Rock ‘n’ roll and mystery go hand in hand. There’s something inherently enigmatic about the greatest rockstars of all time and the craft of rock music itself. The genre has extensive mythos, with the most prominent in the game treated like Gods.
Ozzy Osbourne, Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper, you name them – a surreal back story is guaranteed, and it is almost always one that has been modified and embellished so many times that it is now closer to a work of fiction rather than the exploits of a human being. The world’s most famous rockstars are champions of the people, hailed in a way that the most esteemed knights in the middle ages were.
Since a legend is crucial to a rockstar’s career, many have opted to use an alias to heighten the potency of their craft. Whether it be to give a fictional character a definite edge or as a means of hiding an uncool birth name, since the great rock ‘n’ roll explosion of the 1950s, it has been a trend in rock to adopt an extraordinary name.
This practice has afforded these musical Robin Hoods and Dick Turpins the right amount of buzz needed to sell thousands of tickets and millions of albums, making their notoriety meter rise to unprecedented levels.
Given that it is such a vital piece of the story of rockstars, today, we’ve listed the real names of some of our favourites and explained how they got their nickname.
The real names of 10 iconic rockstars:
Alice Cooper – Vincent Damon Furnier
One of the most famous figures on this list, enjoying a productive career of over 50 years, since the 1970s, Alice Cooper has been known as ‘The Godfather of Shock Rock’. Born Vincent Damon Furnier in Detroit, Michigan, Furnier first made his name in the rock band Alice Cooper before eventually adopting it as his pseudonym. After that, he took his work to the next level by increasing the theatrics and jeopardy he brought to the live setting.
He once explained: “We were called the Nazz, and we found out about Todd Rundgren’s band who were called The Nazz. So I said let’s not come up with a name that’s dark because they’re expecting that. I said, ‘What if we sounded like we were somebody’s aunt?’ It was kind of like the all-American, sweet little old lady name”.
Cooper added: “And I wasn’t Alice Cooper. I was just the singer in the band Alice Cooper, like Manfred Mann. Pretty soon, everybody called me Alice; they just assumed that the singer’s name was Alice. So, at that point, I legally changed my name to Alice Cooper. It was a total outrage at the time. Now it’s a household name.”
Slash – Saul Hudson
Slash ranks at the top of the pile in terms of guitar-playing greats. Since Guns N’ Roses first broke through in the late ’80s, he’s been one of the most well-respected axemen and has many tales to tell, taking the meaning of rockstar to another level.
Born Saul Hudson in London to English parents, Hudson was always familiar with the world of rock ‘n’ roll, as his mother was a fashion designer who worked with the likes of David Bowie, Ringo Starr, and Janis Joplin. His father was an artist who created album covers for musicians such as Neil Young and Joni Mitchell.
When only young, his mother moved to Los Angeles for work, and his father followed soon after, and it was here that he was given the nickname that he would go by for the rest of his life. Hudson was first called Slash by the actor Seymour Cassel because he was “always in a hurry, zipping around from one thing to another”.
The Edge – Dave Evans
Who’d have thought that a man with one of the most divisive nicknames, from one of the most polarising bands out there, would have one of the most run-of-the-mill real names? U2’s resident guitar hero and master of delay, The Edge, was born in Barking, Essex, in 1961 as David Howell Evans. Unsurprisingly, both his parents were Welsh.
Interestingly, the origins of the nickname The Edge are contested. Some believe that the surrealist street gang Lypton Village gave him the title because of his angular head. However, this account is disputed, as others have claimed that it was a description of his guitar playing or the fact that he likes not to get fully involved in an activity and instead remain on the edge of proceedings.
Freddie Mercury – Farrokh Bulsara
Perhaps the most colourful character on this list, Queen frontman Freddie Mercury is so legendary and was such a genius that there’s even been an uber-successful biopic made about his life, the aptly named Bohemian Rhapsody. A terrific songwriter and even better performer, Mercury instilled Queen’s music with a heavy dose of emotion and theatrics, helping them to stand out from their peers, and rise to the top.
However, the man we all know and loved as Freddie Mercury wasn’t actually called that. He was born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar, Tanzania, in 1946 and lived in India and Tanzania before his family fled the Zanzibar Revolution in 1964 and moved to Middlesex, England.
