Often, musicians have a stage name that is different from their birth name. This is common knowledge. Artists adopt an interesting and memorable name to stand out in today’s crowded music industry. But there are cases when artists already have a stage name which suddenly needs to be changed. Racist connotations! Safety reasons! A spiritual awakening! There are many reasons for this alteration.
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Let us look at some fascinating cases when musicians changed their stage names because they were highly offensive. Or because they needed protection from a hostile public, had to dodge expensive lawsuits or underwent spiritual/creative rebirth.
1. Latto (previously Mulatto)
Atlanta rapper Latto used to go by the name Mulatto. But this attracted controversy because Mulatto is a slur. The term is used against half-Black, half-White Americans. The word’s history stretches back to when European colonizers brought enslaved Africans to work in the Americas. What resulted was a generation of people with European and African heritage. They were named mulattos and ostracized for being mixed.
Born to a Black father and White mother, Young Latto also faced discrimination. When she started rapping, she took on ‘Miss Mulatto’ to be tongue-in-cheek about her background. But the pseudonym was quickly criticized for being racially insensitive. This is because mixed Americans continue getting insulted as “mulatto” even though the term was originally a neutral label.
So in 2021, Mulatto changed to Latto. With her music video for “The Biggest”, she apologized for being inconsiderate with her name, and announced the new moniker.
She explained that Latto referred to lotteries. She emphasized her “lottery” brand image with her album title ‘777’, a jackpot in slot machines. Her “Big Energy” music video followed a ‘casino theme’.
And recently, she released a song titled “Lottery”. The artist had gracefully changed her name without altering her brand too much.
2. JAWNY (previously Johnny Utah)
Indie musician JAWNY used to go by Johnny Utah. But he had to change it after his label warned him of legal issues. You see, the singer had named himself after action hero Johnny Utah from the movie ‘Point Break’. But naming yourself after an iconic character, played no less by Keanu Reeves, meant there would be trademark issues. JAWNY explained to WNUR, “It got to a point where [the label] were like, ‘You can’t have this name anymore … You’re trying to get sued’. So we moved … really fast and changed the name”.
But JAWNY (real name Jacob Sullenger) dealt with these matters with his signature humor. “In December at a Spotify Grammys party in LA..,” he joked. “…I was tackled to the ground, knocking me unconscious. When … my vision made its way back, I was staring up at Keanu [Reeves] who pointed at me and said, “You have one week to change [your name].”
3. Lady A (previously Lady Antebellum)
Nashville band Lady Antebellum rocked the world with songs like “Need You Now”. Recently, though, the trio have been facing criticism for their name. Antebellum refers to a period in the U.S. when slavery was rampant. The name Lady Antebellum sounded like it was glorifying the era. So in June 2020, at the height of police brutality and BLM protests, the band apologized and announced that they were now Lady A.
But this was not the end of the matter. Anita White, a blues singer, also went by Lady A. She criticized the band, claiming she’d been performing under the title since the 1980s. The band requested that both parties be allowed to keep the name, but Anita refused. Matters escalated when they filed a lawsuit against her and she filed a countersuit for trademark infringement.
The singer argued that a popular band taking her name was erasing a minority artist’s presence online. Search results for “Lady A”, initially listing Anita, were now overwhelmingly displaying the band. The band counter-argued that they were informally known as Lady A for years. The recent name change was just a formality. Ultimately, the judge dismissed their lawsuits on both the parties’ requests. Payment details and terms of agreement remain undisclosed.
4. Teddy Sinclair (previously Natalia Kills)
Natalia Kills was known for her edgy style and music. Famously, she featured on LMFAO’s “Champagne Showers”. But the British singer’s ascent was threatened in March 2015 when she and her husband Willy Moon were judges on X Factor . On live TV, she accused contestant Joe Irvine for copying her husband’s clothes. She called Joe a “laughing stock” and “artistically atrocious”.
This public was outraged. Natalia and Willy were dropped from the show. Kills was constantly cyberbullied, often with racist remarks and death threats. And her album ‘Trouble’ performed poorly. So, to start over and for protection, Natalia legally became Teddy Sinclair. She started the band Cruel Youth with her husband and released an EP.
The name change was nothing new to Sinclair. She had undergone rebrandings before, releasing music as Verbalicious and Natalia Cappucini. On her constant rebranding, she said, “I won’t deny myself the pleasure of being able to explore the different ideas that are in my mind.” Today, Sinclair has a Grammy nomination, and credits for songs by Rihanna, Madonna and Blackpink. She made music for ‘Godfather of Harlem’ and has an adoring fandom.
5. YoungBoy Never Broke Again (previously NBA YoungBoy)
YoungBoy is known for “Outside Today” and “Bandit”. He was born Kentrell DeSean Gaulden but went by the pseudonym NBA YoungBoy, at least till 2016. NBA was the abbreviation of Never Broke Again, the record label he was signed to. But while it was a catchy name, it meant that YoungBoy was asking for copyright battles. That’s because it was similar to the NBA, the all-American basketball league.
So the rapper altered his name to YoungBoy Never Broke Again (spelling out “NBA” to clarify that he was referring to his label and not the basketball league). In recent years. YoungBoy slowly edited his social media accounts (like the official YouTube channel) and Wikipedia page into YoungBoy Never Broke Again.
