From a 1991 Vanity Fair interview with Madonna:
“I sometimes think I was born to live up to my name,” continues Madonna, who was named after her mother. “How could I be anything else but what I am having been named Madonna? I would either have ended up a nun or this.”
(Madonna, born Madonna Ciccone, went by the nickname “Little Nonni” as a child.)
From Wired‘s 2016 “Google Autocomplete Interview” with rapper Ice Cube [vid] (born O’Shea Jackson):
My brother, he’s about nine years older than me, so, he used to have all kind of women calling the house. I would try to get at them. He got mad at that, he said he was going to slam me in the freezer one day, turn me into an ice cube. So I was like, “You know what? That’s a badge of honor.” When I walked out the house that day, I told him, “Don’t call me O’Shea no more, you know, I found my nickname, it’s gonna be Cube, it’s gonna be Ice Cube.”
From a 2002 interview with musician Elton John on Larry King Live:
Well, I was making a record, and I had to choose a name, because they said, you know, you can’t make a record under the name of Reg Dwight, because it’s never going to — you know, it’s not attractive enough. And I agreed with that, and I couldn’t wait to change my name anyway, because I’m not too fond of the name of Reginald. It’s a very kind of ’50s English name.
So I picked Elton because there wasn’t — nobody seemed to have the name Elton. And I picked John to go with it. And it was — it was done on a bus going from London Heathrow back into the city. And it was done very quickly. So I said, oh, Elton John. That’s fine.
Two back-to-back quotes from the 2009 collection “Sting: What I’ve Learned” in Esquire:
Your parents name you, but they haven’t a clue who you are. Your friends nickname you because they know exactly who you are.
You can be born Elvis Presley. But Reg Dwight is not going to make it unless he has this ritual where he becomes Elton John.
(Sting was born Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner in England in 1951.)
From the bio of the band Needtobreathe at NPR:
Named after acclaimed University of Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, brothers Bear and Bryant “Bo” Rinehart were born and raised in rural Possum Kingdom, South Carolina, where their pastor father ran a church camp.
From an MTV interview with Bruno Mars, birth name Peter Gene Hernandez:
MTV: Bruno Mars is a world away from your name, so where did that come from?
Bruno Mars: My father and my mother. There was a wrestler in their day called Bruno San Martino and he was a very heavy-set wrestler and I guess when I was a kid I was a real chubby, chunky kid. Everyone calls me Bruno; they don’t ever call me Peter, that was just my government name.
From the book All Music Guide to Hip-Hop (2003):
Ginuwine was born in Washington, D.C., on October 15, 1975, with the unlikely name of Elgin Baylor Lumpkin (after D.C.-born Basketball Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor).
(Elgin Baylor, born in 1934, was named after the Elgin National Watch Company.)
From a 2015 interview with musician Zella Day at Huffington Post:
What’s the inside story behind your name?
ZD: Zella is from the 1840s. My parents got married in Jerome, Arizona. And when they were getting married, they were looking for baby names. And there was a book of the town’s history in Jerome, and they were scouting locations for the wedding. And they just walked into a museum and they were looking through this book. And one of the main coal miner’s wives was named Zella — 1842. There’s actually a song on the record called “Jerome.” That’s about the ghostly woman behind my name.
From a 2015 article about late Mexican-American singer Selena Quintanilla in the San Antonio Current:
Selena continues to have influence over other known and up-and-coming performers. Born in 1992 near Dallas, Disney bopper Selena Gomez, now a pop star of her own, was named after the queen of Tejano (during Selena’s 1991-1995 reign, her name skyrocketed from 780 to 91 in the rankings of most popular baby names in America).
From a blog post about electronic music pioneer Delia Derbyshire at Open Culture:
With her buttoned-up style, work with the UN, and name like a plucky character in a certain English wizard series, Delia Derbyshire may not seem a likely pioneer of experimental electronic music.
From an NPR interview with B. B. King, who explained why he started naming his guitars Lucille:
I used to play a place in Arkansas called Twist, Ark., and they used to have a little nightclub there that we played quite often. […] Well, it used to get quite cold in Twist, and they used to take something look like a big garbage pail and set it in the middle of the floor, half-fill it with kerosene. They would light that fuel, and that’s what we used for heat. And generally, the people would dance around it, you know, never disturb this container. But this particular night [in the winter of 1949], two guys started to fight and then one of them knocked the other one over on this container, and when they did, it spilled on the floor. Now it was already burning, so when it spilled, it looked like a river of fire, and everybody ran for the front door, including yours truly. But when I got on the outside, then I realized that I’d left my guitar inside. I went back for it. The building was a wooden building, and it was burning so fast when I got my guitar, it started to collapse around me. So I almost lost my life trying to save the guitar. But the next morning, we found that these two guys who was fighting was fighting about a lady. I never did meet the lady, but I learned that her name was Lucille. So I named my guitar Lucille and reminded me not to do a thing like that again.
