Stories behind the stage names of famous musicians
A great stage name is almost mandatory to become a pop star. When it comes to self-promotion and marketing, there’s nothing better than having a catchy, instantly recognizable name. It’s even better when these monikers have a great story behind them!
Lana Del Rey
Before she became the undisputed queen of sad girl pop music, Lana Del Rey went by Elizabeth Woolridge Grant. When she started breaking into the music industry, she experimented with many different monikers. Our personal favorite is “Sparkle Jump Rope Queen.” Wonder why she ditched that one?
According to Lana, she finally came up with the name that stuck after visiting Florida with her sister. “I knew that I wanted a name that sounded sort of exotic and reminded me of the seaside on the Floridian coast,” she told MTV.
Florida’s coastline is sublime, yet it’s slowly being swallowed by the ocean. That fits her aesthetic well, we’d say.
D.H. Lawrence famously wrote, “Never trust the artist.” Of course, he was giving advice to critics and had never heard of electropop artist Grimes, but I think we can apply it here.
Sometimes Claire Boucher told journalists she got her stage name from The Simpsons character Frank Grimes, other times she claimed she was inspired by artist Ken Grimes.
Years later, she admitted the truth on Twitter. “On myspace ur genre could be grime and u could have 3 genres so i was plural grime, b4 knowing what grime was,” she tweeted. (Grime is a distinctly British sub genre of electronic music.) “I was originally too embarrassed of this story so i told journalists i was named after frank grimes, who is also very cool.”
Lil Nas X
Nope, it’s not because his favorite rappers growing up were Lil Wayne, Nas, and DMX.
It started as a joke: “When I first started rapping, I wasn’t being serious, so it’s like, ‘OK, what’ll be funny?” He told BET. “Lil, lil, lil, (for) every new rapper.’ So, ‘Lil Nas,’ aha!”
As people began recognizing his talent and he started to consider music a viable career, he knew his name had to reflect that. “The ‘X’ is like, for 10 years,” he added. “This is the amount of time until I’m going to be, you know, at that mogul, legendary level.”
Set your goals high, it pays off.
It’s hard to confuse Post Malone with anyone else — whether you’re listening to him or looking at him. While he has his fair share of deriders, there’s no denying his music and aesthetic appeals to the youth.
But where’d he get his name from?
It’s actually his real name — his father goes by Pre Malone. Just kidding! The real story is actually funny, though not too original. Austin Richard Post took on the name Post Malone when he was a young teen, using a rap name generator on the internet.
Believe it or not, he’s not the only one to trust a computer algorithm to come up with his rap name …
Yep, Calvin Harris is a fabricated name. The British EDM DJ and producer’s real name is Adam Wiles. There’s a silly reason why he chose this stage name: “My first single was more of a soul track, and I thought Calvin Harris sounded a bit more racially ambiguous,” he told Shortlist magazine. “I thought people might not know if I was black or not. After that, I was stuck with it.”
Now, it seems, the DJ is sick of the name. “I started feeling almost negative connotations with that name,” he told Radio 1’s Annie Mac. “The fake name has been around for a long time and it’s served me well.” He’s begun releasing distinctly darker music under the name Love Regenerator. So far, there’s no word on how he got the new name.
This Grammy Award winning rapper from the Bronx has come a long way from her days as a club dancer. She first gained national attention by appearing on Love and Hip Hop: New York, and since then, her fame (and notoriety) has only grown exponentially.
But how did Belcalis Almanzar (already a cool name), become Cardi B? We’ll let her tell it: “My sister’s name is Hennessy, so everybody used to be like ‘Bacardi’ to me,” she explained to Wendy Williams. “Then I shortened it to Cardi B. The ‘B’ stands for whatever, depending on the day … beautiful or bully.” For a woman with a reputation for hurling her own shoes at people, that seems fitting enough.
FKA twigs’ music is difficult to pigeonhole in any one genre. She has a wide range of influences, including Billie Holliday, Marvin Gaye, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and X-Ray Spex.
