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You would be surprised at how many celebrities use stage names. Some of them change their names for simple reasons (like Emma Stone changing her name because there was already an Emily Stone in the Screen Actors Guild), while others have more sentimental stories behind their preferred titles. (Miley Cyrus changed her name from Destiny Hope because of her childhood nickname, Smiley—chosen because of how much she smiled as a baby.)
Whatever the reason, a lot more goes into choosing a stage name than we initially thought. But what are the origin stories behind our favorite celebrities’ stage names? Why do we call Lady Gaga Lady Gaga? (She was even billed as Lady Gaga in A Star Is Born.) What’s the story behind Halsey? And what the heck is Cardi B’s full name? These are the questions that we sought to answer when we researched the origin stories of 15 celebrities.
Not every star has meaningful reason behind his or her stage name (for example, Lana Del Rey simply thought the words were beautiful), but each of them has a story to tell as to why fans—and Hollywood—refer to them as something other than their birth name. Find out the interesting origin stories behind 15 celebrity stage names ahead.
Real Name: Nora Lum
Awkwafina chose her stage name, which she used as a rapper and now as an actress, when she was a teenager. It was inspired by both the feminization of brands (like Neutrogena) and how “awkwardly fine” she is. “The name Awkwafina… I always thought it was funny when brands try to feminize themselves. You know? like Neutrogena,” the Ocean’s 8 star told Fader in 2018. “And also I’m really awkward so, you know… and “fina” I’m sure it means fine somewhere you know? So I’m like awkwardly fine. ‘Awkwa-fine,’ you know?”
Real Name: Abel Makkonen Tesfaye
The Weeknd revealed the story behind his stage name in a 2013 Reddit AMA. The name was inspired by his dropping out of high school and leaving home one weekend. He also took out the “e” in weekend because of copyright issues. “I left home when I was about 17 dropped out of high school and convinced Lamar [Taylor, his best friend] to do the same lol,” he wrote. “We grabbed our mattresses from our parents threw it in our friends shitty van and left one weekend and never came back home. It was gonna be the title of HOB [House of Balloons]. I hated my name at the time though so I tried it [The Weeknd] as a stage name. I took out the ‘e’ because there was already a Canadian band named the Weekend.”
Real Name: Solána Imani Rowe
SZA’s name comes from the Supreme Alphabet. She told Complex in 2013 that her name comes from the phrase RZA, which stands for “ruler,” “zig-zag” and “Allah.” Not liking the “ruler” part of the phrase, SZA changed it to an S, which stands for “sovereign.” “SZA is from the Supreme Alphabet. Like, the RZA is Rulers, Zig-zag, Allah. You have rulers like sovereignty over one’s self and the world around you,” she said. “S in the Supreme Alphabet stands for savior, but that didn’t sit right with me so I switched it to either sovereign or savior, however you feel.”
Real Name: Alecia Beth Moore
P!nk has a NSFW story behind her name. “My best friend had never seen a white girl’s vagina before so he asked me if I could see it, so I showed it to him, and he said, ‘It’s pink!’ Then my friends started calling me Mr. Pink,” she told IOL in 2017.
The name Mr. Pink was actually the name of Steve Buscemi’s character in Reservoir Dogs, so when P!nk was releasing her first album, she ran into Buscemi and told him the story. “I actually ran into Steve Buscemi on the street in New York before my first album came out. I had these big fucking Elton John sunglasses on, pink hair and carried a Pink Panther toy,” she said. “I went, ‘Steve! Mr. Pink! I’m Pink! Because of you! I’m going to have an album, and you’re going to know who I am.’ And he was like, ‘What the fuck lady?’ and just ran away from me.”
The word is still out on why she has an exclamation point in her name, but it could be simply a lower-case i turned upside-down.
Real Name: Onika Tanya Maraj
Most of Minaj’s friends as a child called her either “Nicki,” a diminutive of Onika, or “Cooky.” When she was signed to her first label, a producer convinced her to change her last name to “Minaj.” No word on why, but it took a while for the “Anaconda” rapper to accept it. “Somebody changed my name. 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. I’ve always hated it,” she told The Guardian in 2012.
Real Name: Mathangi Arulpragasam
In her 2012 memoir, M.I.A. revealed that her name was inspired by her cousin who went missing—or was missing in action. The name was also a play on her living in Acton, London, at the time. “I wanted to make a film about where he was, since he was M.I.A. in Sri Lanka,” the rapper wrote. “I was also living in Acton at the time. So I was living in Acton looking for my cousin missing in action.”
