Of all the things Shania Twain is known for, her real name isn’t one of them. When Twain joined Harry Styles on stage at Coachella in April 2022, her star brightened for a whole new generation.
In her early life, Twain wasn’t the queen of country pop we see today. She was something more humble and private.
Join us as we look at the life and times of one of country music’s greatest enigmas.
The Story of Eilleen Regina Edwards
Before she changed her name, Shania Twain was known as Eilleen. Born Eilleen Regina Edwards in Windsor, Canada, in 1965, she had a hard childhood. Her parents divorced soon after her birth, and it wasn’t until her mother remarried that things changed for her.
Jerry Twain, an Ojibwa man, married her mother, Sharon, and adopted her three young daughters. Eilleen Twain dodged her stepfather’s drunken rages and saw her mother beaten regularly throughout her early life.
Like many children, she found her hideaway in music. At age three, she started singing. Then when she was eight, she learned the guitar. By the time Eilleen was ten, she’d written her first song. Her mother drove her all over Ontario to play in clubs and support her early career. When she was 18, she’d made a name for herself.
Poverty dogged her family, and she started working odd jobs to help out at home. She began working at McDonald’s by day and singing by night. Then, in 1987, tragedy brought her back to the family home in Timmins, Ontario. Her mother and stepfather died in a car crash.
Twain returned to support her sisters and half-brother. A Las Vegas-style variety show hired her to sing as part of the act. Her songwriting demo traveled further than she did, all the way to Nashville, Tennessee. Polygram Records signed her to a contract shortly after they heard her demo.
She moved to Nashville, and her first record, Shania Twain, came out in 1993. Most of the songs were written by other songwriters, but the album failed to achieve her goal. The young singer wanted to leave her old life behind and forge a new path.
Why Did Shania Twain Change Her Name?
It’s fairly common for artists to take on a stage name, and Eilleen Regina Twain came under the same pressure. Her record label loved her voice and look, but her name caused problems in the boardroom. So out of respect for her stepfather, she changed her name to Shania.
This might seem an odd tribute, but the word shania had a special meaning to Twain. In her stepfather’s native language, it means “I’m on my way.” This mantra, and stage name, led Twain to heights she never could’ve imagined in her tiny house in Timmins, Ontario.
To hear Shania Twain tell it, she left Eilleen behind because it sounded like a grandmother’s name. She’s not wrong; her birth parents named her after her grandmothers, Eilleen and Regina. “I met someone with the name Shania, thought it was beautiful, and Shania Twain was born.”
Whether as a tribute to her stepfather or just a pretty name, Shania Twain is how we know her now. As Shania Twain, she’s written and recorded top hits over the last three decades.
Shania Twain’s Best-Known Songs
Before the newest generation learned that Twain existed, she’d already had an entire career. Packing arenas and stadiums for over 20 years, this pint-sized dynamo led raucous tours worldwide. Her hits grace weddings, girl’s nights, and karaoke worldwide.
Let’s take a closer look at some of her hits.
You’re Still the One
Off her third studio album, Come On Over, this track captured the dreams of Twain and then-husband Robert John “Mutt” Lange. The couple worked on her second album and continued working together for over 17 years. People in the industry didn’t believe the couple would make it because they met and married within six months.
You’re Still the One tells their love story in the face of public scrutiny. Lange, a rock producer, mixed the song with a less-country feel than other tracks on the album. They all hoped it could be Twain’s big crossover into pop. Nine weeks at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 proved them right, at least about the song.
Twain divorced Lange in 2008 after she discovered his affair with her best friend. Don’t worry about Shania, though. She remarried in 2011.
Man! I Feel Like a Woman!
When Billboard Hot 100 names your song the #1 karaoke song in the world, you know you’ve got something great. Twain and producer Lange wrote the song together for her Come On Over album, released in 1997. When it won Best Female Country Vocal Performance in 2000, the song already had a life of its own.
In this tune, Twain tells the story of how she grew up in Timmins, Ontario, as a tomboy. As she got older, it took her time to feel the power that she held. When Shania reached adulthood, she realized how much fun she had being a woman. And that’s what makes the song so singable.
For people of all stripes, celebrating oneself is an assertive attitude. And if Twain has anything, she’s got attitude to spare.
That Don’t Impress Me Much
Not many songs can claim the origin story of That Don’t Impress Me Much. Shania and a friend were discussing the Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow scandal in the news. Pitt also had a full-nude spread in Playgirl magazine, adding fuel to the fire. Twain told her friend that it “didn’t impress her” because “we see naked people every day.”
From there, the natural progression led to this Top 10 hit. After the list of impressive men, the singer just wanted someone to keep her warm at night.
If nude Brad Pitt doesn’t impress you, what will?
Why Did Shania Stop Singing?
Occasionally, a big life event knocks artists off their creative horse. Other times, it’s something small. In Shania Twain’s case, it was actually microscopic.
After a trip to Norfolk, Virginia, from her home in Switzerland, Twain found a tick on her body. She didn’t think much of it until she started feeling tired and dizzy a short while later. What she thought was the flu turned out to be Lyme disease. Caused by ticks on the eastern seaboard, people frequently battle the symptoms undiagnosed.
One of Twain’s symptoms led her to a doctor who discovered the disease in her body. Her voice, one of her most reliable assets, turned against her. Dysphonia, a disorder of the vocal folds, left her unable to sing. She could talk, but anything beyond that came out as a squeak.
After several years of writing songs she thought she’d never be able to sing, Twain is back on stage singing. A long vocal warmup process and physical therapy ensure she’s in top form before she belts out her hits to audiences.
From the Muse: Discover more Musicians Who’ve Made a Comeback Against All Odds.
What Is Shania Twain Doing Now?
In 2017, Twain released her first new album in 15 years, Now. Coming off her breakup with Lange following her discovery of his affair, the album is full of emotions.
In interviews, she discusses how many songs she wrote for the album didn’t make the cut. It wasn’t because they were bad; they just had the F word used too many times. Her anger towards her former best friend fueled her, but healing is what made the album work.
Shania Twain performed a residency in Las Vegas and almost began another in 2020 when the world shut down. Now married to Frédéric Thiébaud, her ex-friend’s ex-husband, she found a new way to see the world.
In July 2022, a documentary about her life, Not Just a Girl, came out on Netflix. Audiences loved getting reacquainted with the girl from Timmins, Ontario.
Her sixth studio album, Queen of Me, came out in February 2023. And while you can hear the years on her voice, she’s still showing the doubters that she’s here to stay.
From a Troubled Childhood to Stardom
That little girl learning to sing at her mother’s knee, Eilleen Regina Edwards, has come full circle. Now, after a career that inspired a whole generation of new country artists, she’s not giving up. Rebuilding her voice and packing stadiums again, young girls fill her audience and sing along.
Standing next to those girls, singing along just as loud, are their mothers and fathers. The universal appeal of Shania Twain crosses every social boundary. And if you go to any karaoke bar in the world, men and women line up to belt those opening lines, “Let’s go, girls.”
What’s your favorite Shania Twain song? Tell us about it in the comments below.