Creating a stage name has been common practice for generations, not only for bands but also for solo artists. We become accustomed to hearing these stage names in the news and on the radio so often that we forget about the person behind their moniker. Before we get too philosophical, here are 23 famous musicians whose real names might surprise you.
1. Lady Gaga — Stefani Joanne Germanotta
Lady Gaga was born Stefani Joanne Germanotta on March 28, 1986 in Manhattan, New York City, New York. Her stage name is a reference to her idol Freddie Mercury. An enormous influence on Germanotta, Mercury’s band Queen released a hit song called “Radio Ga Ga” in the 1980s.
2. Eminem — Marshall Mathers III
Eminem was born Marshall Mathers III on October 17, 1972 in St. Joseph, Missouri. His stage name was derived from his initials: “Marshall Mathers” became “M and M” (or “Eminem”).
3. Lana Del Rey — Elizabeth Woolridge Grant
Lana Del Rey was born Elizabeth Woolridge Grant on June 21, 1985 in Manhattan, New York City, New York. She first came up with her stage name while on a trip to Miami and has said that the “exotic-sounding” name “Lana Del Ray” reminds her of the Florida coast.
4. Snoop Dogg — Calvin Broadus Jr.
Snoop Dogg was born Calvin Broadus Jr. on October 20, 1971 in Long Beach, California. Early in his life, Broadus’s mother gave the rapper the nickname “Snoop” because she thought that he resembled the “Snoopy the Dog” character from the “Peanuts” comic strip.
5. Deadmau5 — Joel Thomas Zimmerman
Deadmau5 was born Joel Thomas Zimmerman on January 5, 1981 in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. In his youth, Zimmerman was known to several friends as “the dead mouse guy” after he found a dead mouse inside a computer he was repairing. The EDM legend later decided to shorten his nickname and use it as a musical alias.
6. Grimes — Claire Elise Boucher
Grimes was born Claire Elise Boucher on March 17, 1988 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Boucher inadvertently chose her stage name while trying to enter a genre description into her old Myspace Music profile. Selecting the “grime” form of music as her style, the singer ended up liking the sound of the made-up word “Grimes.”
7. Aphex Twin — Richard D. James
Aphex Twin was born Richard D. James on August 18, 1971 in Limerick, Ireland. Famously obsessed with the equipment used in electronic music recordings, James named his primary musical project after the audio signal processing equipment company Aphex Systems.
8. Lorde — Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor
Lorde was born Ella Yelich-O’Connor on November 7, 1996 in Takapuna, Auckland, New Zealand. Her stage name was chosen to reflect her longstanding interest in the aristocracy. She has said that she added the “e” to the word “lord” to give the word a feminine sensibility.
9. Madonna — Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone
Madonna was born Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone on August 16, 1958 in Bay City, Michigan. Early in her career, Madonna shortened her name to create an air of mystery around her musical identity and to reference her Roman Catholic upbringing.
10. Pitbull — Armando Christian Pérez
Pitbull was born Armando Christian Pérez on January 15, 1981 in Miami, Florida. The rapper got his nickname after a friend compared him favorably to a breed of dog that would never give up in a fight.
11. Katy Perry — Katheryn Hudson
Katy Perry was born Katheryn Hudson on October 25, 1984 in Santa Barbara, California. Feeling that her actual name was too similar to actress Kate Hudson’s, Perry adopted a new moniker early on in her career.
12. Jay Z — Shawn Carter
Jay Z was born Shawn Carter on December 4, 1969 in Brooklyn, New York City, New York. While growing up in Brooklyn, the rapper earned the nickname “Jazzy” from his neighborhood friends. His performing moniker is also said to be a reference to a J/Z subway stop in Brooklyn.
13. Miley Cyrus — Destiny Hope Cyrus
Miley Cyrus was born Destiny Hope Cyrus on November 23, 1992 in Franklin, Tennessee. Cyrus earned the nickname “Smiley” as a youngster because of her happy and easygoing demeanor. Her parents would often shorten the nickname to “Miley”; the name stuck, and the singer has used it in her professional work ever since.
14. Rihanna — Robyn Rihanna Fenty
Rihanna was born Robyn Rihanna Fenty on February 20, 1988 in Saint Michael, Barbados. Early in her career, the singer decided to use her middle name as a stage moniker.
15. Drake — Aubrey Drake Graham
Drake was born Aubrey Drake Graham on October 24, 1986 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Like Rihanna, Drake chose to use his middle name as a professional moniker.
16. Wiz Khalifa — Cameron Jibril Thomaz
Wiz Khalifa was born Cameron Jibril Thomaz on September 8, 1987 in Minot, North Dakota. The name Wiz Khalifa is a combination of the word “wisdom” and the Arabic word for “knowledge.”
17. Freddie Mercury — Farrokh Bulsara
Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara on September 5, 1946 in Zanzibar. Widely regarded as one of the greatest musical performers of the 20th Century, the singer’s stage name is said to be a reference to both his schoolboy nickname of “Freddie” and his interest in astrology.
18. John Legend — John Roger Stephens
John Legend was born John Roger Stephens on December 28, 1978 in Springfield, Ohio. A poet friend suggested the word “Legend” as a nickname; the singer liked the word for its “old school” connotations. He’s used it ever since.
19. Fergie — Stacy Ann Ferguson
Fergie was born Stacy Ann Ferguson on March 27, 1975 in Los Angeles County, California. The nickname “Fergie” has been used in the Ferguson family for generations; both the singer’s father and grandfather also use it.
20. Frank Ocean — Christopher Breaux
Frank Ocean was born Christopher Breaux on October 28, 1987 in Long Beach, California. Needing to escape from the constraints of a record contract he had signed early on in his recording career, the musician began using the moniker Frank Ocean in place of his original name.
21. M.I.A. — Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam
M.I.A. was born Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam on July 18, 1975 in Hounslow, London, United Kingdom. Short for “Missing in Action,” the stage name M.I.A. is said to be a reference to a missing cousin of the singer.
22. Charli XCX — Charlotte Emma Aitchison
Charli XCX was born Charlotte Emma Aitchison on August 2 1992 in Cambridge, United Kingdom. When the singer was younger, she used the moniker “Charli XCX” as a screen name on the popular MSN Chat application. She has since explained that the term “XCX” stands for “Kiss Charli Kiss.”
23. Avicii — Tim Bergling
Avicii was born Tim Bergling on September 8, 1989 in Stockholm, Sweden. The late EDM artist’s name was designed to reference a part of the afterlife (“Avīci”) in Buddhist mythology.
If you were an artist, what would your stage name be? Let us know in the comments!