You didn’t think his mother named him “Kid Rock,” did you? Here are some stage name origins we wrote about in Uncle John’s Perpetually Pleasing Bathroom Reader.
As a teenager in Detroit in the 1980s, Robert Ritchie deejayed and breakdanced at parties in exchange for free beer. He says he often heard someone in the mostly African-American crowd remark, “Look at that white kid rock.
The singer’s real name is Peter Hernandez. At age two, his father, a wrestling fan, started calling him “Bruno” because he resembled pro wrestler Bruno Sammartino. In 2003, when he moved from his birthplace of Hawaii to Los Angeles to make it as a singer, he added “Mars” because “a lot of girls say I’m out of this world.”
SLASH (Guns N’ Roses)
Growing up in Los Angeles, Saul Hudson’s best friend was the son of character actor Seymour Cassel (Faces, Rushmore). The actor nicknamed Saul “Slash” because, as Slash said in his memoir, “I was always in a hurry, hustling whatever it was I was hustling, and never had time to sit and chat.
This singer had a huge hit in 2012: “Somebody That I Used to Know” spent eight weeks at #1 and was the best-selling song of the year. Gotye really is his name…sort of. He’s from the Flanders region of Belgium, where Flemish is spoken, and his real first name is Wouter. That’s the Flemish version of Gauthier, a common French name (French is spoken in the rest of Belgium). The phonetic spelling of Gauthier: goh-tee-YAY.
IRON & WINE
Singer-songwriter Sam Beam spotted a protein supplement called Beef, Iron & Wine at a small town gas station. He shortened it to his stage name because he thought it was more interesting than his given name.
Before he formed (arguably) America’s first punk band, the Stooges, James Osterberg played drums for an Ann Arbor garage band called The Iguanas. From “Iguanas,” his friends called him Iggy. The Pop came from his intentional resemblance to a friend named Jimmy Pop (his real name) who had lost all of his hair and eyebrows. Iggy thought that looked cool, so he shaved off his eyebrows, too.
Donald Glover is a well-known actor and writer, starring on the NBC sitcom Community. He also has a side career as a critically-acclaimed rapper. He got his rap name by using an online tool called “The Wu-Tang Name Generator,” which makes up stage names that sound like the seemingly nonsensical names used by the rap group the Wu-tang clan, whose members include RZA, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and Ghostface Killah.
The acronym stands for “missing in action.” Maya Arulpragasam is of Sri Lankan heritage, but grew up in the London suburb of Acton. As a teenager, her cousin, who was the same age, went missing in Sri Lanka during that country’s long civil war. It occurred to her that her cousin was “missing in action,” just a single letter—but a whole world away from “Maya in Acton.”
Marvin Aday has always been big—as in “exceptionally large.” When Marvin was only two years old, his father nicknamed him “Meat.” they called him Meat in school, too…and his football coach added the “Loaf.”
Pulp author Robert Beck, also known as iceberg slim, who wrote sensational novels in the ’70s based on his life as a street pimp, including Mama Black Widow, Long White Con, and Pimp. As a tribute to Slim, Tracy Marrow, one of the first “gangsta rappers” to gain mainstream exposure, took on the name Ice-T.
RONNIE JAMES DIO
One of the biggest names in heavy metal, singing for bands such as Black Sabbath, Rainbow, and Dio, Ronald James Padavona started his career in the early 1960s as part of a doo-wop group called Ronnie Dio and the Prophets. His name was taken from another Italian-American—and mobster—Giovanni Ignazio Dioguardi, who went by the street name Johnny Dio. (Bonus: In Italian, Dio means “God.”)
It’s a combination of two childhood nicknames. His grandmother called him “Wiz” because he was a fast learner. His Muslim father called him “Khalifa,” which means “leader” in Arabic. His real name is Cameron Jibril Thomaz. (And he’s from Pittsburgh.)
The singer/rapper’s full name is Aubrey Drake Graham.
The folksy singer-songwriter born Justin Vernon won the best new artist award at the Grammys in 2012, but a few years earlier, he’d been in a band called DeYarmond Edison. After they broke up in 2007, Vernon holed up at his father’s cabin in the Wisconsin woods and wrote an album’s worth of songs. While watching a DVD of Northern Exposure, he heard characters wish each other bon hiver, which is French for “good winter.” From “bon hiver”…to Bon Iver.
The alternative-rock star sometimes goes by her real name, Chan Marshall, but mostly uses the stage name, which used to be the name of an entire band. At age 18, she named the group when, while she was working at a pizza parlor, a man came in wearing a cap advertising caterpillar industrial equipment. It read “Cat Diesel Power.”
The heavy-metal singer (and horror-movie director) used to lead a band called White Zombie. The inspiration for the band’s name, and his own stage name, is the 1932 bela Lugosi movie White Zombie, which was among the first zombie movies ever made.