name tag with an artist stage name on it

The creative power of a stage name

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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Whether you’re into Rhianna, Lorde, Bono, or Bob Dylan, you’ve definitely blissed out to music created by artists working under assumed names. Artist stage names run the gamut from run-of-the-mill to sublimely poetic to utterly ridiculous, but all serve useful purposes — they stick in audience’s memories and empower or inspire artists to create in different ways.

Let’s look at some of the pseudonyms that artists, DJs, songwriters, producers, and other music creatives fabricate to practice their art — and how the right stage name can elevate your own music as well.

A lot of notable music-makers use pseudonyms

Across genres and disciplines, countless successful music-makers work under assumed names. Here are just a few:

  • St. Vincent. This art-pop standout’s real name is Anne Erin Clark.
  • DJ and producer extraordinaire Thomas Wesley Pentz is better known as Diplo.
  • Timbaland is the stage name for iconic producer, songwriter, and artist Timothy Zachery Mosley.
  • Country star Luke Bryan’s actual name is Thomas Luther Bryan.
  • Bob Dylan. The culture-changing folk artist’s given name is Robert Allen Zimmerman.
  • Rapper Megan Thee Stallion was born Megan Jovon Ruth Pete.
  • Lana Del Ray. The hit-making creator of dreamy pop’s real name is Elizabeth Woolridge Grant.

You can see more musician pseudonyms at Cosmopolitan and Mic.com.

Look to a variety of sources when choosing a stage name

Pseudonyms can come from a huge variety of sources, and every stage name has a story behind it. Here are a few places to start looking for ideas.

  • Childhood nicknames. Paul David Hewson earned the nickname Bono Vox as a teenager, partly because of the Latin phrase meaning “good voice” and partly due to the name of a hearing aid store near where he lived. When searching for an artistic pseudonym of your own, try thinking back to any nicknames you picked up as a child or teen and see if those names (or variations thereof) move you creatively.
  • Technology. You can always follow Austin Richard Post’s example and use digital technology to brainstorm stage names. He put his birth name into a rap-name generator and ended up with the pseudonym Post Malone. With generative AI tools becoming more ubiquitous by the minute, there’s no shortage of digital utilities available to help you come up with creative ways to refer to yourself.
  • History, science, and religion. Tim Bergling gravitated towards the stage name Avicii because his real name was taken on MySpace — and a very similar word is used to describe “the lowest level of Buddhist hell.” The stage name Diplo derives from “Diplodocus,” one of the many dinosaurs Thomas Pentz loved as a child. There’s no shortage of interesting words and names to inspire you within any subject regularly taught in schools — so why not crack open a textbook and see what terms resonate.
  • Popular culture. Brian Hugh Warner used the names of an iconic actress and an equally iconic murderous criminal cult leader to conjure the highly memorable stage name Marilyn Manson, while Brian Joseph Burton turned to a cartoon series for the pseudonym Danger Mouse. Interesting words, names, and phrases abound in popular culture, so keep your eyes and ears out for ones that inspire you.

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Choose a name that stands out

Some musicians, producers, artists, songwriters, and DJs gravitate towards shocking and aggressive pseudonyms while others choose stage names that are funny and irreverent. Some like monikers that resonate closely with the style and genre of music they make, while others prefer total non-sequiturs.

You can choose something that’s incredibly outlandish or incredibly conservative — it’s all up to you. Just make sure that whatever pseudonym you choose is one that stands out and means something to you. Chances are, if a name you choose is memorable and unique to you, it will be to others as well.

Let your stage name liberate you

Stefani Germanotta told US Weekly that she embraces the persona Lady Gaga because doing so empowers her to do what she does best.

“I am — Stefani is — a perpetually tortured artist. That’s why I changed my name,” she explains. “I can’t be her in public. She would be a mess!” As Gaga, though, she feels empowered and strong. Asked how she handles the pressures that come with being a world-famous pop icon, she replies, “What are you talking about pressure? I’m great under pressure. I’m warrior. I’m Rocky, round 12.”

Countless other music makers embrace pseudonyms and stage personas for similar reasons — because new names, and the identities that can come with them, inspire or empower them to take risks, escape insecurities, transcend limitations, and explore new creative territory.

Once you’ve brainstormed a number of potential artistic pseudonyms, pay attention to which ones make you feel dangerous, charismatic, magnetic, powerful, larger than life, sexy, mysterious, or anything else that turns you on. Or just choose ones that make you feel something new. Then pay attention to how that artist persona impacts the music you make. If you like what you’re creating, keep the name and keep the creativity flowing.

Keep experimenting

Many artists, producers, and other creators make music under multiple pseudonyms, or try out different names until one feels right. Give different monikers a try until one really resonates with you and gets you creating music you love.

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Michael Gallant

About Michael Gallant

Michael Gallant is a musician, writer, and entrepreneur living in New York City. His debut album for the Steinway & Sons label, Rock Rewind, features solo piano reinventions of Pearl Jam, U2, Halestorm, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Radiohead, and more. Read his recent article for the National Endowment for the Arts and follow Michael on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant and Facebook.com/GallantMusic.

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