(B. B. King was born Riley B. King in Mississippi in 1925. The “B. B.” in his stage name stands for “Blues Boy.”)
From a 2001 Guardian interview with singer Dido (born Florian Cloud De Bounevialle Armstrong):
To be called one thing and christened another is actually very confusing and annoying. It’s one of the most irritating things that my parents did to me. I’m still irritated by it. Florian is a German man’s name. That’s just mean. To give your child a whole lot of odd names. They were all so embarrassing.
From a 2013 People interview during which Dido mentioned the origin of her nickname:
I was named after a crazy queen who threw herself on a fire.
(The ancient Dido was the legendary founder of Carthage.)
From the 1975 obituary of jazz drummer Zutty Singleton in the New York Times:
Mr. Singleton, who was born in Bunkie, La., on May 14, 1898, was named Arthur James. He acquired the nickname Zutty (Zoot-ee), a Creole patois word, for “cute,” when he was an infant.
From a 1949 article about songwriters Harry and Albert Von Tilzer in Billboard magazine:
After a season of tanbark and tinsel, Harry caught on with a traveling repertoire company, playing juvenile roles, singing songs of his own composing, and abandoning the family name of Gumm for a more glamorous and professional moniker. He took his mother’s maiden name of Tilzer and added “Von” for a touch of class. This switch in nomenclature proved to be the keystone of a songwriting dynasty which was destined to make history in Tin Pan Alley with the turn of the century.
(The family’s surname was originally Gumbinsky. The phrase “tanbark and tinsel” refers to the circus; Harry was part of a traveling circus for a time as a teenager.)
From a 2009 OK! Magazine interview with pop star Taylor Dayne (born Leslie Wunderman):
Taylor Dayne had a major influence on pop culture when she hit the big time in 1987 with a string of hits that included Tell It To My Heart, Prove Your Love, I’ll Always Love You, Don’t Rush Me, With Every Beat of My Heart, Love Will Lead You Back and I’ll Be Your Shelter.
By 1993, the name Taylor hit its peak in popularity of baby names.
“You wonder where they generated from, right?” she yuks. “It was a very uncommon name in 1987, that’s for sure, but it’s a compliment.”
Perhaps she even inspired the name of country’s latest sensation, Taylor Swift, who was born in 1989. She laughs off the suggestion. “I would say that her mother was a fan.”
(The name Taylor had been rising steadily on the girls’ list throughout the ’80s, but Taylor Dayne helped kick the name into the top 10 in 1993. It stayed there for nearly a decade. According to records, some Taylors from this era did indeed get the middle name Dayne.)
From a 2015 interview with James Taylor at Stereogum:
Stereogum: Speaking of another powerful woman, Taylor Swift is probably the biggest pop star in the world right now, and she’s named after you! How do you feel about being connected to her in that way?
Taylor: It’s hugely flattering and was a delightful surprise when she told me that. We did a benefit together, I think it was focused on teenage pregnancy, before Taylor really took off. But she was playing guitar and singing her songs and I knew how remarkable she was. She told me that her mom and dad had been really, deeply into my music and I got a real kick out of the fact that she’d been named after me. Obviously it wasn’t her choice, it was her mom and dad, but nonetheless a great connection I think.
From a 2016 article in People about singer Ciara, who explained how she got her name:
My mom was trying to figure out my name when my dad bought her a fragrance called Ciara by Revlon. That’s where my name came from!
(Ciara pronounces her name see-AIR-ah. The name of the perfume, according to television commercials, was pronounced see-AHR-ah.)
From the book Jazz And Its Discontents (2004) by Francis Davis, a passage about jazz singer Abbey Lincoln (born Anna Marie Wooldridge) :
When the singer Abbey Lincoln gives her autograph, she appends the name Aminata Moseka. During her pilgrimage to Africa in 1975, the president of Guinea christened her “Aminata” in recognition of her inner strength and determination, and Zaire’s minister of education likened her to “Moseka,” the god of love in female form. “I love Aminata Moseka. I’ve added her to myself. But I can’t say that’s my one and only name,” says Lincoln […] “It’s more like a title — something to live up to. That’s why I recorded Stevie Wonder’s ‘Golden Lady.’ It gave me the opportunity to sing to a female god. But I’m still Abbey Lincoln — I still like to wear makeup and glittering dresses and look attractive for an audience. And in many ways, I’m still Anna Marie.”