Real Name: Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor
In a 2017 interview with 60 Minutes, Lorde revealed the simple meaning behind her name: her obsession with aristocracy. She added an e at the end to make it more feminine. “[I]t was a good spontaneous choice, I think. I’m quite proud of my 16-year-old self for not messing that one up because if I’d given myself a cool, weird, hip name that I hated now that would be super annoying. It was that nobility, aristocracy obsession that I had. I hit upon ‘Lord’ and loved the way it sounded, and then I was like, it would be quite cool to add an E to feminize it,” she said.
Lana Del Rey
Real Name: Elizabeth Woolridge Grant
Though she was raised in New York, Rey was born in Miami and spent a lot of time there before she became a singer. So, when she was starting her career, the “Video Games” singer looked to the Floridian coast she spent so much time at as inspiration. “I knew that I wanted a name that sounded sort of exotic and reminded me of the seaside on the Floridian coast. ‘Lana Del Rey’ sounded beautiful,” she told MTV in 2012.
Real Name: Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta
There’s a long story behind Lady Gaga’s name. In a 2010 interview with Flybe magazine, the singer said her name came about after producer Rob Fusari (who also happened to be her boyfriend at the time) compared her voice and style to “Radio GaGa” by Queen. “He started to call me GaGa when I’d come into the studio,” she said. “When we were getting ready to really start performing, I decided that I’d been playing under my real name for so long I wanted a new way to reinvent myself. So I said, what about Lady Gaga, because Gaga is sort of crazy and Lady has such connotations. I went to a private school but now I was living in this trash glitter environment. So, for me, it was the perfect description of who I had become.”
Real Name: Amethyst Amelia Kelly
In an episode of her 2014 Vevo series, “A.K.A.”, Azalea revealed that her name was inspired by her dog, Iggy Pop. After her dog was bitten by a snake and paralyzed, Azalea got a nameplate necklace in his honor. (Her dog recovered, by the way.) “One time he got bitten by a snake,” she shared. “And he couldn’t move his legs, and I realized he had killed the snake,” she said. “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.”
The second half of Azalea’s name comes from her grandfather who disapproved of simply “Iggy” as her stage name. Eventually she chose “Azalea”—the name of the street she grew up on—as her stage name. “[He] said to me, ‘You can’t have a one-word stage name’… It made perfect mathematical sense. So I had to think of a good last name,” she said.
Real Name: Ashley Nicolette Frangipane
Though Halsey is also an anagram of the singer’s real name, Ashley, the stage name is also inspired by Halsey Street in Brooklyn, New York, an area where the pop star’s ex-boyfriend lived and where she spent a lot of her time as a teenager. “I grew up in New Jersey, and I would always take the train into New York, and I was getting into a lot of trouble,” she told Nylon in 2015. “When I was 17 I was seeing a guy who was 24 and he lived on Halsey Street in Brooklyn. That’s where I first started writing music and where I started to feel like I was a part of something bigger than my town in the middle of nowhere New Jersey. Halsey is kind of like a manifestation of all the exaggerated parts of me [Ashley], so it’s like an alter ego.”
Real Name: Chloe Celeste Hosterman
There’s a sweet reason behind Cameron’s stage name. In a 2017 tweet, the actress revealed that her late father used to call her “Dove” as a nickname before he committed suicide when she was 15. “My father always called me Dove,” she replied. “He took his own life when I was 15. I didn’t get to say goodbye, so I changed it in honor of him,” she tweeted. It’s unknown why she changed her last name.
Real Name: Charlotte Emma Aitchison
In a 2015 interview with the Grammys, the “Boom Clap” singer revealed that her stage name was her screen name, which her team liked and chose as her stage name. “I didn’t have a manager when I decided to keep it that. I was like, ‘God. I can’t think of anything. So let’s just keep it as that,'” she said. “It’s my MSN screen name. It’s probably still around.”
Real Name: Belcalis Almanzar
Both Cardi B and her sister, Hennessy Carolina, are nicknamed after alcohols. Hennessy is named after the cognac Hennessy, while Cardi is named after the rum Bacardi. The B in Cardi B stands for her first name. “So everyone used to call me Bacardi, and I started calling myself Bacardi, which eventually was shorted to Cardi B,” she told Jimmy Fallon in 2017.
Real Name: Bleta Rexha
In Albanian, Rexha’s first name, Bleta, means “bumblebee,” which is why many of her friends started calling her “Bebe.” The nickname eventually became her stage name. “My name is Bebe Rexha, but I was born with the name Bleta Rexha, which means “bumblebee” in Albanian,” she told MTV in 2018. “My parents are Albanian, and people started calling me ‘Bebe’ for short.”