Performers often adopt a stage name – something that is memorable and conveys a particular image, their public persona. This seems to be particularly noticeable with music artists. An actor can hide behind the characters they portray, but a music artist is much more exposed. They are their music, and their public persona can help sell their music and sell tickets to concerts and gigs. And the name they choose to go by can be an important tool to build this persona.
But how do music artists choose a stage name? Here are some examples of current music artists who have chosen their public name, and what made them gravitate towards it.
Starting with a local artist, Gotye hails from Melbourne Australia and had a huge hit with 'Somebody That I Used to Know'. A Belgian Australian, he was born Wouter De Backer and went by the English version of his name – Walter – when at school in Australia. To his friends he's known as Wally, but chose to go by Gotye when creating his first solo tracks. Pronounced GAW-tee-ay, it's a pronunciation re-spelling of Gauthier, the French equivalent of Wouter (which is Flemish) that his mother used to call him as a pet name.
From an international cultural inspiration to a pop culture one. Born Alecia Beth Moore, P!nk (yes, with an exclamation mark) adopted her stage name in her teens, which reportedly started as mean nickname she was given. There are several versions of how she got the nickname though, which range from her bearing a resemblance to Mr Pink, a character played by Steve Buscemi in the 1992 Tarantino movie 'Reservoir Dogs', to her turning pink when she blushed, to showing her “pink parts” to a male friend. Whatever the cause, it's just like this feisty pop star to take something intended to hurt her and turn it into something empowering.
These days rappers with a pseudonym are definitely in the majority. Like P!nk, his stage name originated in his teens. Born Marshall Bruce Mathers III, as a teenager he rapped with the name M&M, which soon morphed into Eminem. Which would have helped prevent possible confusion with the candy. He's also gone by the alter ego Slim Shady, said to be a reflection of the rage and resentment that he was feeling at the time.
Another well recognised rapper with a memorable stage name is Jay-Z, born Shawn Corey Carter. When younger his friends called him Jazzy, and he later changed this to Jay-Z out of respect to his mentor, rapper and producer Jaz-O. It's also a nod to the J/Z subway services that have a stop in his home neighbourhood of Brooklyn. He dropped the hyphen in July 2013.
Miley started life as Destiny Hope Cyrus, so named because her parents thought she would achieve great things. She was given the nickname Smiley as an infant because she smiled so much, and this was later shortened to Miley. When cast in dual roles Hannah Montana and Miley Stewart on the Disney Channel show 'Hannah Montana', the Miley character was originally meant to be Chloe Stewart, but was changed when Miley was given the job. In 2008 she officially changed her name to Miley Ray Cyrus. Miley's clean cut Disney image inspired thousands of parents to use her name, and Miley leapt from position #5056 in 2005 before 'Hannah Montana' started to #128 in 2008. Miley's questionable behaviour in 2013 may have some people regretting that choice now, although the sentiment and meaning behind the name is very sweet.
Katy's story is a little more straightforward. Born Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson, she was always known as Katy, and recorded her first album under the name Katy Hudson. It was a self titled gospel rock album, released in 2001, but wasn't very successful. While working on her songwriting in 2003, Katy dropped Hudson in favour of her mother's maiden name – Perry – to avoid being confused with popular actress Kate Hudson.
Unlike the previous people on this list, Swedish DJ Avicii (pronounced uh-vee-chee) deliberately chose his name, rather than it evolving more naturally from a nickname or family name. Real name Tim Bergling, he needed a stage name when he was starting out as a DJ and setting up a MySpace page to expand his fan base. He remembered hearing the word Avici – a Buddhist term meaning the lowest level of hell – and thought it sounded cool. The extra “i” was added as the name Avici was already taken on MySpace.
Another cool customer is rapper Drake. Drake is actually his middle name, his full name being Aubrey Drake Graham. When acting on TV teen drama 'Degrassi: The Next Generation' he went by Aubrey Graham, but records under the mononym Drake. Already ranked at #231 on the SSA lists in 2012, this is a name to watch. Drake was one of the most Googled people of 2013, and his 2014 is off to a big start as he is currently appearing in 'Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues' and is hosting 'Saturday Night Live' on January 18th. He's also a great example of why a funky unexpected middle can be an asset – it's like an inbuilt stage name.
It's easy to tell that this pseudonym was not Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta's middle name. It's thought that her name was purely marketing, in which case they invented a great back story to go with it. True or not, the tale is that Gaga was already on the search for a stage name to reinvent herself with when she was working with producer Rob Fusari. Upon hearing her done a particular song he exclaimed that her voice reminded him of Freddie Mercury, and in particular the Queen song 'Radio GaGa'. It became an in-joke that he would sing her the song when she entered the studio. Then one day a text message mistake changed Radio to Lady and something clicked. Gaga loved the combined imagery of refinery and properness with craziness, saying it perfectly captured her journey from a private school girl to her life in a “trash glitter environment”.
And lastly, a girl who has been described as the anti-Lady Gaga. She's 17 year old New Zealand musician Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O'Connor, whose debut album 'Pure Heroine' has garnered her four Grammy nominations. Her stage name is exactly that – a character that she considers to be separate from her own persona. She has confessed that ever since she was young(er) she was fascinated by royals and aristocracy (hence the sing 'Royals'), and wanted a stage name that reflected that. She was particularly drawn to the look and sound of the title Lord, but felt it was too masculine so added the “e” to make it more feminine aesthetically.
Whether it be inspired by a middle name, nickname, pronunciation quirk, something the artist finds inspiring or simply a way to distinguish themselves, there is something that these stage names have in common. They are all recognisable as theirs. How would you create a stage name if you needed one?