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29+ Stories Behind Singers & Their Stage Names

Music

| LAST UPDATE 04/04/2022

By Alexa Alves

For most of us, we're used to calling our favorite stars by their stage names. Perhaps that's why the stories behind their famous personas usually remain unknown. Here's a close look at how their alter-egos came to be.

Lana Del Rey

Back when she was singing her heart out on smaller stages in New Jersey, Lana Del Rey was still going by her birth name: Elizabeth Woolridge Grant. But shortly after, she began thinking of stage names.

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“Sparkle Jump Rope Queen” came first - before she finally settled on Lana Del Rey. In an interview with MTV, the sultry singer said, “I knew that I wanted a name that sounded sort of exotic and reminded me of the seaside on the Floridian coast.” Sure enough, the name came to her after a trip to Florida with her sister.

Grimes

But not every musician is as transparent as Lana. Just take a look at the Canadian-born electro-pop artist Grimes (also known by her birth name Claire Boucher). Over the years, she told journalists her name came from the artist Ken Grimes, while also claiming it came from Frank Grimes, a character from The Simpsons.

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But she finally came clean years later on Twitter. “On MySpace, ur genre could be grime [a subgenre of British electronic music], and u could have 3 genres, so I was plural grime, b4 knowing what grime was. I was originally too embarrassed of this story, so I told journalists I was named after Frank Grimes, who is also very cool.”

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Lil Nas X

Many Lil Nas X fans assumed that his favorite artist was the rapper Nas, and that’s why he chose ‘Lil Nas’ as a pseudonym. But that’s not quite right. “When I first started rapping, I wasn’t being serious, so it’s like, ‘OK, what’ll be funny?” the rapper told BET. “Lil, lil, lil, (for) every new rapper.’ So, ‘Lil Nas,’ aha!”

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But as he became more popular and began taking his career as a rapper more seriously, he decided to add that extra initial to set himself apart. “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.”

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Post Malone

There is a lot about New York-born rapper Post Malone that may seem unique - from his meteoric rise to fame back in 2017-2018 to his striking appearance. But we have to admit, we’ve always wondered about his stage name too. As it turns out, it wasn’t meant as a joke, nor was it inspired by one of his celebrity idols.

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Instead, the rapper - originally named Austin Post - got it from a rap name generator that he found online! That’s right, he’d already written the bars, but he didn’t have the stage name to back it up, so the internet came through with Post Malone. And the rest is history.

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Calvin Harris

It may not seem sound like it, but Calvin Harris is actually a stage name. “My first single was more of a soul track, and I thought Calvin Harris sounded a bit more racially ambiguous,” the DJ said in an interview with Shortlist. “I thought people might not know if I was black or not. After that, I was stuck with it.”

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These days, Adam Wiles (as he’s known off the stage) is a little tired of his alter-ego. “I started feeling almost negative connotations with that name,” he told a Radio 1 interviewer. “The fake name has been around for a long time, and it’s served me well.”

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Cardi B

Since she first appeared on Love and Hip Hop: New York, Cardi B has taken the world of entertainment by storm, starting out as a club dancer in the Bronx before finding her footing as a rapper. And the Grammy Award-Winning artist is only going from strength to strength - but where did her persona come from?

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“My sister’s name is Hennessy, so everybody used to be like ‘Bacardi’ to me,” she said in a revealing interview with Wendy Williams. “Then I shortened it to Cardi B. The ‘B’ stands for whatever, depending on the day… beautiful or bully.” Considering the controversies she’s been involved in over the years, we believe her.

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FKA Twigs

After only seven years in the limelight, artist FKA Twigs has made a significant impact on the music industry, gaining millions of fans and countless accolades from within and outside of the studio system. But there’s no denying that her stage name is eye-catching and unusual.

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Born Tahliah Debrett Barnett, this performer's pseudonym developed over time. She initially recorded as just "Twigs," a play on the fact that her joints would make popping noises while she danced and performed. But it turned out the name was already taken. So she added FKA to it - "Formerly Known As Twigs."

