Music History

Published on September 23rd, 2017 | by Alan Cross

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Pseudonyms of Musicians and Their Origins

[Another assignment from the current intern-in-resident, Dorothy Lee. What are the stories behind some rock’n’roll stage names?- AC]

1. Black Francis, Pixies

Born Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV. I

In 1987, when the Pixies released the mini-album ‘Come on Pilgrim’, Charles took his father’s advice and adopted the stage name ‘Black Francis’ which comes from a joke his father had once made about how he was saving that name in case he had another son. After the Pixies broke up in 1993, Charles worked on a solo career under the name Frank Black (inverting his old persona “Black Francis”).

2a) Bono, U2

Born Paul David Hewson.

He was nicknamed “Bono Vox” by his friend Gavin Friday, which is an alteration of Bonavox, a Latin phrase which translates to “good voice”.

2b) The Edge, U2

Born David Howell Evans.

Early in U2’s career, David was re-baptized by Bono (then Bono Vox) as The Edge. The nickname was originally inspired by the sharp features of his face, but also by his sharp mind and the way he always observed things from the edge.

3) Elvis Costello

Born Declan Patrick MacManus

He’s the son of British bandleader Ross MacManus. His stage name is inspired partially by Elvis Presley and his father’s stage name Day Costello.

4) Moby

Born Richard Melville Hall.

His middle name and nickname “Moby” were given to him by his parents because ‘Moby Dick’ author Herman Melville is Richard’s great-great-great-grand uncle.

5) Iggy Pop

Born James Newell Osterberg, Jr.

In 1963, James formed his first band, the Iguanas, in Michigan in which he sang and played drums. Alluding to the Iguanas, James later changed his name to Iggy Stooge and formed the Psychedelic Stooges. The group later shortened their name to the Stooges and James changed his stage name to Iggy Pop.  Iggy Pop’s stage persona was inspired by The Doors’ 1967 concert at the University of Michigan where Iggy was fascinated with Jim Morrison’s extreme behaviour while performing on stage. This inspired Iggy to push the boundaries of stage performance, and at a Detroit concert, Iggy was the first performer to do a stage-dive.

6) Johnny Rotten, Sex Pistols

Born John Joseph Lydon.

The Sex Pistols formed in 1975 and John was renamed Johnny Rotten because his poor oral hygiene led to his teeth turning green. Apparently, Sex Pistols’ guitarist Steve Jones saw John’s teeth and exclaimed “You’re rotten, you are!”. In 2008, Johnny Rotten spent a reported cost of US $22,000 to fix his teeth.

7) Pat Smear, Nirvana, The Germs

Born Georg Albert Ruthenberg.

Georg was given the name Pat Smear by his friend Paul Beahm (who renamed himself Darby Crash). Smear and Crash formed the band Sophistifuck and the Revlon Spam Queens, which they later renamed The Germs.

8) Joe Strummer, The Clash

Born John Graham Mellor.

John went by the name “Woody” for a few years, influenced by American folk-singer Woody Guthrie, before changing his name to Joe Strummer in 1975. He had discovered an interest in rock music and guitar, and the name “Strummer” apparently referred to his role as rhythm guitarist although he was also the lead singer of ‘The 101ers’ at the time.

9) Jack White

Born John Anthony Gillis.

At 21, he married Meg White and as a demonstration of his belief in equality took his wife’s last name. The couple formed their own band and considered the band names “Bazooka”, “Soda Powder” and “The Peppermints” because Meg loved peppermints, before deciding on “The White Stripes” due to their last name.

10) Rob Zombie

Born Robert Bartleh Cummings.

Rob went by the name Rob Straker before changing his name to Rob Zombie. He and his then-girlfriend, Sean Yseult, formed the band White Zombie, which is named after the 1932 horror film of the same name, which was also the inspiration behind Rob’s stage name.




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About the Author

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker.

In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.


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