From Lil Nas X to Travis Scott: The Fascinating Stories Behind Famous Stage Names
What's in a name?
Lil Nas X
Asked about the origins of his stage name by Jimmy Fallon, the singer, whose given first name is Montero, explained that Nas came from his "Internet alias," before adding that he took inspiration from other new musicians when he came up with the rest of his stage name.
"When I started doing music, I was like, 'I want to have fun with this,' " he said. "And every new rapper's name is Lil, Lil, Lil. 'What if I was Lil Nas? That'd be funny.' So I was like, 'Alright, bet. I'll be Lil Nas.' And I added the X later on."
In an interview with NBC, Latifah, a.k.a. Dana Elaine Owens, said her mom initially wasn't a fan of her stage name.
“My mother kinda laughed. She was like, ‘Queen? I ain’t calling you Queen,’ ” Latifah recalled.
However, the rapper-turned-actress has never doubted the moniker.
Latifah, she said, means "delicate and very kind" in Arabic, and she liked the juxtaposition of that next to the boldness of Queen.
“That’s the story of my life,” Latifah explained. “I think that’s the wonderful thing about a woman. We can be strong but then we can be soft and kind and sensitive.”
The Astroworld rapper, né Jacques Berman Webster II, shared the origin of his stage name during a Tonight Show appearance. "My uncle is named Travis and Kid Cudi is, like, one of my favorite artists of all time, and his real name is Scott Mescudi. And my uncle's friends call him Scott too, so it just kinda worked out like that — my two superheroes."
"I looked up to him and s---," Scott told Grantland back in 2014 about the "favorite relative" who inspired his name. "[He] was just cool as f---. He always just had swag. He played golf and s---. He just had swag. [He] was just smart. Always made good decisions, good business decisions."
Malone also talked about his self-chosen moniker while chatting with Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show. "I was, like, 14 and I had started, like, getting into producing and rapping and singing over my own stuff. And then I needed a name for my s----- mixtape," he joked. "So I ran [Austin Post, my real name] through a random rap name generator and I got Post Malone."
During an interview on The Wendy Williams Show, the host asked where the rapper, born Belcalis Almanzar, got her showbiz moniker. The singer revealed that it stems from alcohol. "My sister's name is Hennessy, so everybody used to be like 'Bacardi’ to me,” she said. "Then I shortened it to Cardi B. The ‘B’ stands for whatever, depending on the day…beautiful or bully,” she said, referring to the iconic rum and spirits brand. “No one calls me Belcalis except for my family, my mother and my daddy,” she added.
The Oscar winner, who was born Brianne Desaulniers, gave herself a new name at age 9 — inspired by her favorite American Girl doll, Kirsten Larson. "I was sick of it, and as a result I'm, like, 'I'm changing my name!' " she recalled on The Tonight Show of regularly having her surname mispronounced. " 'I'm changing it to Larson, so Kirsten can be in our family.' "
Although she's been known to fans and family as Miley Cyrus — a nickname that originated from her constant smiling as a baby — since before starring on Hannah Montana, the singer-actress made it official in 2008 when she legally changed her name from Destiny Hope to Miley Ray.
She may have been born Caryn Elaine Johnson, but the EGOT recipient decided to change it up when trying to break into the comedy world. "If you get a little gassy, you've got to let it go. So people used to say to me, 'You're like a whoopee cushion.' And that's where the name came from," The View cohost revealed. As for her last name? Whoopi's mother thought a Jewish surname would get her further in Hollywood, so she replaced Johnson with Goldberg.
Wilde has journalism running in her veins: Her parents, Andrew and Leslie Cockburn, are well-known international journalists, who've produced documentaries and segments for 60 Minutes. She was born a Cockburn, but she changed her last name to Wilde after playing Gwendolen in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest in high school.
"Gaga is this stronger individual part of myself that I discovered being young in New York— loving music, meeting with young artists, working with musicians, with writers, studying the scene, and being involved in the lifestyle," the singer — born Stefani Germanotta — told Jamie Lee Curtis during an interview for Variety. "I started to call myself Gaga. [It] was the nickname I had at my best."
When flipping through books to find her stage name, the "Green Light" crooner — whose birth name is Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O'Connor — was struck when she came across "lord," stating that she loved its sound.
"I basically chose Lorde because I wanted a name that was really strong and had this grandeur to it," she told ABC News Radio in 2014. "I didn't feel that my birth name was anything special. I always liked the idea of having, like, a one-named alias."
While the rapper's given name is Calvin Broadus, he grew up with a family who called him Snoopy, because they thought he bore a resemblance to the animated beagle. Thus, Snoop Dogg (and Snoop Lion) was born.
"John Legend is a nickname that some friends started calling me, and it kind of grew into my stage name," the Grammy winner, born John Stephens, told MTV in 2008. " 'Legend' is something that I never would have chosen for myself originally. It grew to the point where more people in my circle would know me by that name than by my real name. I had to make a decision.
"I was just like, 'You know what? Let's just go for it. People are going to pay attention and I'm going to either live up to my name or I'm not,' " he continued. "My bet was on me trying to live up to the name."
LL Cool J
When he was only 16 years old, James Todd Smith began calling himself LL Cool J — which stood for Ladies Love Cool James — in the hopes of scoring dates, which didn't come so easy at first.
In a 2008 interview with CBS' Early Show, LL admitted that the ladies didn't actually love cool James quite yet, saying, "It was just wishful thinking, just hoping for the best."
For the Australian rapper — also known as Amethyst Amelia Kelly — her performance name was inspired by her pup, Iggy. "I got a name-plate necklace made in his honor," Azalea said in a 2014 interview. "Everybody started to think that my name was Iggy so it kind of became my nickname and I took it on board and started rapping with it."
And while she almost went forward with one name, the singer took her grandfather's advice to add a surname, which led the artist to choose Azalea. "That is a street name that my mom and family live on … and it sounds very feminine and I thought it would balance out Iggy being so masculine."