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Billie Eilish

As it turns out, ‘Billie Eilish’ isn’t so much a stage name as a kind of… nickname? Or at least, it’s a very shortened version of her birth name, Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell. That's right. With so many names to choose from, Eilish chose the simple route and went with her two first names.

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And the singer is open about her unconventional birth name, telling a BBC radio interviewer: “Pretty weird, right? 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.” Maybe, but with 5 Grammy’s under her belt, it isn’t holding her back!

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Lady Gaga

Since taking the stage as Lady Gaga, Stefani Germanotta has been dominating the charts - both as a Grammy-award-winning artist with plenty of mainstream appeal and an eccentric, one-of-a-kind creator who has carved out her own space in the pop music industry.

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In fact, she’s led a somewhat similar career to the ground-breaking singer of the band Queen, Freddie Mercury. Which makes it so fitting that Germanotta took her name from the 80s band after music producer Robert Fusari commented that her singing brought to mind the hit Queen track “Radio Gaga.”

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Lizzo

As an artist who won three Grammy’s in one year and an album (Cuz I Love You) that debuted at number 6 on the Billboard 200, it’s no wonder people want to know more about Lizzo. Born Melissa Viviane Jefferson, how did this exuberant singer and flutist get her simple yet catchy stage name?

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As it turns out, the Truth Hurts performer earned it back in middle school, when her classmates called her ‘Melisso,’ and eventually, the shortened version caught on. “Everybody where I grew up in Houston, would chop off half the name and put an ‘o’ at the end,” she said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune.

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Maluma

From Medellín to Los Angeles, Colombian-born singer-songwriter Maluma has been shaking up the international music scene, snagging a Grammy nomination for Best Latin Pop Album, his fourth album to date. He may have lost to fellow Colombian Shakira, but we’re still very impressed.

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But how did Maluma, also known as Juan Luis Londoño Arias, find his unique name? The singer explained the creation of the name to Jimmy Fallon on his show The Tonight Show. “My mom’s name is Marlli, my father’s name is Luis, and my sister’s name is Manuela,” he said. The first two letters of each name make up Ma-Lu-Ma!

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Childish Gambino

It’s been a long-time since we’ve seen such a multi-faceted talent as Donald Glover, who has swung from being a stand-up comedian to an actor, screenwriter, director, and more! But he first came to our attention as a rapper with a singular name - Childish Gambino.

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With such an eclectic career, one might imagine there is some deep and complex reasoning for this unusual name… but they'd be wrong. It seems like Donald took a page out of Post Malone’s book (or vice versa) since the artist found his name through an online Wu-Tang Clan name generator. Maybe every artist should be using them?

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Katy Perry

Here’s another pop star whose “fame name” sounds so normal they could have been born with it - Katy Perry. This chart-topping star was born Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson, and she played around with different names before landing on the one we know and love.

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For her first studio album as a gospel singer, she tried the name Katy Hudson before switching to Perry (her mother's maiden name) for the remainder of her career. It must have done the trick, because ever since, she's been a major name in pop, collaborating with some of the biggest names in the game, including Kanye and Snoop Dogg!

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Bad Bunny

This next artist truly made something good out of a bad situation when he chose his stage name. Born Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, the young man adopted the name Bad Bunny after he was made to wear a rabbit costume to school. Despite the jokes we’re sure he put up with, it seems to have paid off with a stellar career.

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And for those wondering why he decided to make his name out of such an embarrassing moment, we might suggest looking to his latest album for answers: YHLQMDLG, short for “Yo hago lo que me da la gana,” which means “I do whatever I want” in Spanish. Message received!

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Eminem

No, this next mega-famous rapper didn’t take his name from the candy - instead, Eminem’s stage name comes from early on in his childhood when he first tried his hand at rapping. And the reasoning was very simple. His childhood friend Mike Ruby just took the initials of his birth name, Marshall Mathers, and voila!