Rami Malek, after winning the Oscar for Best Actor [vid] in early 2019:
I grew up in a world where I never thought I was gonna play the lead on Mr. Robot because I never saw anyone in a lead role that looked like me. I never thought that I could possibly play Freddie Mercury until I realized his name was Farrokh Bulsara. […] That was the motivation that allowed me to say, “Oh, I can do this.”
A quote about jazz musician Red Norvo from the book American Musicians II: Seventy-One Portraits in Jazz (1986) by Whitney Balliett:
Norvo isn’t my real name. I was born Kenneth Norville, in Beardstown, Illinois, in three thirty-one oh-eight. […] I got the name Norvo from Paul Ash, in vaudeville. He could never remember my name when he announced me. It would come out Norvin or Norvox or Norvick, and one night it was Norvo. Variety picked it up and it stuck, so I kept it.
(Red also had a strong opinion about the name of his instrument: “Please don’t call it a vibraphone. I play the vibraharp, a name coined by the Deagan Company, which invented the instrument in 1927 and still supplies me with mine.”)
From a 1995 Spin interview with R.E.M. vocalist Michael Stipe, whose paternal grandfather was a Methodist minister:
Well, Methodism was started by John Wesley, who was, in his way, a really radical guy who believed in a lot of individual responsibility. It’s not the kind of religion that’s right around your throat. Actually, I was named after him, John Michael Stipe.
From a 2018 Insider write-up on rapper Post Malone (born Austin Richard Post):
“I was like 14, and I had started getting into producing and rapping and singing over my own stuff. And I needed a name, you know, for my s—- mixtape,” he told Jimmy Fallon. “So I ran [my real name] through a random rap name generator… now I’m stuck with it.”
…And, from the same Insider article, a paragraph about rapper Childish Gambino (born Donald Glover):
“We were all hanging out, chilling and drinking and then we were like, ‘Oh, Wu-Tang name generator, let’s put our name in,'” he revealed on The Tonight Show back in 2011. “And we’re putting them all in, and they’re all funny and stuff, and then mine came up and I was like, ‘you guys, it’s not funny anymore. This is something big.’ I just really liked it.”
From a 2012 Rolling Stone article about Monkees singer Davy Jones:
Davy became so famous that another David Jones – a struggling singer-songwriter at the Monkees’ peak – had to change his last name to Bowie.
From the book Strange Fascination (2012) by David Buckley, the story of how singer David Bowie (formerly David Jones) chose his stage name:
‘Bowie’, pronounced by the man himself and all his ‘die-hard’ fans to rhyme with ‘slowie’, as opposed to ‘wowie!’ as used by most ‘casual fans’ and chat-show presenters, was chosen for its connection with the Bowie knife. Jim Bowie (pronounced to rhyme with ‘phooey’) was a Texan adventurer who died at the Alamo in 1836, and carried a single-bladed hunting knife. Bowie’s description of why he chose the name is typically highly ambiguous. In the 70s, Bowie proclaimed that the knife signalled a desire to cut through lies to reveal hidden truths (a highly ironic comment, [given] Bowie’s capacity for deceit), while in a recent Radio 1 interview he said that he liked the connotations of a blade being sharpened from both sides, a signifier for all sorts of ambiguities. In fact, the Bowie knife has only one cutting edge, and is not double-bladed. This mistaken belief was held not just by Bowie, but by William Burroughs too. The choice of stage name nevertheless indicated a sense of being able to cut both ways, perfect for the pluralistic 60s. The name also derived, despite its association with Americana (a connection the English David was obviously happy about, his whole career musically being an English take on a largely American form), from a Scottish heritage, and Bowie quite liked that regional distinctiveness, too.
From a 2015 Fader article about rapper Fonzworth Bentley (born Derek Watkins):
His moniker was inspired in part by Bootney Lee Farnsworth, the underdog boxer from the 1975 Sidney Poitier-directed movie Let’s Do It Again.
From a 2017 BBC interview with Billie Eilish:
BBC: Hello Billie Eilish… Have I pronounced that right?
Billie: Yes! It’s eye-lish, like eyelash with a lish.
BBC: Your family name is O’Connell, though, so is that a stage name?
Billie: It is my middle name. So I’m Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell.
BBC: Pirate! That’s an amazing name.
Billie: Pretty weird, right? Pirate was going to be my middle name but then my uncle had a problem with it because pirates are bad. Then Baird is my mother’s name.
