Prince: The Story Behind His Name(s)

Circa 1986

Prince starrted in 1986's Under the Cherry Moon, in which he played a gigolo wooing Kristin Scott Thomas in the south of France. The movie bombed, but produced a successful soundtrack album: Parade, which featured the hits "Kiss" and "Mountains."

How Prince got his name, adopted an identity with an unpronounceable symbol in the 1990s — and had a number of strange pseudonyms in between.

From the very beginning, his name was Prince. The musician who died Thursday morning at age 57 went by several names throughout his career but Prince was his birth name. His father, John Nelson, was a jazz musician who played under the stage name Prince Rogers in a group called The Prince Rogers Trio. When he had a son with the trio’s singer Mattie Della Shaw in 1958 (he already had four children with his ex, Vivian Nelson), he decided to give the baby his stage name, so the boy became Prince Rogers Nelson. In a 1991 interview, the elder Nelson explained his thinking behind the choice: "I named my son Prince because I wanted him to do everything I wanted to do." From the very beginning he went by the singular Prince as a stage name.

During his storied career the performer adopted several pseudonyms: Alexander Nevermind (for a 1984 song he wrote for Sheena Easton), Jamie Starr (for songs he wrote for The Time and others in the early 1980s), Joey Coco (for songs he wrote for Sheena Easton and Kenny Rogers) and Christopher (for the writing credit on The Bangles' "Manic Monday"). He also went by several nicknames, including the Purple One, His Royal Badness, the High Priest of Pop and the Prince of Funk. Probably the most un-Prince-like of all was the nickname his family gave him as a child: Skipper.

His most dramatic name change came in 1993, when he adopted an unpronounceable symbol as his name as a protest against his label Warner Bros. The symbol looked like this: 

And was sometimes typed as "O(+>" though Warner Bros. sent out thousands of computer disks to music journalists with a custom font so they could type the symbol in their stories. It was sometimes referred to as the love symbol, and Prince explained it came about as a fanciful merging of the male and female symbols. Faced with a name that literally had no pronunciation, the media started referring to him as “the Artist Formerly Known as Prince,” a nickname he told Larry King he did not like. When his contract with Warner Bros. expired in early 2000, he went back to Prince.