Known to be soft spoken, the rapper never widely discussed this alteration. But FADER reported it in an interview, as well as his fans noticing the gradual shift in how he called himself on the internet. He is still known by both NBA YoungBoy and YoungBoy Never Broke Again, and doesn’t seem to have completely divorced himself from the old, beloved moniker.
6. FKA Twigs (previously Twigs)
British singer Tahliah Barnett is better known as FKA Twigs. Her hits include “Tears in the Club” and “Cellophane” (which went viral thanks to Borzoi memes).
Initially, Barnett was known as Twigs due to the way her joints cracked. But that name was short-lived. Around 2012, an American band called the Twigs filed a lawsuit against Barnett for copyright infringement. The band was composed of twins Laura and Linda Good, and had been recording since 1994. Barnett offered the sisters $15,000 to keep her name. But they refused. So Barnett added “FKA” to become FKA Twigs. Fans speculated that the initials stood for “Formerly Known As”. But Barnett dismissed the theory, stating she just thought the letters’ arrangement looked cool.
However, the Good sisters were not satisfied. They filed a restraining order on Barnett so she couldn’t use her new name either. Barnett’s lawyers fought back in the court, arguing that “bands have routinely used derivative names in order to avoid consumer confusion … Dinosaur became Dinosaur Jr., Blink became Blink-182…. Here, FKA twigs is clearly and easily distinguishable from The Twigs.” Barnett won the legal battle.
However, the Good sisters retained the right to sue in the future. So Barnett shouldn’t be too comfortable yet.
7. Marina (previously Marina and the Diamonds)
Welsh vocalist Marina Diamandis is a beacon of alt-pop. She broke through with her album ‘Electra Heart’ because her jaded lyrics resonated with teens. Marina began her career as Marina and the Diamonds (‘Diamonds’ referring to her loyal fanbase).
But after ‘Electra Heart’ in 2013, she suffered from burnout and depression. “I had such a fractured sense of who I was because so much of my identity was attached to music”, she told BBC. “And if I didn’t want to do that any more, then what can I contribute to the world? What am I good at? What’s my purpose?”
So, in 2018, she revamped her life. She brought on new collaborators and underwent stylistic change. She dropped ‘and the Diamonds’ and went simply by Marina. “It took me well over a year to figure out that a lot of my identity was tied up in who I was as an artist,” she explained on her mononym. She cut back on the Diamonds “to destroy the separation between her personal identity and her artistic identity.” Once she did so, Marina was free to be herself again and create the art she liked.
8. Snoop Lion (previously Snoop Dogg)
Snoop Dogg is a household name in hip hop. He is most known for gangsta rap. Born Calvin Cordozar Boardus Jr., he is known for rapping about violence, sex, drugs and crime, often glamorizing them.
But things took a turn for Snoop Dogg when he believed he was a reincarnation of Bob Marley. In 2012, the rapper converted to the Rastafari movement and switched to reggae. After a trip to Jamaica, he changed his name to Snoop Lion. Then he released his reggae album, ‘Reincarnated’. “I wanted to make songs about the life I’m living now as a father and as a 41-year-old man,” Lion told The Guardian “… as opposed to always talking about my childhood and my upbringing.”
But this does not mean Snoop “Dogg” is completely out of the picture. He continues to tour and release music under both names. The difference between these two avatars can be heard in the music and lyrics.
9. ELIZA (previously Eliza Doolittle)
British singer ELIZA used to go by Eliza Doolittle. As Doolittle, the vocalist made bubblegum pop music and released two albums. But after leaving her record label and after five years passed, she came back under a different name: simply as ELIZA. Shunning pop, she instead explored RnB and neo-soul.
The reason for this transformation was independence. As Doolittle, ELIZA felt creatively caged in (as many artists under huge labels do). “It almost feels like I was in a band and I left the band to become a solo artist,” ELIZA said. “Losing the “Doolittle” side of that person was … part of losing that whole group of people and just starting afresh… It wasn’t that Eliza Doolittle wasn’t really me but I guess it was part of being a bigger thing with other people.” ELIZA felt emotionally and psychologically separate from the art she created under her old name. “It’s a different side of me that I feel doesn’t exist anymore,” she added.
But mononyms can cause confusion. Especially when other musicians – like Eliza Rose, Eliza King and Eliza Lir – are also active. To be identified easily, ELIZA coined “Lovechild” as her surname in social media handles like Instagram.
10. Baby Tate (previously Yung Baby Tate)
Atlanta rapper Tate Farris began as Yung Baby Tate. She is behind viral hits like “Hey, Mickey!”, “I Am” and “STUPID” (with Ashnikko).
As Yung Baby Tate, the rapper evoked youthfulness and girlhood. But growing older, it was natural to eventually break out of that archetype. “I was getting a bit older and more mature… I’m pushing 30,” Tate joked . She began making raunchy hits like “Sl*t Him Out” and “Eenie Meenie”. But releasing them as Yung Baby Tate didn’t sit right. So in 2021, she dropped “Yung” and became Baby Tate. Billboard said she wanted to “keep the baby aspect as an homage to her everlasting youthful spirit (and face)”. She also signed under a major label and promised to make music with even better quality production.
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