From a 1991 article about musician Gurf Morlix in The Buffalo News:
It’s a name that makes you wonder. Run into Gurf Morlix in album credits for Peter Case or in a concert review of Warren Zevon, and you imagine one of two things. Either he’s a refugee from some republic trying to secede from the Soviet Union, or else he’s hopelessly addicted to science fiction novels.
In truth, he’s an emigrant from one of Buffalo’s ostensibly normal suburbs — Hamburg — and, if anything, he looks a bit English as he talks over a plate of pasta fazool in his favorite hometown restaurant.
“A friend of mine changed it for me,” he responds in answer to the name question. “It was kind of a stupid thing. I dreamed this name when I was 13 years old and I told my friend about it and he said, ‘Well, I’ll never call you anything else.’ And then everybody did.”
From a 1984 episode of the New Zealand TV show Radio with Pictures, hosted by Karyn Hay, an interview with singer Billy Idol [vid] (born William Broad):
Q: Why did you choose the name Billy Idol, especially in a time when [there’s] Johnny Rotten, Rat Scabies, you know?
A: Exactly, I mean that’s the point. That’s exactly the point. […] I thought, first of all, of course, of I-D-L-E, you know, idle. Cause this chemistry teacher when I was at school — I got 8 out of 100 for chemistry, I hated chemistry — so he wrote, “William is idle,” right? And I thought that was great to get 8 out of 10 [sic] for chemistry, cause I hated the hell out of it. So I thought that was respectable, so I thought it was worthwhile being called I-D-O-L, idol. Also, it’s good fun making fun of show business. I’m not into show business, I’m into rock ‘n’ roll.
From a 2019 New Yorker article about musician Beck:
He was born on July 8, 1970, as Bek David Campbell. He and his brother later took their mother’s maiden name, Hansen, and Beck added the “c” to his first name, with the hope that it might help people pronounce it properly. “I still got Brock, Breck, Beak,” he said. “I remember leaving a meeting with some record executives, and one said, ‘Very nice to meet you, Bic.'”
From a 2020 interview with Beyoncé’s mother, Tina Knowles-Lawson — who is the youngest of seven siblings — on the podcast In My Heart with Heather Thomson:
A lot of people don’t know that Beyoncé is my last name. It’s my maiden name. My name was Celestine Beyoncé, which, at that time, was not a cool thing, to have that weird name.
But, all of us have a different spelling. I think me and my brother, Skip, were the only two that had B-E-Y-O-N-C-E.
And, it’s interesting — and it shows you the times — because we asked my mother when I was grown, I was like, ‘Why is my brother’s name spelled B-E-Y-I-N-C-E?’
[M]y mom’s reply to me was like, ‘That’s what they put on your birth certificate.’
So I said, ‘Well, why didn’t you argue and make them correct it?’
She said, ‘I did one time, the first time, and I was told: ‘Be happy that you’re getting a birth certificate.” Because, at one time, Black people didn’t get birth certificates. They didn’t even have a birth certificate. Because it meant that you really didn’t exist, you know, you weren’t important. It was that subliminal message.
And so I understood that that must have been horrible for her, not to even be able to have her children’s names spelled correctly.
So it was an odd name, it was a weird name, and they were like, ‘How dare you have a French name.’ Like, ‘We’re gonna screw this up real good for you.’ And that’s what they did. So we all have different spellings.
From a 2014 interview with Skid Row bass player Rachel Bolan (born James Richard Southworth):
DC9 at Night: How did you get the name Rachel?
Bolan: It’s not my real first name. When I was first getting into bands, I wanted a cool stage name. I wanted to be like Alice Cooper. Eventually, when I was old enough, I legally changed my name to Rachel. It’s always raised a few eyebrows. It’s funny to hear people pronounce it when I give them a credit card or something. It’s funny to this day. They ask me if I gave them the wrong ID or if I gave them some chick’s credit card.
(According to Wikipedia, he created “Rachel” by combining the names of his brother Richard and his grandfather Manuel.)
From a 2018 Uproxx article about rapper DRAM:
Virginian rap crooner DRAM returned last night with the release of his new, three-song EP, That’s A Girl’s Name. Produced and co-written by Josh Abraham and Oligee, the EP’s title refers to DRAM’S real name, Shelley Massenburg-Smith, which means “that’s a girl’s name” is probably a phrase he heard quite a bit growing up.
(“DRAM” is an acronym for “does real-ass music.”)
From a 2004 interview with Bob Dylan, as recorded in the 2018 book Dylan on Dylan by Jeff Burger:
Bradley: So you didn’t see yourself as Robert Zimmerman?