Her eclectic taste has served her well: Despite releasing her first album merely six years ago, Twigs’ unique music and visual aesthetic has earned her widespread critical praise and an impressive number of accolades.
The musician originally went by the name “Twigs” because of the constant popping noise her joints make when she dances, but had to change her name because the moniker was already taken. Rather than think of a brand new name, she just added FKA, which is a common acronym for “Formerly Known As.” Clever.
Usually when people adopt a stage name, they try to make their own name sound more interesting. In Eilish case, it seems she toned her’s down. The “Bad Guy” singer’s real full name is “Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell.” If it were up to me, I’d have chosen “Pirate Baird” as my moniker.
“Pretty weird, right?” Eilish said in a BBC radio interview. “Pirate was going to be my middle name, but then my uncle had a problem with it because pirates are bad. Then Baird is my mother’s (last) name.”
The name seems to be working for her — she claimed 5 Grammys this year, and her debut album sold 2.5 million total album-equivalent units in 2019 (that figure adjusts for 2.3 billion streams plus total physical copies sold).
Stefani Germanotta operates in a strange space: She’s both lauded for her artistry and her commercial appeal. While pop music is often criticized for being “safe,” that indictment loses traction when you bring up the name Lady Gaga. She’s many things, but safe isn’t one of them.
So how’d she get her name? According to the icon herself, it was inspired by another trailblazing artist.
Before her career took off, music producer Robert Fusari told the future celebrity that her style of singing reminded him of the Queen song “Radio Gaga.” Germanotta was moved by the high praise, which inspired the moniker we all know and love.
The “Truth Hurts” singer, songwriter, flutist, and rapper’s real name is Melissa Viviane Jefferson. In middle school, everyone took to calling her Melisso, which eventually became Lizzo. “Everybody where I grew up in Houston would chop off half the name and put an ‘o’ at the end,” Jefferson told the Chicago Tribune.
Lizzo took home three Grammys this year. Cuz I Love You, is her third studio album, but her major label debut. It’s also her first record to chart, debuting at number 6 on the Billboard 200.
To date, she’s shown no signs of slowing down.
This Colombian music sensation’s real name is Juan Luis Londoño Arias. His latest record 11:11 earned him a nomination for Best Latin Pop Album at this year’s Grammys (he lost to Shakira). But how did he go from Juan to Maluma?
“My mom’s name is Marlli, my father’s name is Luis and my sister’s name is Manuela,” Arias explained to Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon. The first two letters of each name respectively is Ma, Lu, and Ma.
Donald Glover seems like a man that can do it all. Screenwriting, acting, singing stand up comedy, rapping — you name it. But for his music and rap career, he felt he needed a different name. But even the most creative people run out of inspiration from time to time.
So how did he come up with Childish Gambino? Glover used a Wu-Tang Clan random name generator he found on the internet. These artists are gonna have to start cutting the writers of these online algorithms some checks soon!
Nope, not her real name. The pop star’s birth certificate reads “Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson.” She recorded her first album under the name Katy Hudson, back when she made gospel music. To avoid confusion with the actress Kate Hudson, Katy took her mother’s maiden name shortly after transitioning to secular music.
Shortly thereafter, she became a veritable hit factory, churning out chart-topping single after single and collaborating with musical heavyweights like Snoop Dogg, Kanye West, John Mayer and countless others.
Sometimes an embarrassing moment can impact the rest of your life. For this rapper/singer it had a positive effect. Once as a young boy, Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio was forced to wear a rabbit costume to school. Naturally, he wasn’t thrilled, which was evident from his facial expression in a photograph. That’s how he got his name.
In addition to his music, Bad Bunny is celebrated for his flamboyant fashion sense, something that comes from his childhood love of professional wrestling. Perhaps he’ll bust out the bunny costume one of these days?
His latest album is called YHLQMDLG, which is an abbreviation for “Yo hago lo que me da la gana,” Spanish for “I do whatever I want.” It seems to be the motto that Bad Bunny lives by.
