In the music world, nicknames and monikers are a way for artists to get their names out there and so their names will stay in the minds of the fans. They’re not always the best names.
Sometimes there is a meaning or good story behind them. And sometimes the name is random, but the long history of nicknames in music is sure to carry on. So when your parents decide to Punk you and give you a shitty name, don’t worry. You can get into the entertainment industry and make up your own name!
1. William “Smokey” Robinson
Smokey got his nickname from his uncle and thought it was a “cowboy name for me” until he later found out it was a term for darker skinned blacks. Of course, Smokey was a lighter skinned black, but his uncle wanted him to never forget he was black. Kind of makes it odd to keep the name.
2. Stevland “Stevie Wonder” Hardaway
Stevie grew up playing multiple instruments and going through many auditions. When he was finally signed by Motown, Barry Gordy and a few others were throwing around names like Little Stevie Wonder or Stevie the Little Wonder. Well, the “Little” was dropped and a star was born!
3. Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta “Lady GaGa”
Lady GaGa got her name from music producer Rob Fusari. Yes, it seems like a very much ‘out there’ and random name, but it stems from the Queen song Radio Ga Ga, which was the song Fusari greeted the eventual Lady Gaga with. Don’t let the name and crazy clothing fool you, she’s actually got the talent to back it up.
4. Nikki Minaj
Nikki’s name stems from her actual name, which is Onika Maraj. She took her first name and took a piece of it, then changed up her last name to sound like ‘ménage’ because she was “eating chicks” with her ability to rhyme. A little dirty, but it also explains what we see as her image right now.
5. Mos Def
Born Dante Terrell Smith – many believe he derived his name as a shortened version of ‘most definitely’ and others believe that his use of “Def” is from the old school slang meaning “groovy”. He believed that Mos Def was becoming a product, so he began going by Yasiin Bey in 1999, but only publicly in 2012.
6. Talib Kweli
Greene’s stage name is merely his first and middle names. Talib is one of the few rappers who use his given name. Talib, in Arabic, means student or seeker, and Kweli means “true” in Swahili. It actually has a pretty deep meaning, although it comes from two different languages.
7. Erykah Badu
Erica Wright has a little bit more of an interesting nickname that might make some think, “huh?!” She believed that ‘Erica’ was her slave name and added the ‘kah,’ which means “can do no wrong” in Arabic. ‘Badu’ means 10th born child in Ghana…but the name makes more sense in that ‘badu’ is her favorite jazz scat sound.
8. Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs
…has had many variations of his nickname. He’s had Puff, Puffy, P. Diddy, Diddy, and Swag (for a week). It is told that he was called Huff and Puff growing up because of the way he threw tantrums and he used ‘Daddy’ as another meaning for ‘player’. In an interview, Mr. Combs said he was bored, so he wanted to change his name to Swag for one week. Seems like he doesn’t have the best choice of names. I remember when I got tired of his name changes and stopped caring!
9. Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds
Babyface is a guy who didn’t give himself a nickname, but got it while playing with funk superstar Bootsy Collins in the 1970’s. Bootsy deemed him Babyface because of how young he looked as a teenager. If you look at him now, he doesn’t look like he’s in his 50’s!
10. Snoop Dogg
Sboop’s birth name is Calvin Broadus, Jr. He was also known as Snoop Doggy Dog and, most recently, Snoop Lion. Sounds kind of ridiculous until you find out he changed it from Dogg to Lion because of Rastafarian beliefs that calling oneself ‘dog’ indicates a lack of self-knowledge.
Eminem’s name comes from the phonetic spelling of his initials Marshall Mathers. It’s something simple and quite inventive. M-and-M. He also calls his alter-ego ‘Slim Shady’.
Prince…uhhh…The Artist Formerly Known As Prince…Jamie Starr….….Alexander Nevermind
….oh, whatever! This guy is the king of nicknames! His real name really is Prince Rogers Nelson and it seems like he just couldn’t decide what he wanted to be called. Who else changes their name to a symbol?!
13. Queen Latifah
Diane Elaine Owens, better known as Queen Latifah, also has an Arabic name as Latifah means ‘very kind’ or ‘delicate’. She chose Queen to show empowerment for women, that women should see themselves as Queens.
14. MC Hammer
He was a batboy for his hometown Oakland A’s and was called “Little Hammer” for his likeness to Hammerin Hank Aaron. Then of course, he became an MC and kept the Hammer!
15. Alicia Keys
Alicia was born Alicia Augello Cook, but decided on her stage name Keys because we all know how great she is on the piano. She states, “It’s like the piano keys.” With the way she plays piano, she can call herself anything she likes!
16. LL Cool J
LL Cool J is a name he, James Todd Smith, and a friend came up with when he was 15 years old. The Ladies Love Cool J name has stuck with him through more than 20 years in the hip hop and acting world.
17. Teena Marie
Mary Christine Brockert appears to have a much different stage name, Teena Marie, than her given name. Turns out this soulstress was called Tina growing up, which was short for her middle name, Christine. Her stage name is comprised of the reversal of her middle and first names. Rick James later deemed her Lady Tee.
18. Timothy “Timbaland” Mosley
Tim didn’t make a play on his first name, but DeVante Swing of Jodeci gave him the name Timbaland after the construction boots that were popular in hip hop during the time. It seems really strange to keep the name after the style shifted away from the boots, but he has kept the name.
19. Bruno Mars
Peter Hernandez’ stage name stemmed partly from his family at an early age. His sister says that “Bruno was always confident, independent, really strong-willed and kind of a brute,” so they called him Bruno. Mars is said to have come from people saying he was out of this world and so he adopted the stage name, Bruno Mars.
Shaffer Chimere Smith, better known as Ne-Yo, broke into the biz as a producer and songwriter. In an interview, he says he got his nickname from a buddy named Big D. Big D told Ne-Yo that he sees music the way Ne-Yo sees the Matrix. Sort of a cool derivative for a nickname, but it also places a timestamp on his rise.
21. Flo Rida
Tramar Dillard has a pretty inventive and cool double meaning stage name of Flo Rida. As a rapper, you pride yourself on being able to flow and rhyme like no other. Being from Florida, Flo Rida just split up his home state’s name to create his own hip hop stage name.
22. Lupe Fiasco
…has a pretty unique name, even for the hip hop industry. He was born Wasalu Muhammad Jaco. He was called ‘Lu’ as a youngster and his mom added onto the name to call him Lupe. He liked the way a song called “Firm Fiasco” from The Firm looked on paper, so he added it to his name.
23. Raphael Saadiq
Raphael is one of the few artists that chose to change his name and didn’t choose it based on any meanings. When he was auditioning to go on tour with Sheila E. and Prince, he decided to change his name from Charlie Ray Wiggins to Raphael Wiggins. He later changed Wiggins to Saadiq because he liked the way it sounded. I’m not even sure how you come up with a name like that, but it works and does sound really good!
About the Author: Aaron Yip
As a product of San Francisco, I was exposed to a wide range of diversity. As a result, I became a living cultural melting pot able to quickly adapt and have an open mind. You can find me on Linkedin here or visit my Tumblr page here.