Dylan: No, for some reason I never did.
Bradley: Even before you started performing?
Dylan: Nah, even then. Some people get born with the wrong names, wrong parents. I mean, that happens.
Bradley: Tell me how you decided on Bob Dylan?
Dylan: You call yourself what you want to call yourself. This is the land of the free.
From an interview with Fleetwood Mac’s Christine McVie, née Perfect, in The Guardian:
Hi, Christine. What was it like growing up with the surname Perfect?
It was difficult. Teachers would say: “I hope you live up to your name, Christine.” So, yes, it was tough. I used to joke that I was perfect until I married John.
From the book Johnny Cash and the Paradox of American Identity (2009) by Leigh H. Edwards:
In [the autobiography] Cash, he explicitly addresses how he represents his identity differently in different contexts, noting how he uses different names for the different “Cashes” he played in different social settings, stating that he “operate[s] at various levels.” He stages a struggle between “Johnny Cash” the hell-rais[ing], hotel-trashing, pill-popping worldwide star and “John R. Cash,” a more subdued, adult persona.
From a 2014 Reddit AMA (“ask me anything”) with rapper Macklemore (born Benjamin Hammond Haggerty):
Mack-La-More is how it’s pronounced
Should have picked an easier name to say
From a 2021 interview with rapper Lil Nas X [vid] (born Montero Hill) on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon:
Jimmy: So, where does Montero come from?
Lil Nas X: Ok, it’s slightly embarrassing, but not embarrassing. So my mom wanted the car, the Montero, you know? And she never got one…
Jimmy: What’s a Montero?
Lil Nas X: It’s a Mitsubishi. So, yeah, I’m named after a car.
From the 2022 obituary of singer (and early ’60s teen idol) Bobby Rydell in the New York Daily News:
He was so popular and tied to teen culture that Rydell High School in the stage and screen musical “Grease” was named for him.
“It was so nice to know that the high school was named after me,” he told the Allentown Morning Call in 2014. “And I said, ‘Why me?’ It could have been Anka High, Presley High, Everly High, Fabian High, Avalon High. And they came up with Rydell High, and, once again, total honor.”
(Dozens of baby boys were named after Rydell as well.)
From a 2013 article about Kendrick Lamar in hip-hop magazine XXL:
Amongst the many topics discussed when Kendrick Lamar strolled through Arsenio Hall‘s reinvented television series, the Compton rapper revealed that he’s named after one of the members of the iconic Motown group, the Temptations. While gushing over old school music, K Dot unveiled that his mother named him after Eddie Kendricks, the group’s distinctive falsetto singer.
From a Marshall Tucker Band Instagram post addressing the death of the band’s namesake, Marshall Tucker:
Our band’s namesake, Mr. Marshall Tucker, passed away peacefully yesterday morning at the age of 99. Though he was never a member of our band, we wouldn’t be here today without his historic name. In the early days when we were rehearsing in an old warehouse in Spartanburg, we found a keychain inscribed with his name. We needed a name asap… and the rest is history! Marshall was blind since birth but amazingly could play the heck out of the piano. He always said his talent was simply God-given. He tuned pianos in South Carolina for decades.
(The story behind Super Mario’s name, in Name quotes #111, also happens to involve a warehouse.)
From a 2009 NPR interview with jazz singer and pianist Blossom Dearie:
It is my real name, and everybody asks me that, but I don’t mind answering that question. […] I was born in the springtime, and my father gave me the name Blossom cause I was born in April and my bothers brought blossoms in the house.
(TV character Blossom Russo was named after Blossom Dearie.)
The Kennedy brothers really had a big effect on my mother. She loved what they stood for, that’s why she named her son after them. I think the ideas that they possessed and tried to put into our country, whether it’s the idea of man achieving the high glory of reaching the moon or the glory of trying to help spread civil liberties to the people, fulfill the promise of our Constitution. Those type of things, I think, are always admirable. My mother was really touched by that and she named me after them.
From the Allmusic.com profile of Blues/R&B pianist Ivory Joe Hunter:
An accomplished tunesmith, he played around the Gulf Coast region, hosting his own radio program for a time in Beaumont before migrating to California in 1942. It was a wise move since Hunter — whose real name was Ivory Joe, incidentally (perhaps his folks were psychic!) — found plenty of work pounding out blues and ballads in wartime California.
For more quotes about names, check out the name quotes category.
Image: Screenshot of the music video for “Like a Prayer.”
[Latest update: Sept. 2023]