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From then on, the Eminem moniker was born. Though he did try names like “MC Double M” for size, in the end, it was Eminem that fit perfectly. Though his first album Infinite didn’t sell particularly well, when he paired Eminem with the alter-ego Slim Shady his music exploded, making him one of the biggest rappers in the world!

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Madonna

Born Madonna Louise Ciccone, there’s no particularly interesting reason behind the “Queen of Pop”’s chosen name. After all, it’s her first name. But the name Madonna did play an interesting part in her early development and is part of what helped convince her to move to New York in 1978, where she joined a band for the first time.

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Madonna was born in Bay City, Michigan, to a Catholic family. Her upbringing paired with her name convinced her that there were only two paths ahead, a topic she broached in her biography. “How could I be anything else but what I am having been named Madonna? I would either have ended up a nun or this.”

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Doja Cat

Back in 2018, a new artist came onto the scene with her song Mooo! The artist was Doja Cat, and her quirky track spread across the internet like wildfire - gaining almost immediate viral status and launching the cow-print wearing singer into the stratosphere.

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Since then, she’s only gained more fame and acclaim, reaching number 19 on the Billboard 200 for her second album Hot Pink. And for those wondering what her unique name means? The first word is a slang name for a certain plant, and the second is just her favorite animal. Simple, easy, fun: we love it!

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Nicki Minaj

This next rap queen has had a famous name for more than a decade now, since the release of her debut album, Pink Friday, back in 2010. Born Onika Tanja Maraj-Petty, she quickly decided that her birth name was a little unwieldy for a rap career. And so, she became Nicki Minaj. She explained the change to RapIndustry.com back in 2008.

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“My real name is Maraj. Fendi (CEO of Dirty Money Records) flipped it when he met me because I had such a nasty flow!” Minaj is a play on the French word “Ménage,” meaning “a domestic establishment.” While she wasn’t too keen on the connotations of the name initially, it caught on so fast that she never looked back.

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Drake

Well before he found fame as one of the music industry’s hottest names, Drake was a teenage actor named Aubrey Drake Graham, who was best known for his role in the hit Canadian show Degrassi. Though he eventually dropped his first and last name, Drake’s still not sure where his middle name comes from.

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“The reasoning behind it, I am not sure,” he told 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.”

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Elvis Costello

With a name like Declan Patrick Aloysius MacManus, any aspiring star is likely going to change their name for something shorter and snappier. And that’s exactly what Elvis Costello did, which led him to win two Grammy’s and a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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The UK singer-songwriter first began performing under the moniker D.P Costello (a reference to his father's own stage name, Day Costello) as part of a folk act known as "Rusty." His manager would later recommend Elvis as a first name, after the one and only king of rock n roll.

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Dua Lipa

We weren’t expecting this, but Dua Lipa’s birth name is… Dua Lipa. And there’s a sweet story behind her unique name. Lipa was actually teased relentlessly as a child for it, after leaving Kosovo for England in the early 90s (“Dua” means “love” in Albanian). Though she hated it as a child, she eventually embraced her name.

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“It kind of took me a while, especially growing up, to really appreciate my name,” she admitted in an interview with 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.”

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DJ Mustard

Hip-hop and R&B producer DJ Mustard may have been born in Los Angeles, but it’s definitely not where he got his name from. Though he may have slipped from the radiowaves in the last few years, at one point, he was one of the biggest producers in the game - releasing popular tracks with the likes of Tyga and Ty Dolla Sign.

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Back between 2011 and 2016, one couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing DJ Mustard. With that kind of success, we'd expect a slightly more serious sounding stage name from Dijon Isaiah McFarland, but instead, he pulled it from a popular type of mustard originating from Dijon, France. We gotta admit - it worked for him!