From humble beginnings to superstardom, through critically acclaimed albums and bitter controversies, Eminem has had quite a career. When he first started rapping with his childhood friend Mike Ruby, he started going by the name “M&M.” All he did was use the initials from his real name, Marshall Mathers.
He experimented with other names, like “MC Double M,” in his early career before wisely settling on Eminem. Mathers’ debut album Infinite — while now lauded by his diehard fans — did not sell well when it was released. It wasn’t until he developed his murderous alter ego, “Slim Shady,” that his career really took off.
There’s no elaborate story behind this one, but it did turn Madonna into a believer in fate. The “Queen of Pop” was born Madonna Louise Ciccone to a Catholic family in Bay City, Michigan. As a child, her family called her “Little Noni.”
Destined for stardom, Madonna dropped out of college and moved to New York in 1978, joining a band, and later going solo.
As for her name? “How could I be anything else but what I am having been named Madonna?” she asked in her biography. “I would either have ended up a nun or this.”
No one can really predict who will “make it” in the music industry. Sure, it helps to have talent but that doesn’t guarantee success. You have to really stand out from the crowd. Enter: Doja Cat.
Doja Cat first caught the internet’s attention with her viral song/video “Mooo,” which featured memorable lyrics like “I go ‘mooo,’” and the Los Angeles rapper twerking in an animal print (guess which animal!) crop top and skirt set.
But now she’s a bonafide pop star, with her second album, Hot Pink, peaking at number 19 on the Billboard 200.
But how’d she get her name? According to the rapper/singer, it’s just a combination of a popular term for a certain “happy plant” and her favorite animal. I don’t know what I expected.
Nicki’s real name is Onika Tanya Maraj-Petty. Looking at her name, you can see why the rapper originally took the stage name Nicki Maraj.
“My real name is Maraj,” Nicki explained to RapIndustry.com in 2008. “Fendi (the CEO of Dirty Money Records) flipped it when he met me because I had such a nasty flow!”
At first, the Queens rapper was uncomfortable with the sexual connotation of her rap name. “Ménage” is just French for “a domestic establishment,” so we have no idea what she meant by that. 😉 Anyway, it seems she’s gotten past that hang up.
Maybe you’ve heard of this guy? Apparently, he’s a rapper and singer that got his start in show biz by playing Jimmy on Degrassi.
Aubrey Drake Graham didn’t have to look far to find his stage moniker. Oddly enough, he doesn’t know how he ended up with his middle name.
“His reasoning behind it, I am not sure,” Drake explained to Hip Hop Canada. “My dad is a character so it could be anything. I just really loved the name and I embraced it my whole life. Drake is me in my everyday life, Drake is who I am and Aubrey is more of a separate, sort of proper individual.”
This legendary songwriter and performer’s real name is quite a mouthful. Declan Patrick Aloysius MacManus first began performing music in 1971, as part of a folk duo named “Rusty.” For years, MacManus performed as D.P. Costello, an ode to his father, who used the stage name Day Costello.
It was Costello’s manager who suggested that he take the first name Elvis, to pay homage to Elvis Presley (maybe you’ve heard of him).
Costello has won two Grammy Awards, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.
OK we confess, this is her real name. But stay with us, it’s a good story! Dua Lipa’s parents fled Pristina (now Kosovo) in the early 1990s to immigrate to England. They gave her an interesting name: “Dua” translates to “love” in Albanian. As a young girl, she was constantly teased about her name. Little did those bullies know she’d go on to be a pop sensation!
“It kind of took me a while, especially growing up to really appreciate my name,” she explained to fashion designer Patrizia Bambi. “It was only when it came to the point that I didn’t really need a stage name was really when I started enjoying it … Going to school in London I just wished I had a normal name.”
DJ Mustard’s real name is Dijon Isaiah McFarlane. I don’t think I need to explain how he got his stage name after revealing that fact but here goes: Dijon mustard is a popular condiment that was originally from the town of Dijon in Burgundy, France. Try it on a sandwich, it’s good!
