As a singer or musician, your identity and branding are an important part of your act. But what are pop stars real names – and are they the ones they were given at birth?
The artists who changed their stage name did so to stand out in the music industry. By adopting more unique stage pseudonyms they ensured they’d be memorable, marketable and not mixed up with similar-sounding celebrities
Singers are often known by something other than their original moniker. Read on to find out who uses their middle name, who has taken on an acronym as their act name and the stars who’ve chosen childhood aliases as their current identity.
Artists who changed their stage name
Stage names can emanate from a variety of places or stages in life. Nicknames from childhood are popular. When singers find their real name is already taken by someone in the industry or just isn’t unique-sounding enough, they may opt to go by their middle names instead.
Emelie Sandé (Adele Emelie Sandé) changed hers when another very famous Adele had chart success. Rihanna (Robyn Rihanna Fenty) opted for her middle name which is Arabic for sweet basil. Camila Cabello (Karla Camila Cabello Estrabao) used a middle name as she said it helped her move past shyness and create a confident over-exaggerated persona. And Drake (Aubrey Drake Graham) had a ready-made rap alias in his second name.
As well as creating a distinctive identity, adopting a stage name can help you to tap into a different persona when performing. There are artists whose names are clearly fake, rather than given birth names – like Lady Gaga (Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta) and Rag N Bone Man (Rory Charles Graham). These types of names are more dramatic than boy or girl next door fake names – like Katy Perry. Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson changed her name so she wouldn’t be confused with the established actress Kate Hudson.
Why do musicians change their names?
Singers and musicians change their names for a number of reasons. It could be they wish to create distance between their private and public lives, so they create a whole new persona that allows them to maintain a separate private life. Often record labels will request a change in line with their image. Or they might just dislike their real name.
Often it’s because real names are too dull and ordinary sounding. Some musicians are given unique and celeb-worthy names at birth, like Usher Raymond IV, who simply dropped his surname for a cool rap persona. However, others have to be more creative if they want to stand out and be memorable.
What are female pop stars real names?
Aka Destiney Hope Cyrus
Despite having been given a very pop star sounding birth name, Destiny legally changed her name to Miley (from her childhood nickname Smiley because she was such a happy baby) in 2008. Now only her grandmother calls her Destiney.
Aka Alicia Augello Cook.
Keys almost went with the stage name Wilde, but her manager Jeff Robinson suggested the name Keys after a dream he had and to reflect the singer’s love of music.
Lana Del Rey
Aka Elizabeth Woolridge Grant.
Lana Del Rey is a mix of legendary Hollywood actress Lana Turner and the classic automobile the Ford Del Rey.
Aka Alecia Beth Moore.
The singer gets her name from the character Mr Pink in the movie Reservoir Dogs, a film she saw as a teenager and who her friends thought she resembled.
Aka Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O’Connor
The singer told Teen Vogue: “I hit upon ‘Lord’ and loved the way it sounded, and then I was like, it would be quite cool to add an E to feminize it.”
Aka Ashley Nicolette Frangipane
The singer told Rolling Stone: “I didn’t like being Ashley Frangipane. It was a person I thought was weak and silly and sad.” An anagram of her birth name, she also named herself after Halsey Street in Brooklyn, where she lived.
Aka Amethyst Amelia Kelly
Following a move to America and being briefly managed by Interscope, Iggy adopted her stage name, after a dearly loved pet. “Iggy is the name of my old dog. I had a nameplate necklace that I used to wear which read “Iggy.” People I’d meet assumed it was my name and started calling me that. Azalea is the street I grew up on – I’m from Azalea Street. My family still lives there to this day.”
Who recently changed their name?
Aka Emily Middlemass
The Teenstar winner and X-Factor finalist decided to change her alias in August 2019. It’s a sort of abbreviation of her own name, a shortened version. A Little Bit was her first single released under this new branding.
Nicki Minaj/Mrs Petty
Aka Onika Tanya Maraj
The rapper started off her career using the name ‘Nicki Maraj’ before later settling for the name Nicki Minaj. But she recently caused a stir in 2019, by changing her social media to Mrs Petty, after telling fans she planned to marry fiance Kenneth Petty.
Snoop Dogg/Snoop Lion
Aka Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr
The rapper’s nickname came from his mother who thought he looked like Snoopy from the Peanuts cartoon. But it hasn’t stopped there. In 2012, he was rechristened by a Rastafarian priest in Jamaica, with the name Snoop Lion. But it didn’t last. Just one year later, he returned to his original, Snoop Dog.
Aka Abel Tesfaye
This shows you don’t have to change your name to, well, a name. Tesfaye spoke of his decision: “I hated my name at the time though so I tried it as a stage name. It sounded cool. I took out the “e” because there was already a Canadian band named The Weekend.”
Aka Mathangi Arulpragasam.
In a similar vein, the British rapper adopted her stage name as MIA, which isn’t actually a name, but rather stands for Missing In Action.
