As a singer or musician, your identity and branding are an important part of your act and many artists choose a stage name. So, which singers changed their names before becoming really big stars?
Looking to stand out in the music industry? A lot of famous singer have chosen to adopt more unique stage names – and the names they were born with might just surprise you.
Plenty of famous singers like Lana Del Rey, Lorde, Bruno Mars and Katy Perry have all opted for cool-sounding stage names, and we’ll list them, as well as their real names, below.
Singers who changed their names
What’s in a name? While some singers are born with knock-out names – Madonna, Beyoncé, Ariana – some singers have to be more creative if they want to stand out and be memorable.
As well as creating a distinctive identity, adopting a stage name can help you to tap into a different persona when performing.
Singers who use stage names
#1 Miley Cyrus
Real name: Destiney Hope Cyrus
The pop star 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.
#2 Alicia Keys
Real name: 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.
#3 Bruno Mars
Real name: 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.”
#4 Lana Del Rey
Real name: Elizabeth Woolridge Grant.
Lana Del Rey is a mix of legendary Hollywood actress Lana Turner and the classic automobile the Ford Del Rey.
Female singers that go by one name
Real name: 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.
Real name: Mathangi Arulpragasam.
British rapper adopted her stage name, “M.I.A.”, which stands for “Missing In Action.”
Real name: 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.”
Real name: 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.
Real name: Stacy Ann Ferguson
Her stage name Fergie originated from the shortened version of her surname.
Real name: Melissa Viviane Jefferson
As a teen, her and two classmates formed a rap group called the Cornrow Clique. Originally called Lissa, the name was tweaked to Lizzo due to the popularity of the Jay-Z song ‘Izzo.’
Real name: Jasmine Lucilla Elizabeth Jennifer van den Bogaerde
Open Mic UK’s first winner was nicknamed Birdy by her parents because, as a baby, she looked like a little bird when taking food from them.
Singers real names
#12 Katy Perry
Real name: Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson
Katy Perry changed her name so she wouldn’t be mixed up with actress Kate Hudson.
#13 The Weeknd
Real name: Abel Tesfaye
“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.”
#14 John Legend
Real name: 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.”
#15 Rag’n’Bone Man
Real name: Rory Charles Graham
This memorable stage name was inspired by the 1970s sitcom Steptoe And Son. Rory came up with the name when he emceed with a drum and bass crew, as he thought it sounded like the name of a classic blues singer.
Why do musicians change their names?
Singers and musicians change their names for many reasons. Sometimes they go with nicknames from childhood or they create a whole new persona that allows them to maintain a separate private life.
When some 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, like Emelie Sandé, Rihanna and Camila Cabello:
#16 Emeli Sandé
Real name: Adele Emeli Sande
Born Adele Emeli Sande, the British singer dropped her first name after the real Adele enjoyed chart success before her.
Real name: Robyn Rihanna Fenty
Barbadian hit-maker Rihanna chose to go by her middle name, which is Arabic and means “sweet basil.” Although, with her family and friends, she still goes by Robyn.
#18 Camila Cabello
Real name: Karla Camila Cabello Estrabao
“Karla is my first name, Camila is my middle name. Long story short, my family always called me Camila. When I came to school in the United States, I was really, really shy and the teachers started calling me Karla. In my life, I push myself to do a lot of things that make me uncomfortable, and that’s how I started dancing. That’s how I feel like I found myself — through Camila and performance and music, as that confident video vixen. They’re both over-exaggerated personas of me.”
Camila explains the story behind her name change in the video below:
#19 Iggy Azalea
Real name: Amethyst Amelia Kelly
After moving to America and being briefly managed by Interscope, Iggy adopted her stage name.
“Iggy is the name of my old dog. I had a name plate 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.”
#20 Lady Gaga
Real name: Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta
Stefani’s friends gave her the name Gaga after a lyric from the Queen song ‘Radio Gaga’.
#21 Calvin Harris
Real name: Adam Richard Wiles
“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.”
Male singers who go by one name
Real name: Usher Raymond IV
Already gifted with a unique name (The name Usher means “doorkeeper”), the singer just dropped his last name.
Real name: 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”
Rappers with stage names
Why do rappers have stage names?
Often a rapper’s stage name is a nickname given to them when they were growing up, like Snoop Dogg and Jay-Z:
#24 Snoop Dogg
Real name: Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr
The rapper’s nickname came from his mother because she thought he looked like Snoopy from the Peanuts cartoon.
Real name: 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.
Real name: 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.
#27 50 Cent
Real name: 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.”
Real name: Aubrey Drake Graham
Originally known for playing character Jimmy Brooks on the television series Degrassi: The Next Generation, the Canadian singer goes by his middle name.
Real name: Ben Haggerty
Macklemore took his stage name from a superhero he drew up for a homework assignment, Professor Mackelmore.
Real name: Michael Ebenazer Kwadjo Omari Owuo Jr.
Stormzy chose his name he says because it “sounded really cool”. He told Live Mag UK in 2014: “I think God puts names in my head, like, ‘Wicked Skengman’. It just came to my head and I ran with it.”
Rock stars who changed their name
#31 Elvis Costello
Real name: Declan Patrick Aloysius Macmanus
Costello chose a stage name after signing his first recording contract, combining ‘Elvis’ from Elvis Presley and his own father’s stage name of Costello.
#32 Bob Dylan
Real name: Robert Allen Zimmerman
Robert Zimmerman legally changed his name to Bob Dylan in the early 60’s.
He wrote in his autobiography: “The first time I was asked my name in the Twin Cities, I instinctively and automatically, without thinking, simply said: ‘Bob Dylan.’ Now, I had to get used to people calling me Bob.”
#34 Elton John
Real name: Reginald Kenneth Dwight
He started going by the name “Elton John” in honour of saxophonist Elton Dean and singer Long John Baldry.
Musicians who changed their names mid career
#35 Prince / The Artist Formerly Known as Prince
Real name: Prince Rogers Nelson
Prince famously ditched his iconic stage name for a symbol, leaving many people to call him 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.
Real name: Cherilyn Sarkisian
Before landing on her mononymous name, Cher recorded songs under the names Bonnie Jo Mason and Cherilyn. Her and Sonny Bono originally went by ‘Caesar & Cleo’, before landing on ‘Sonny & Cher’.
#37 David Bowie
Real name: 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.
#38 Cat Stevens / Yusuf Islam
Real name: Steven Georgiou
The British Singer changed his name again in the late 70’s, after converting to Islam.
#39 Nicki Minaj
Real name: Onika Tanya Maraj
The rapper started off her career using the name ‘Nicki Maraj’ before later settling for the name Nicki Minaj.
#40 Freddie Mercury
Real name: Farrokh Bulsara
The Queen frontman legally changed his name to Freddie Mercury around 1970, when the band was formed.
#41 Stevie Wonder
Real name: Stevland Hardaway Judkins
In 1961, 11-year-old Stevie was discovered by Ronnie White of the Motown group the Miracles. After a meeting at Motown Records, Berry Gordy renamed the young prodigy ‘Little Stevie Wonder’, later dropping the ‘Little’ as he matured.
Have we missed anyone on this list? Let us know in the comments below!