His name might be silly, but DJ Mustard’s musical accomplishments are not to be taken lightly. If you turned on Hip Hop/R&B radio between 2013 and 2016 there was a 95% chance that you heard one of his productions (I just made that statistic up but you and I know it’s true). And while he shares the airwaves a bit more these days, that doesn’t mean he’s slowed down at all.
Andre Young has come a long way in the 55 years he’s been on this earth. When he first started DJing parties in his hometown of Compton, the producer and rapper adopted the nickname of his favorite basketball player Julius Irving, who everyone called “Dr. J.”
He later combined his old stage name with a truncated version of his real name. And thus, “Dr. Dre,” the self-proclaimed “Master of Mixology” was born.
Dr. Dre does much more than produce, DJ, and rap these days — he’s a bonafide mogul in the music industry. Though as far as we know, he still hasn’t earned his PhD.
Born Robert Rihmeek Williams, the Philadelphia rapper went by “Meek Millions” as a shortened version of Rhimeek combined with a clever slant rhyme of his last name. This was eventually shortened to “Meek Mill.”
Everybody loves a good comeback story, and it doesn’t get much better than Meek Mill’s. The rapper had plenty of ups and downs in the past decade. His legal troubles are portrayed in the Amazon Prime documentary, Free Meek. But in 2018, his luck changed: He was released from jail and dropped his critically acclaimed and Grammy nominated album Championships.
What kid isn’t obsessed with dinosaurs? Thomas Wesley Pentz sure was. That’s why he derived his stage name from his favorite, dinosaur, the Diplodocus. In fact, he’s used the silhouette of the prehistoric herbivore for the cover of a compilation album. Shortened, the scientific name sounds kind of like a dance move.
The DJ producer has been making waves for a while, releasing his first E.P. in 2003. He’s collaborated with practically everyone you can think of, including Skrillex, M.I.A., and Justin Bieber.
Ebba Tove Elsa Nilsson has her grandmother and a zoo to thank for her stage name. At 3 years old, her grandma took the future superstar to see a Lynx named “Tove” at the zoo. Nilsson became obsessed, and her grandmother took to calling her “Tove Lo.” Lo means Lynx in Swedish.
The Swedish singer has seen continued success since her international breakout hit “Habits (Stay High),” which earned her a Swedish Grammi and was ubiquitous on rock, pop, and hip hop radio stations for several years.
Like many other musicians, Flume took his stage name from an artist’s work he admired. Harley Edward Streten is a big fan of the folk band Bon Iver. Their song “Flume,” in particular, caught his ear … and his eye.
“I figured if I was ever going to be successful with this (my name) was going to get written on a lot of things, on posters and T-shirts, so I wanted a word that looked nice on paper from a typography perspective and Flume really worked for me.”
R&B singer Gabriella Wilson has good old fashioned heartbreak to thank for giving her a cool stage name. After a relationship with a man who wasn’t right for her didn’t pan out, Wilson learned lots of new things about herself. To her, a large part of personal growth is “Having Everything Revealed.”
When H.E.R. dropped her first E.P. with RCA records, she kept her true identity hidden as an artistic decision. “The mystery is a metaphor for who I am, or who I was at the time of creating the project,” she explained the Los Angeles Times.
Few people are aware of Sonny Moore’s past as the vocalist of the now defunct post-hardcore act From First to Last. He’s much better known as Skrillex, perhaps the biggest name in the dubstep genre.
As for how he got the name Skrillex, there’s not much of an origin story: “It was a stupid old online AOL screen name,” he confessed to Westword in 2010. “There really isn’t a meaning behind it.” Womp Womp. (But read that like a bass wobble.)
This critically acclaimed acclaimed musician’s real name is Brandon Paak Anderson. It’s not hard to see how he got his stage name. But what is that random period doing there?
It may seem insignificant, but it matters a lot to .Paak.
“The dot stands for detail,” he told NPR. “I spent a lot of time working on my craft, developing my style, and after I came out of my little incubation I promised that I would pay attention to detail. And on top of that, I want to make sure that dot is always there to remind me and to remind others.