27+ Rarely Heard Origin Stories Behind These Well-Known Stage Names

Many stars have branded themselves with the use of a unique stage name. Ranging from Lady Gaga to The Weeknd, these celebrities have chosen some of the wildest names to claim as their own. Although we frequently talk about these stars and read about them on social media, we never stop to wonder where their stage names originated from.

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Image: Encyclopædia Britannica

Look no further because the meanings behind your favorite celebrities’ stage names are finally revealed. Here is a complete rundown of what inspired crazy celebrity stage names and how these names stuck in our brains for decades. We, the fans, know them by one name, but their close friends and family members call them something more “average” sounding.

John Legend’s Stage Name Was Inspired by Another Famous Musician

If you’re a celebrity, you can coin yourself a legend without anyone’s permission. More commonly known as John Legend, John Stephens got his stage name while working in the studio. He recently revealed that “The Legend” was a nickname that some friends and collaborators gave him when they were working together. At first, his circle of friends was the only people who knew about this nickname, but once Kanye West got involved, the world started to know John Stephens as John Legend.

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Image: ABC News

Once Kanye put out a mixtape and listed one of his collaborators as “John Legend,” the name started to spread among music listeners. At that point, John had to decide whether he would call himself John Stephens or John Legend professionally. He described his decision to use the stage name John Legend as audacious because he called himself a legend before he even had a record deal. The stage name worked, as John Legend is a massive success in the music business.

Whoopi Goldberg’s Stage Name Is Based off a Gag Joke

Something that many people don’t know is that Whoopi Goldberg’s name is not actually Whoopi Goldberg. She was born Caryn Elaine Johnson in New York, so how exactly did she come up with such a unique stage name? Naturally, as she is Whoopi Goldberg, there is a hilarious story about how she came up with her name.

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Image: The Times of India

Whoopi explained that she is exceptionally gaseous, so her first name is short for whoopee cushion. People noticed that she was constantly farting backstage in small theaters where she was performing. Goldberg, oddly enough, is also a stage name. She started using the name Goldberg because of her mother’s suggestion to pick a Jewish last name. She told Whoopi that she would have a better chance of succeeding in Hollywood if she had a Jewish name.

Vin Diesel Chose His Famous Moniker to Appear Tougher

Like many other celebrities, Mark Sinclair, better known as Vin Diesel, adopted a unique stage name to boost his acting career. Oddly enough, Vin Diesel adopted his famous moniker long before becoming famous. Sinclair first started going by Vin Diesel when he was a teenager working as a bouncer in NYC. He felt as though he needed a tougher-sounding name to suit his job.

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Image: BuzzFeed

His first name, Vin, has a vital family significance, while his surname, Diesel, was made up by his friends. His step-father was named Irving Vincent, so “Vin” is a shortened version of the last name that his step-father and mother shared. Diesel, on the other hand, is a reference to diesel fuel. As a young boy, his friends called him diesel due to his highly energetic nature.

Vanilla Ice Was Inspired by His Signature Dance Move

Rob Van Winkle, better known as Vanilla Ice, is the voice behind the beloved “Ice Ice Baby.” He revealed that he did not actually choose his stage name, but instead, it was given to him by friends. Initially, he did not love the name and hoped that it wouldn’t stick with him throughout his career. From a young age, Vanilla Ice would breakdance, and he earned the nickname “Vanilla” because he was the only white kid in his neighborhood doing it.

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Image: D Magazine

The second part of his moniker, “Ice,” came from a dance move that he would typically do while break dancing. The dance looked like he was sliding on ice. His friends would yell, “Yo, Vanilla, do the ice,” and that is how his name was born. Although he hated this nickname at first, he grew to love it, as did the crowds he would perform for.

The Weeknd Dropped Chose His Name After Running Away From Home

Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, went from being a homeless street kid in Toronto to one of the world’s highest-selling artists. All things aside, many people wonder why there is an “e” missing from the superstar’s stage name. Abel revealed that he wanted a professional moniker because he hates his real name.