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Dr. Dre

Though we’ve all known him as Dr. Dre for decades, it wasn’t always so. Back in his early days as a DJ performing at small gigs and house parties in Compton, Dre went by the moniker “Dr. J” - the same nickname as Julius Irving, his favorite NBA player.

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Over time he decided to adopt an original name that was more fitting for him personally - so he kept the “Dr” and swapped out the “J” for “Dre,” taken from his birth name Andre Young. From then on, the “Master of Mixology”’s career began to take off, eventually becoming one of the biggest rappers, DJs, and producers in the business.

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Meek Mill

He took the stage name Meek Mills, but Robert Rihmeek Williams might have done equally well if he was known as the “Comeback Kid.” After dealing with legal troubles that have since been outlined in the Amazon Prime documentary Free Meek, the Philadelphia-born rapper has managed to rise above it all.

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Since being released from prison, Meek went on to gain acclaim for his 2018 album Championships. But where did his famous name come from? Well, it’s simply a shorter and snappier version of his first stage name - “Meek Millions.” Over time he dropped the last syllable, and the rest, as they say, is history!

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Diplo

There are few stage-name origin stories that are as silly and endearing as Thomas Wesley Pentz, otherwise known as Diplo. The prolific DJ/producer took his name from the Diplodocus, his favorite dinosaur as a child. And that wasn’t the only time he took inspiration from the prehistoric beast.

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When he released his first compilation album, Diplo also used the silhouette of the Diplodocus as cover art. We can’t help but wonder if the dinosaur is his good luck charm since he later went on to collaborate with some of the world’s hottest artists, including M.I.A and Justin Bieber.

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Tove Lo

On the subject of endearing childhood stories (pretty specific, but it is what it is), we have the Swedish pop singer Tove Lo. Born Ebba Tove Elsa Nilsson, Tove got her name after a visit to the zoo with her grandmother. There they saw a Lynx cat also named “Tove.”

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The little girl was so enchanted by the animal with her middle name, that her grandmother began calling her “Tove Lo” - “Lo” means Lynx in Swedish. From then on, her alter-ego was born, and she used the nickname when she began her career as a singer, releasing her first international hit Habits (Stay High), in 2013.

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Flume

Similar to Elvis Costello and likely many other musicians, this next artist took his name from one of his favorite musicians. Australian DJ and producer Flume, otherwise known as Harley Edward Streten, took his name “Flume” from a Bon Iver song of the same name.

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“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,” he told one interviewer. “So I wanted a word that looked nice on paper from a typography perspective, and Flume really worked for me.”

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H.E.R.

If heartbreak isn’t the perfect inspiration for an artist’s name change, we don’t know what is. Gabriella Wilson chose to name her most successful solo project H.E.R, standing for “Having Everything Revealed.” The name may seem mysterious, but apparently, the explanation was fairly obvious.

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It was a reference to what she learned about herself at the end of the relationship and in the wake of its end. What was a mystery, however, was her real name, which she kept secret after her first E.P. “The mystery is a metaphor for who I am, or who I was at the time of creating the project,” she told the L.A. Times.

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Skrillex

Back in the early 2000s, it would have been hard for fans of Sonny Moore to imagine that he’d one day be the king of the dubstep genre. Going from the post-hardcore band From First to Last to the internationally famous act Skrillex, he made quite the career change. But where did he get his catchy stage name?

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Well, if one's looking for a quirky or interesting origin story, this isn’t one. Moore explained the rather pedestrian background of the name in a 2010 interview with Westword, saying, “It was a stupid old online AOL screen name. There really isn’t a meaning behind it.”

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Anderson .Paak

For all intents and purposes, the inspiration for rapper Anderson .Paak’s name seems fairly obvious. After all, his birth name is Brandon Paak Anderson! But what that doesn’t explain is the period mark that comes before ‘Paak.’ And there’s much more meaning behind it than one might expect.

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“The dot stands for detail,” he said in an interview with 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.”

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