We all know of musicians who go by stage names. Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, Ringo Starr, and Elton John may come to mind.
In many cases, celebrities choose new names before they hit the public view, essentially hiding their birth names. Of course, the Internet doesn’t allow us to hide much if anything, these days.
We looked into some well-known musicians and discovered the stories behind the stage names they’re known by.
Let’s jump in!
Why Do Musicians Use a Stage Name?
Often, a stage name is simply the artist’s first name their parents gave them at birth, such as in the case with Prince Rogers Nelson and Madonna Louise Ciccone.
In other cases, it’s a nickname the performer was given earlier in life. Bassist Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and guitarist Slash of Guns N’ Roses both got those names as youngsters.
And then there are those performers whose managers decided a stage name would get them more notice and money! That’s what happened when John Mellencamp put out his first album under Johnny Cougar.
He wasn’t even aware that was the name on the album until he saw the final product. It would take seven years before Mellencamp decided to add his last name to his record releases.
The reasons for performing under stage names are numerous. But typically, it has to do with being remembered. Sometimes birth names are hard to pronounce or seem dull and not star-worthy.
Picking a stage name is vital for anyone trying to make it big in the music world. You want one that’ll be catchy and easily remembered.
Let’s look at five well-known artists who are known only by their stage names.
Real Name: Paul David Hewson
Why They Changed Their Name: As a kid, Bono’s group of friends gave each other nicknames. The first one they gave him, Steinhegvanhuysenolegbangbangbang, surprisingly didn’t stick!
A few alternate names followed until his friend, Guggi, named him Bono Vox of O’Connell Street. Bono Vox came from the name of a hearing-aid store in their hometown called Bonavox.
Bono didn’t care much for this nickname until he learned bonavox in Latin meant “good voice.” He sure does live up to that name!
He’s been going by his stage name for so long that even his family and close friends call him Bono.
Known For: Bono is best known for being the lead singer of the Irish rock band U2. His earliest musical influences included Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Together since 1976, U2 released 14 studio albums and continues to perform live around the globe.
Songs such as With or Without You, Where the Streets Have No Name, and Beautiful Day showcase Bono’s good voice.
In addition to his singing career, Bono is also well-known for his activism. He’s been an outspoken defender of human rights and social justice issues worldwide since the late 1970s.
#2 Meat Loaf
Real Name: Marvin Lee Aday
Why They Changed Their Name: Here’s another example of a stage name received at an early age. In this case, the nickname came from two different times in his life.
When he was born, his father insisted the hospital put the name tag “Meat” on his crib rather than Marvin. As the story goes, baby Marvin reminded his dad of nine pounds of ground chuck.
Always a heavy kid, his friends in seventh grade started calling him Meatloaf. He also claimed that his 8th-grade football coach yelled, “Get off my foot, you hunk of meatloaf!” after accidentally stepping on his foot.
Meat Loaf’s name fit him pretty well, and he used it in his music and acting career.
Known For: For the majority of his career, singer Meat Loaf was known as a solo artist. From the late 1960s until he died in 2022, he released 12 studio albums.
His songs often sounded like theatrical pieces. This likely has to do with the fact he performed in musical theater beginning in 1968. He starred in the rock musicals Hair and Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Some of his most well-known songs include Paradise By the Dashboard Lights and Bat Out of Hell.
#3 Freddie Mercury
Real Name: Farrokh Bulsara
Why They Changed Their Name: Freddie was born in Zanzibar to Parsi-Indian parents. From 8 to 17, he attended school in India, where he began playing music and formed his first band. It was here that he decided to go by the name Freddie.
According to Queen guitarist Brian May, Mercury’s surname came from a reference in their song My Fairy King.
Look what they’ve done to me
With the formation of Queen in 1970, May said Freddie wanted a name “worthy of a rockstar.” Freddie Mercury certainly got what he wished for with that name!
Known For: Most people remember Freddie Mercury as the flamboyant vocalist and pianist for the rock band Queen. His four-octave vocal range helped make him one of the best rock singers in music history.
Known for incredible harmonizing vocals, Queen is one of the most loved bands of all time.
Songs like Bohemian Rhapsody and Somebody to Love showcase Mercury’s talent as both a vocalist and pianist.
#4 Patsy Cline
Real Name: Virginia Patterson Hensley
Why They Changed Their Name: In the early 1950s, Hensley sang with Bill Peer’s Melody Boys and Girls. After performing with them a few years, bandleader Peer encouraged his singer to use a better stage name than Virginia. She chose Patsy, short for her middle name Patterson.
Patsy took her husband Gerald Cline’s last name, thus becoming Patsy Cline. The couple met while performing together in Peer’s band. While the couple divorced after a few years, Patsy continued using her original stage name until her death in 1963.
Known For: Patsy Cline’s beautiful voice is one that fans will remember for generations. From the age of 16, her passion for singing led her to become one of country music’s best female vocalists.
Cline performed with other music legends like Loretta Lynn, George Jones, and Johnny Cash.
Songs like Crazy, Walkin’ After Midnight, and I Fall to Pieces made Cline a country superstar.
Real Name: Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner
Why They Changed Their Name: While performing in a jazz band during college, Sting often wore a black and yellow sweater. His bandleader said he looked like a wasp, which led to the nickname Sting.
Since then, Sting has been his stage name and the only name he’s known by. In a 1985 interview, a journalist referred to him as Gordon. Sting replied, “My children call me Sting, my mother calls me Sting, who is this Gordon character?”
Known For: From 1977 to 1983, Sting was a member of the band The Police. While he became known for his work with the band, his solo career was what launched him forward.
From the mid-80s, Sting began releasing hit singles like If You Love Somebody Set Them Free and We’ll Be Together.
Sting is also known for his numerous acting roles and as a human rights activist.
Who Hasn’t Used a Stage Name?
Many musicians choose to perform under their birth names. But it sure seems like some of the best chose truly unique stage names.
What other famous musicians have used stage names? Maybe the better question is, “Who hasn’t used a stage name?”