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Image: Daily Front Row

One weekend, when he was 17, Abel decided to leave home and drop out of high school. He grabbed his mattress from his parents’ house and never came back after that weekend. Since Abel left on the weekend, he decided to make that his stage name, but he dropped the “e” because there was already a Canadian band named The Weekend, and he did not want copyright issues.

SZA Got In Touch With Her Muslim Roots When Choosing a Stage Name

SZA is arguably the hottest name in music right now. She is on a streak of winning dozens of awards and wowing every crowd she performs for, no matter their age. SZA, pronounced Sizz-ah, was born Solana Imani Rowe. The singer practices the Muslim religion, so her stage name is inspired by the Supreme Alphabet. SZA is an acronym from the alphabet that stands for Savior Zig-Zag Allah.

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Image: Guardian Media Group

She did not like having the S stand for savior, so she changed it to mean sovereign. Similarly, a member of the Wu-Tang Clan, Robert Fitzgerald Diggs, goes by the stage name RZA. SZA and RZA are connected by their Muslim roots in many ways, as RZA stands for Ruler Zig-Zag Allah.

Snoop Dogg’s Name Is a Homage to a Famous Cartoon

Snoop Dogg’s name has evolved in many ways over the years, even after becoming a well-known celebrity. He was born Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr. in 1971 in Long Beach, California. He earned the name “Snoop” when his mother pointed out that he looked like the dog Snoopy from Charlie Brown. He added “Dog” to his name by himself because Snoopy is Charlie Brown’s pet dog.

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Image: Esquire

He originally went by Snoop Dog, which later evolved into Snoop Doggy, and finally, he coined himself Snoop Doggy Dogg. This name stuck with him throughout the beginning of his career until 1998, when he was forced to change his moniker after leaving Death Row Records and joining Master P’s No Limit Records. Following his career change, he officially became Snoop Dogg, the name we all know and love today.

Reese Witherspoon Took Her Mom’s Maiden Name as Her Own

The origin story behind Reese Witherspoon’s stage name is rather interesting, being that her stage name sounds so much like a natural birth name. She was born Laura Jean Reese Witherspoon but legally changed her name early on in her career. It is rare for celebrities actually to change their name to their stage name, but it seemed natural for Reese to do so.

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Image: People

The exact reason behind Reese’s name change remains unknown, as well as the precise time that she decided to change her name legally. Her stage name makes complete sense since her mother’s maiden name is Reese. She also used Reese as a middle name for her son Deacon that she shares with her ex-husband, Ryan Phillippe.

Pink’s Stage Name Was Inspired by Steve Buscemi

Although the singer has a wide variety of hair colors, her fans will always know her as Pink. At the beginning of her career, Pink was known for flaunting her pink hair and carrying around a pink panther stuffed animal to compliment her unique stage name. Many people assume that Pink’s stage name is derived from her bright hair color, but that is not the case.

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Image: MTV

The singer was born Alecia Beth Moore but decided to take on a stage name because she was inspired by Steve Buscemi’s character Mr. Pink in Reservoir Dogs. In the film, Steve Buscemi plays a character who is given the alias “Mr. Pink” during a bank heist. Buscemi’s character is unhappy with his name, immediately questioning why he was given that particular color. Fun fact: at the time Pink conceived her famous stage name, she had green hair.

Olivia Wilde Owes Her Stage Name to a Famous Playwright

Olivia Wilde dreamt of becoming an actress from a very young age. She knew early on that if she wanted to pursue an acting career, she wanted a stage name to become her alternate identity. Olivia Wilde was born Olivia Cockburn in New York City. Both of her parents were journalists, and her mother was the one who encouraged her to change her name, as many of her family members used pen names.

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Image: Vanity Fair

Wilde’s stage name was inspired by none other than the famous playwright himself, Oscar Wilde. She performed in the play “The Importance of Being Earnest,” penned by Oscar Wilde. Since then, she knew she wanted his inspiration to be a part of her well-known stage name. The two Wilde’s, although not related, are both frequently talked about household names.