Bands that have changed their name
Aka The Rain
Mancunian megaband Oasis didn’t take on their current form until brother Noel joined forces with Liam’s established group, The Rain. As there was already a band from nearby Liverpool, called Rain, it was agreed they’d change it.
Rivals to Oasis, Blur went through a similar metamorphosis and actually had a number of titles between the late 1980s when they first formed, and their success of the 1990s. Like Oasis, they went for a fashionable (at that time) single-word name.
Aka The Quarry Men
Even the most famous bands of all time have experienced personality crises. This was their earliest incarnation (adopted during their schooldays), going on to be known as Johnny And The Moondogs and The Silver Beatles, before finally sticking on their iconic title.
Chris Martin and Jonny Buckland’s very first college band was called the very unmarketable, Pectoralz. They switched to Starfish and then, when drummer Will Champion arrived, became Coldplay.
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Aka Tony Flow And The Majestic Masters Of Mayhem
What a mouthful! Fortunately, this was short-lived and only used for the band’s first-ever gig in 1983, at the Rhythm Lounge in Hollywood. It’s generally not a good idea to create a name that takes ages to type or say. Fans are less likely to search for you if it’s an effort and super long names are less memorable.
Aka Pen Cap Chew
Following the 1990s trend of single naming, Nirvana had huge success under the late frontman Kurt Cobain. Prior to this, they were known as Bliss, Skid Row, Ted Ed Fred and Pen Cap Chew.
Rock stars who changed their name
Aka David Robert Jones
Known for alter egos referenced in his songs – Major Tom and Ziggy Stardust – after a decade of exploring new identities, Bowie named himself after the 19th-century American pioneer James Bowie and the knife he had popularised.
Aka Cherilyn Sarkisian
This is an abbreviation of the singer’s full name – an often adopted method for creating a stage name. The star had already recorded songs under the names Bonnie Jo Mason and Cherilyn. She and ex-husband Sonny, also went by ‘Caesar & Cleo’, before plumping for ‘Sonny & Cher’.
Aka Farrokh Bulsara
The Queen frontman legally changed his name to Freddie Mercury around 1970, when the band was formed.
Aka Stacy Ann Ferguson
This is a common nickname for people with the surname Ferguson. Sarah, Duchess of York has also often be dubbed as Fergie.
Aka Reginald Kenneth Dwight
The singer-songwriter chose the name Elton John in honour of saxophonist Elton Dean and singer Long John Baldry. Reginald certainly sounds less rock and roll.
Male singers that have changed their names
Aka Peter Gene Hernandez.
A childhood nickname that stuck: “My dad nicknamed me Bruno since I was 2 years old. I was going to go by ‘Bruno,’ one name. Mars just kind of came joking around because that sounds bigger than life. That was it, simple as that.”
Aka John Roger Stephens.
The singer told MTV News in 2008: “John Legend is a nickname that some friends started calling me, and it kind of grew into my stage name.”
Aka Armando Christian Pérez
The singer chose his stage name after the dog breed, which has a certain reputation: “(they) bite to lock. The dog is too stupid to lose. And they’re outlawed in Dade County. They’re basically everything that I am. It’s been a constant fight”
Aka Shawn Corey Carter
The stage name Jay-Z derived from Carter’s childhood nickname of “Jazzy” and is also a reference to the J/Z subway station near his Brooklyn home.
Aka Marshall Mathers
Also known by his alter ego Slim Shady when he emerged on the scene, the rapper got the name Eminem from his two initials – M & M. The name Marshall famously appears in his lyrics and album titles though.
Aka Adam Richard Wiles
Harris said of his name change: “My first single was more of a soul track, and I thought Calvin Harris sounded a bit more racially ambiguous,” he said, according to Esquire. “I thought people might not know if I was black or not. After that, I was stuck with it.”
Prince / The Artist Formerly Known as Prince
Aka Prince Rogers Nelson
Prince famously ditched his iconic stage name for a symbol, asking to be henceforth known as The Artist Formerly Know as Prince.
“It is an unpronounceable symbol whose meaning has not been identified. It’s all about thinking in new ways, tuning in 2 a new free-quency,” The artist wrote in a statement at the time.
Aka Curtis James Jackson III
50 Cent chose his rapper name after a notorious criminal Kelvin Martin, who went by that name. The nickname “says everything I want it to say. I’m the same kind of person 50 Cent was. I provide for myself by any means.”
Maybe reading this article has inspired you to adopt a stage name yourself. Coming up with something suitable can be fun and help you establish your branding.
- Do actors use fake names?
Yes, just like musicians, actors need to stand out, memorable names. If they wish to join the actors’ union, Equity, they also have to have a completely unique name (one not in use by any other living member of the organisation). This makes stage names even more necessary in the acting world.
- Who changed music the most?
The UK pop scene was revolutionised by The Beatles. But there have been countless artists and bands who’ve changed the face of music, before and since. You can read this article to find out more about the strongest influences we’ve seen to date.
Have you changed your stage name? Tell us what to and why you picked it in the comments below.