The story goes that, shortly after the singer was born, a dyslexic administrator entered Morrissey’s details incorrectly into the Salford hospital’s computer, not realising that Stephen-Patrick was the well-to-do vocalist’s double-barrelled surname and Morrissey his Christian name. According to his just released autobiography, Autobiography, he became known as “Morrissey” because he was so-called by masters at the posh private school he attended in the wealthy Stand area of Manchester during the 1970s. “I became one of those rarefied few popstars known only by their first name,” he quipped, “like Madonna or Jesus.”
Morrissey’s revelation put us at Thrifty Vinyl to mind of the popular musicians who’ve changed their names and the many strange and amusing stories behind these noms du rock. Here are just a few:
- Marc Bolan wanted to be called Bernie Schwartz in homage to his favourite actor Tony Curtis. But producer Tony Visconti nixed the name, calling it “still too Jewish” for the singer born Mark Feld, and withheld the master tapes from his début album Jeepstar until the elfin Glam Rocker plumped for the slightly more goy-sounding “Bolan”.
- 90s Reggae DJ Charlie Chaplin was not named for the famous silent film actor/director/producer, rather as a tribute to a local pharmacist in the parish of St. Ann’s, JA.
- Coincidently, Bob Dylan chose his name because of a Hibbing, MN pharmacist also called Charlie Chaplin.
- Reg Dwight, aka superstar Elton John, picked up his pseudonym from a young Ben Elton, for whom the struggling pianist worked as nanny, and the toilets (or “Johns”) where he regularly cottaged before marrying long-time boyfriend David Furnace.
- The Viscount and Countess Gaga were dismayed when their rebel teenager renounced the family’s inherited title and changed names to plain old Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. However, their joy knew no bounds when, at age 20 and settled down, their wayward offspring reclaimed the royal sobriquet we’ve come to know so well, Prince.
- Cadbury scion and heir Marshall Mathers was given the nickname “M&M” because of the constant boasting in which he indulged about his family’s chocolate-funded wealth. He says he later legally changed his name by deed pole to a phonetic version of the famously un-melty candy “as a badge of honour.”
- Gary Glitter recently released a song under his own name, Paul Gadd, fearing a public backlash. Funds from the “Old Enough To Bleed (Old Enough To Breed)” single, which scraped the UK Top 20 in August 2012, went to the much-misunderstood singer’s legal defence fund.
- When Carl Palmer left ELP, Keith Emerson and Greg Lake tried and failed to hire Ian Paice as replacement so they wouldn’t have to change the office stationary. Later failing to convince both ELO’s Bev Bevan and Yes’ Bill Bruford to change their surnames to Pevan and Pruford respectively, they had to settle for cell-phone car-crash tragedy drummer Cozy Powell out of the Jeff Beck Group.
- Born Ringo Starkey in 1940, the Beatles drummer is, of course, famously illiterate. As a result, Fabs manager Brian Epstein misread the sticksman’s poorly scrawled signature as “Starr” on the grossly unfair contract he made the band sign, and he was forever known as such.
Editor’s note: inspired by the 50p Ashford Pilgrim’s Hospice purchase of Chaplin’s 90s comp.