Her Name Is Onika, But You Can Call Her Nicki

Otherwise known as Onika Tanya Maraj, Nicki Minaj changed the game for female rappers across the globe. Her birth name and stage name resemble each other in some sense, but Nicki was not always a fan of her given stage name. She originally wanted to use the stage name Nicki Miraj, as she insisted on keeping her birth surname. Nicki Minaj truly began her career when she signed with Lil Wayne’s record label, Young Money, in 2009.

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Image: Instagram / Nickiminaj

On changing her name, she said, “One of the first production deals I signed, the guy wanted my name to be Minaj, and I fought him tooth and nail. But he convinced me.” Nicki revealed that she hated her stage name for the first several years of her career in the spotlight. She also stated that she hates when her close friends and family call her by her stage name.

MC Hammer Was Coined The Master of Ceremonies

MC Hammer was born Stanley Kirk Burrell in 1962. His most tremendous commercial success as a rapper, dancer and record producer was in the 1980s and 1990s. He acquired the nickname “MC” for being a Master of Ceremonies, and he began to use this moniker when he was performing at various clubs while on tour with the Oakland A’s.

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Image: The Times

The second part of his stage name, Hammer, was inspired by his love for his baseball. The name Hammer actually came from Major League Baseball player, Henry Louis Aaron, aka Hammerin’ Hank. The famed right fielder was widely known as one of the greatest baseball players in history.

MIA’s Stage Name Has a Sad Story Behind It

Most people know that MIA stands for “missing in action,” and MIA’s stage name means just that. MIA was born Matangi “Maya” Arulpragasam in London in 1975. She had a difficult childhood when she moved to Sri Lanka at a young age. She recalls being a victim of poverty and political unrest. Similar to her childhood, a tragic family incident inspired her stage name.

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Image: Guardian Media Group

MIA is her stage name because of her missing cousin. He was missing in action in Sri Lanka, so her stage name is a homage to the fact that she is staying in action searching for her cousin. MIA indeed became an international star in 2007 when she released her song titled “Paper Planes.” She became a household name and finally shared the story behind her unique stage name with the world.

Lorde’s Name Was Inspired by Royalty

A celebrity’s stage name is often an essential factor in the success of any entertainer. Lorde was born Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor, and she began her professional career at an extremely young age. She wowed the world with her first hit single, “Royals,” which ultimately is a nod to why she chose her famous moniker.

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Image: Teen Vogue

Lorde revealed that she has always had an obsession with nobility and aristocracy, so she spontaneously chose her stage name based on her likes at age 15. She originally came up with the name Lord for herself, but she added the “e” at the end of her name to feminize it. Lorde is glad that she chose a stage name for herself that she still appreciates years later.

LL Cool J Wanted His Name to Include the Word Cool

LL Cool J works as a double threat actor and rap star. He was born James Todd Smith in 1968 on Long Island, New York. LL came up with his famous moniker when he first signed to a label at age 16. He told his friend that he wanted a “cool” name, so they brainstormed off the word “cool.” Eventually, they came up with “Ladies Love Cool James,” which LL Cool J stands for.

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Image: Twitter / Def Jam Recordings

LL Cool J was originally planning on making his stage name Ladies Love Cool James, but he later realized that the full name was too long for a piece of vinyl. As an actor, he prefers if people on set do not call him by his stage name, but he instead wants them to call him Todd Smith, so they take him more seriously.

Lizzo’s Stage Name was Inspired by a Jay Z Song

Although Lizzo is relatively new to the music industry, her stage name is arguably one of the most unique. Lizzo was born Melissa Viviane Jefferson in 1988. She was originally from Detroit, Michigan but later moved with her family to Houston, Texas. When Lizzo was 14 years old, she and two classmates formed a rap group called “Cornrow Clique.”

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Image: MailOnline

Originally, Lizzo planned on calling herself Lissa at a young age because it was a part of her full name, Melissa. But, during the time of Lizzo’s startup group, Jay Z released a song called “Izzo” that was popular at the time. She was inspired to change her name to Lizzo, combining her birth name with her connection to Jay’s song.

