his unusual name. As teenagers, he and Bono were both members of a group called Lypton Village, where everyone was given a name that suited them (as opposed to the one they’d been born with). Some say that the name The Edge was chosen due to his ‘edgy’ style of guitar playing, while others say it was because he rarely became fully involved in things, preferring instead to remain ‘on the edge’. Either way, the name stuck”
Feist, aka Leslie Feist
Yes, it’s as obvious as it sounds: “Feist” sounds way cooler than “Leslie”.
Johnny Rotten, aka John Lydon
The origin of John Lydon’s stage name has had two longstanding explanations. One, given in a Daily Telegraph feature interview with Lydon in 2007, was that he was given the name in the mid 1970s, when his lack of oral hygiene led to his teeth turning green. Another story says the name was given to him by Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones, who saw Lydon’s teeth and exclaimed, “You’re rotten, you are!”
Either way, In 2008 he had extensive dental work performed in Los Angeles, at a reported cost of US $22,000. Lydon explained that it wasn’t done out of vanity: “It was necessity … all those rotten teeth were seriously beginning to corrupt my system”.
Sid Vicious, aka John Simon Ritchie
John was given the nickname “Sid Vicious” by John Lydon, after Lydon’s pet hamster, Sid. The hamster had bitten Ritchie, who said that “Sid is really vicious!” The animal was described by Lydon as “the softest, furriest, weediest thing on earth.”
Billie Holiday, aka Eleanora Fagan
Holiday took her professional pseudonym from Billie Dove, an actress she admired, and the musician Clarence Holiday, her probable father. At the outset of her career, she spelled her last name Halliday,” the birth-surname of her father, but eventually changed it to Holiday,” his performing name. (by the way, if you have time, look up her story, it’s very interesting)
Bonnie Tyler, aka Gaynor Hopkins
In 1970, aged 19, Gaynor entered a talent contest, singing the Mary Hopkin hit “Those Were the Days”, and finished in second place, winning £1(!). She then was chosen to sing in a band with front man Bobby Wayne, known as Bobby Wayne & The Dixies. Two years later, she formed her own band called Imagination, and performed with them in pubs and clubs all over southern Wales. It was then that she decided to adopt the stage name of “Sherene Davis”, taking the names from her niece’s forename and favourite aunt’s surname.
1975, she was discovered by Roger Bell who arranged a recording contract for her with RCA Records. Before signing, she was asked to choose a different stage name and settled on Bonnie Tyler. Despite the two name changes, her family and friends still know her as Gaynor.
Bo Diddley, aka Otha Elias Bates McDaniel
The origin of the name is somewhat unclear, as several differing stories and claims exist. Diddley claims that his peers gave him the nickname, which he first suspected to be an insult (“Diddly” is a truncation of “diddly-squat”, retaining the same meaning of “nothing” and “bo” meaning “very”). He also said that the name first belonged to a singer his adoptive mother was familiar with, while harmonicist Billy Boy Arnold once said in an interview that it was originally the name of a local comedian that Leonard Chess borrowed for the song title and artist name for Bo Diddley’s first single. Guitar craftsman Ed Roman reported that another source says it was his nickname as a Golden Gloves boxer.
Connie Francis, aka Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero
During the rehearsals for her appearance on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts in 1955, she was advised by Godfrey to change her stage name to Connie Francis for the sake of easier pronunciation. Godfrey also told her to drop the accordion – advice she gladly followed, as she had begun to hate the large and heavy instrument. Probably a good decision.
Elvis Costello, aka Declan Patrick McManus
His great-grandmother’s name was Costello, and he started out after his old band Flip City disbanded in 1975 using the name ‘D. P. Costello’. After signing with Stiff records, he changed the first name to Elvis, purportedly at Jake Riviera’s suggestion. in his words: ‘I thought Elvis was better name than Jesus, and almost as exclusive’.
Liberace, aka Walter Busterkeys, aka Wladziu Valentino Liberace
While born “Wladziu Valentino Liberace”, he later changed his first name to “Walter”, but his friends and relatives knew him as “Lee”. He ended up going by his last name only at the insistence of Polish piano virtuoso Paderwski, who presumably gave his the great advice that nobody would remember “Wladziu”
Snoop Dogg, aka Cordozer Broadus
His parents nicknamed him “Snoopy” as a child because of his appearance ( they thought he looked like Charlie Brown’s dog , Snoopy, from the Peanuts comic strip ); but they usually addressed him as Calvin at home. ..He took the stage name “Snoop Doggy Dogg” while he began recording music back in 1992, then shortened it to “Snoop Dog”.