Gene Simmons – Chaim Witz
Despite his somewhat problematic personality, Israeli-American musician Gene Simmons is one of the ultimate titans of hard rock and heavy metal. Fans affectionately know the bassist and co-frontman of Kiss as his alter-ego, ‘The Demon’. However, to everybody else outside of the cultish fandom of the band, he is known as Gene Simmons.
He was born Chaim Witz in 1949 at Rambam Hospital in Haifa, Israel, to Jewish immigrants from Hungary who had survived the Holocaust.
Aged eight, he immigrated with his mother to New York City, and it was here that he changed his name to Gene Klein. Then, at college, he chose the stage name Gene Simmons as a tribute to the esteemed rockabilly singer Jumpin’ Gene Simmons.
Sting – Gordon Sumner
Although Sting is another polarising character, it is hard to argue against his work in The Police and his quality as a musician. Born Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner in Wallsend, Northumberland, in 1951, he had an exciting career before The Police, and it was in this period, that he earned his famous nickname.
For a while, he was a teacher but in the evening, on weekends, and during the holidays, he performed jazz with a host of local bands. When playing with the Phoenix Jazzmen, he had a habit of wearing a black and yellow jumper with hooped stripes, which led to bandleader Gordon Solomon commenting that he looked like a wasp, which prompted the now-iconic nickname, Sting.
Iggy Pop – James Newell Osterberg Jr.
When it comes to rockstar behaviour, Iggy Pop has taken it to incomprehensible extremes. Pop has experienced both soaring highs and crushing lows over his long career as one of the first true rockstars. He enjoyed much success as the frontman of proto-punks The Stooges before going on to have a solo career that has seen him work with the likes of David Bowie and Josh Homme.
Although Iggy Pop is the name he is known by, his real name is James Newell Osterberg Jr., which is about as far away from rockstar material as possible.
He earned the first part of his nickname ‘Iggy’ when performing in the local blues band The Prime Movers, who called him that because he had played in The Iguanas before. Later, when The Psychedelic Stooges, later to be The Stooges, were formed, the other members, Ron and Scott Asheton, and Dave Alexander, gave him the nickname ‘Pop’ after a local character to whom he bore a resemblance.
Meat Loaf – Michael Lee Aday
It’s strange that many people seem to forget about Meat Loaf when discussing the fabulous rockstars, such as the Bat Out of Hell trilogy, which has sold more than 65 million copies worldwide. Miraculously, the first of the trio stayed in the charts for over nine years and sells around 200,000 copies a year.
So how did Michael Lee Aday get the name Meat Loaf? He revealed in an interview that he was born “bright red and stayed that way for days” and that his father said he looked like “nine pounds of ground chuck” and convinced the nurses to put the name ‘Meat’ on his crib. Later, he was called ‘M.L.’ in reference to his initials.
As Aday got older, his weight increased, and in seventh grade, his classmates called him ‘Meatloaf’ because he was just over five foot but 240 pounds. Elsewhere, when recalling the origins of his name, he said there was an incident where he accidentally stepped on the foot of a football coach, who responded in pain, “Get off my foot, you hunk of meatloaf!”.
Ozzy Osbourne – John Michael Osbourne
Ozzy Osbourne’s reputation precedes him. Revered as the ‘Prince of Darkness’, the title perfectly sums up both the kind of music he makes and the many hijinx he’s got up to in his time.
Everyone, including his wife and kids, refers to him as Ozzy, and it makes sense, as John Michael Osbourne doesn’t have the same power as the alliterative Ozzy Osbourne. This one’s quite a simple one, he had been called ‘Ozzy’ since he was in primary school, and it stuck.
Adam Ant – Stuart Leslie Goddard
Adam Ant is one of the most iconic figures from the new wave movement.
Born Stuart Leslie Goddard in London in 1954, it was when witnessing punk heroes Sex Pistols play their first show in 1975 that he got his idea of becoming Adam Ant. He recalled: “After seeing the Pistols, I wanted to do something different, be someone else, but couldn’t work out what and who.”
Goddard renamed himself Adam Ant, choosing the name because, “I really knew I wanted to be Adam, because Adam was the first man. Ant I chose because, if there’s a nuclear explosion, the ants will survive”.
The rest, as they say, is history.