Jay Z Created His Stage Name from a Brooklyn Subway Stop

Jay Z’s success in the music industry is nothing short of exquisite. He has been wowing crowds for decades with his eye-catching entertaining style and a stage name that rolls off the tongue. The rapper was born Shawn Corey Carter in 1969 and has since become one of the most influential rappers, songwriters, record executives, and business people in the industry.

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Image: Complex Networks

Jay Z gained his famous moniker because he was initially called “Jazzy” by locals around his Brooklyn neighborhood. Once he rose to fame, Jazzy quickly turned into Jay Z. The name Jay Z is a homage to his mentor Jaz-O and a tribute to the J Z subway that stopped at Marcy Avenue in Brooklyn.

Jackie Chan Changed His Name In Order to Americanize It

Jackie Chan is a famous martial arts expert who turned into a Hollywood actor due to his hilarious personality. Chan was born Chan Kong-sang, or Fang Shilong, in Hong Kong, China. His ability to simultaneously act and do acrobatic stunts helped him popularize kung fu movies in western cinema.

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Image: ScoopWhoop

Jackie chan gained his moniker when he was working at a construction site in Australia years ago. One of his co-workers was unable to pronounce his birth name, so he called him “Little Jack” instead. This nickname eventually turned into Jackie, and the professional name has stuck ever since.

Lana Del Rey Picked Her Stage Name As a Homage To The Floridian Coast

Lana Del Rey was born Elizabeth Woolridge Grant, but she was known as Lizzy Grant before the official start of her career. Lana revealed that she rolled through several stage names before settling on Lana Del Rey; some of these names included Sparkle Jump Rope Queen and May Jailer. Finally, and thankfully, she stuck with Lana Del Rey during a trip to Miami with her sister.

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Image: Entertainment Weekly

Lana realized that she wanted an exotic stage name with a deeper meaning behind it. The name Lana Del Rey reminds her of the seaside on the Floridian coast. She was often traveling to Miami and speaking Spanish with her friends from Cuba. When translated, the surname “Del Rey” means “of the king” in Spanish.

Iggy Azaela Named Herself After Her Dog

Many Iggy Azalea fans do not realize that the rap queen uses a stage name that has a simple origin. She is well-known for her chart-topping hit song “Fancy,” which rose to great heights of success. Iggy was born Amethyst Amelia Kelly, which makes us wonder how exactly she came up with the name Iggy.

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Image: Celebrity Insider

The meaning behind Iggy Azalea’s stage name is simple. The Australian rapper’s first name, Iggy, was actually the name of her first pet dog. Her last name, Azalea, was the name of the street that she grew up on. Her family still lives on Azalea street, so the name is only fitting for the musician.

Hozier Didn’t Look Far To Find His Stage Name

Hozier is best known for his hit single, “Take Me to Church,” released in 2013. He was born Andrew John Hozier-Byrne, which explains the origin of his unique stage name. Fans have always wondered how exactly the singer’s name is pronounced, and Hozier finally revealed the correct pronunciation of his moniker.

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Image: The Times

People have been saying his name as “Hozzer” or “Hoser” or even “Hoosier,” but that, we learned, is incorrect. The singer opened up about his name, stating that it rhymes with cozier or nosier. He also said that when people meet him, they mess up his name in so many ways. Hozier doesn’t mind that people ruin his name now and again, as it appears challenging to pronounce at first glance.

Halsey’s Name Is a Tribute To Her Childhood

When Halsey became famous, she had a goal to redefine herself, hence choosing a unique stage name. Halsey was born Ashley Nicolette Frangipane, but she did not think Ashley deserved to be famous, so she took on a different identity. She revealed that her new persona as Halsey isn’t bound by the expectations she had for herself or the limitations others placed on her.

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Image: PopSugar

In addition, Halsey is an anagram of her birth name, Ashley. The play on her name made it easy for Halsey to pick an exciting stage name that will stay in people’s minds. Halsey is also a reference to the Halsey Street station of the New York City Subway in Brooklyn. She spent a lot of time there as a teenager, so her fame is a homage to her childhood.

