YOUR NAME IS YOUR LIFE BUT HOW DO YOU SPELL THAT?
“FAME. FAME. FAME. FAME. FAME. FAME. FAME. FAME. FAME. WHAT’S YOUR NAME?” – David (Jones) Bowie
Last year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee ended in a tie for the second year in a row. Vanya Shivashankar and Gokul Venkatachalam both correctly spelled through the list of 11 championship words, which included such everyday terms as boquetiere (an assortment of fresh vegetables) and hippocrepiform (shaped like a horseshoe), to share in the trophy. I would suggest that there could have been an obvious tiebreaker to establish a true winner of the spelling bee – each of the finalists should have been asked to spell each other’s last name.
But I really feel badly for them. They’re both going to be spending a good portion of the rest of their lives spelling their names for school administrators, government workers and, dare I say it, their fans!
And what’s worse, sociologists tell us that your name is your life. It shapes who you are during your formative years and changing it after you go out into the world will have little to no effect on who you really are. All your personality traits are instilled by that age and whatever name you carried around up to that point, that’s who you are.
So Marilyn Manson is still Ohio-born Brian Warner, Lil Wayne can’t shake being Dwayne Carter, Jr. and Queen Latifah is Dana Owens underneath all that talent. Calling herself St. Vincent doesn’t cover up the real Annie Clark and recent RnR Hall of Fame inductees Richard Starkey and Joan Larkin only pretend to be Ringo Starr and Joan Jett, respectively.
Regardless, everyone who wants to become an entertainer should at some point early on decide if their given name is indeed befitting star status. Or, more objectively, can it be pronounced and spelled by the general public? I would have to assume that that would be the underlying reason why Farrokh Bulsara came to be known as Freddie Mercury. And why Calvin Broadus, Jr. decided that perhaps his fans might find Snoop Dogg easier to spell. And obviously who would want to be Chiam Witz when Gene Simmons was available?
Of course, there are many reasons other than spelling and pronunciation to change your name to get into show biz. Is your current name unattractive, dull or unintentionally amusing? Is the new name more memorable or attention getting? Will it automatically depict you as an entertainer? Does your original name brand you as someone other than what you’d like your admiring public to think of you? You’ll find some surprising examples when you hit the Continue reading button below.
What if you’re stuck with a name that’s more or less spellable but clunky? Well, it might be best then to search out something cooler. Reginald Kenneth Dwight became Elton Hercules John, Declan MacManus chose Elvis Costello, Vincent Furnier came out as Alice Cooper, Stevland Judkins liked Stevie Wonder better, O’Shea Jackson is now Ice Cube, Tramar Dillard turned into Flo Rida, and Stefani Germanotta was remodeled as Lady Gaga (and tours with the former Anthony Benedetto).
And although their original names were comparatively easy to spell and pronounce, Shawn Carter switched to Jay Z, Elizabeth Grant is now addressed as Lana Del Rey, William Broad picked out Billy Idol, John Stephens would rather be referred to as John Legend, Curtis Jackson III is better known as 50 Cent, John Gillis liked Jack White better, and James Smith uses the moniker LL Cool J (which stands for Ladies Love Cool James). Why didn’t I think of that?
Then again, if people were having trouble spelling Amethyst Kelly, why would Iggy Azalea be any better? And was there really a need for Yvette Stevens to harken back to Chaka Khan? Or Cameron Thomaz to Wiz Khalifa? I think we can rule out spelling simplification as the motivation.
To their defense, David Jones was restyled as David Bowie because there already was a bloke by the name of Davy Jones (real name) in the Monkees (seriously). Robert Cummings first transposed to Rob Straker to avoid any confusion with the actor of the same name, and then took it one step further to Rob Zombie. And Katheryn Hudson says that she adopted her mother’s maiden name to be called Katy Perry, so that there would be no mix up with actress Kate Hudson – all three, perfectly legitimate reasons.
But it was management who convinced John Mellencamp to modulate to John Cougar and cajoled Keith Richards to scratch the “s” on the end of his last name. Both artists reverted back to their original surnames a few years later. Taking the management thing one step too far, Ike Turner married Anna Mae Bullock in order to change her name to Tina.
And how many times do you suppose Sara Bareilles was told that her last name was too confusing to spell or pronounce and to change it? Jason Desrouleaux acknowledged the problem and adjusted it to Jason Derulo, which is a simplified spelling of his French surname’s pronunciation. But rather than force his French name onto an unsuspecting American public, Christopher Breaux substituted Frank Ocean instead.
But maybe it was cultural identity that convinced Robert Zimmerman to convert to Bob Dylan, Jeffrey Hyman to Joey Ramone, Carol Klein to Carole King, Peter Hernandez to Bruno Mars, James Osterberg to Iggy Pop, Francesco Castelluccio to take on Frankie Valli, Steven Tallarico to emerge as Steven Tyler, and Mike Rosenberg to carry on with his former band name Passenger?
And sometimes it’s easier just to stick with your first name, if it’s a good one, and be done with it – Beyoncé (Knowles), Madonna (Ciccone), Cher (Sarkisian) – or assume one nickname and discard your given name altogether – Sting (Gordon Sumner), Flea (Michael Balzary), Bono and The Edge (Paul Hewson and David Evans), Lorde (Ella Yelich-O’Connor), Slash (Saul Hudson), Drake (Aubrey Graham), Pitbull (Armando Pérez), Pink (Alecia Moore), and Macklemore (Ben Haggerty).
Apparently all DJ’s are in some kind of witness protection program: Avicii was Tim Bergling, Deadmau5 is Joel Zimmerman, Diplo is Thomas Pentz, Kaskade is Ryan Raddon, Tiesto is Tijs Verwest, Moby is Richard Hall, and Skrillex is Sonny Moore to his fans and to his mother.
But in a stroke of genius, many rock and pop stars kept their real names, although only Elvis Presley, Jason Mraz and Sam Smith come to mind.
“What’s your name? What’s your name? Shooby-doo-bop-bah-dah!” – from the 1962 Top Ten hit “What’s Your Name?” – performed by Don & Juan and written by Don (whose real name, of course, was Claude Johnston).