Frank Ocean’s Stage Name Was Inspired by Frank Sinatra

Frank Ocean is another rare case of a celebrity that legally changed his name to his stage name. The singer is known for keeping his life out of the public eye. He was born Lonny Breaux and used this name when he signed his first contract in 2005. Following that decision, he abandoned his birth name and changed his moniker to Frank Ocean in 2015 out of artistic necessity.

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Image: Blonded

His first name, Frank, was inspired by none other than Frank Sinatra, and his surname, Ocean, derived from the 1960’s film Ocean’s Eleven, which Sinatra starred in. Before he was Frank Ocean, he legally changed his name to Christopher Francis Ocean in 2010.

Eminem’s Name Is a Homage to The Famous Candy

Eminem is one of the only celebrities that goes by both his stage name and birth name professionally. Eminem’s real name is Marshall Mathers, although sometimes he goes by his alter-ego, Slim Shady. The name Eminem is an evolution of his initials M and M from Marshall Mathers.

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Image: HipHopDX

Originally, his stage name was M&M, but over time it phonetically formed into the word Eminem. The story behind Eminem’s stage name isn’t super intriguing, but his song lyrics and ability to rap at the speed of lightning are. Slim Shady is arguably one of the most successful rappers of all time.

Awkwafina was Inspired by the Water Brand

Nora Lum, better known by her stage name Awkwafina, based her stage name on the water brand Aquafina. When she picked the title, all she wanted to do was find something amusing for an audience. She revealed that the inspiration for her bizarre stage name is the fact that she likes when people try to subtilize product names.

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Image: Bustle

Awkwafina also stated that her stage name resembles a person that she often repressed during her childhood. Awkwafina has a burst of confidence on the screen while entertaining that Nora never had. When she was 16 years old, and her career took off, her name was just Aquafina. It remained spelled that way until a video producer worried about copyright issues, so she changed the spelling to Awkwafina.

Alice Cooper Paid For Ownership of His Stage Name

Alice Cooper was born Vincent Damon Furnier, named after his uncle, Vincent Collier Furnier, and the writer Damon Runyon. He is another one of the few artists that legally changed his name to his stage name. He changed his name entirely to Alice Cooper in 1975 to avoid legal complications over ownership of the group name.

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Image: Encyclopædia Britannica

His band as a whole once owned the name, Alice Cooper. Cooper paid his bandmates and continues to pay a yearly royalty for the right to use the name commercially. His first band went through many names, but they called themselves The Nazz before Alice Cooper was born. Supposedly, the name Alice Cooper came from a witch doctor who spoke to Cooper through an Ouija board.

Lil Nas X, or Montero, Was Really Named After a Car

Lil Nas X is one of the newest musical icons to hit the stage. His claim to fame was his song “Old Town Road,” which topped the charts for weeks. Lil Nas X, otherwise known by his birth name Montero, revealed that his stage name came from an internet alias. He was inspired by other musicians who used “Lil” as part of their stage names. When he combined the two, he came up with Lil Nas, and he added the X later on.

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Image: The New York Times

Lil Nas X also explained the meaning behind his birth name, Montero, which happens to be the title of his latest hit single. When he was younger, Nas said that his mom always wanted the car Montero (Mitsubishi) but never got one. Instead of getting the car, she decided to name her son after her dream vehicle.

Albert Brooks Does Not Want to be Confused With Albert Einstein

Oddly enough, there were two Albert Einstein’s in the world, that is until Albert Lawrence Einstein changed his name to Albert Brooks professionally. Albert Brooks’ stage name does not have much of a story behind it other than the fact that he may not have gotten nearly as far as he did in Hollywood with a name like Albert Einstein.

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Image: Turner Classic Movies

He always joked that the world did not need two Albert Einstein’s. Brooks is a well-known actor, writer, and director, but his claim to fame is his comedic ability. The comedian initially tried to professionally go by his first and middle name, Albert Lawrence, but he decided that it did not have a ring to it. The name Brooks was already in his family, so he used that as his last name instead.