By Britt Bickel

When fans known and love an artist by a certain name, a sudden name change is bound to raise some eyebrows and confusion. Numerous artists have undergone name changes during their careers due to legal reasons, religion, changes in lineup, or perhaps out of sheer boredom in attempt to freshen their image.

Below, we take a look at some of the most famous artists in classic rock who went through a phase of identity transformation during their careers.

Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images

John Mellencamp

Johnny Cougar, John Cougar, John Cougar Mellencamp and what have you, John Mellencamp has a history of going through name changes over the years. Though currently known simply by his given name John Mellencamp, the rocker has released albums under the aforementioned stage monikers during his early years under guidance from artist management that his German surname was too hard to market.

Once Mellencamp worked up enough commercial success in the early ’80s with hits like “Hurt So Good” and “Jack And Diane,” the singer tacked his last name back on his releases. Mellencamp later dropped the “cougar” from his stage name for good on his 1991 album, Whenever We Wanted.

Michael Kovac/Getty Images

Michael Kovac/Getty Images


Prince’s name battle is one of the most infamous in music history. Born Prince Rogers Nelson, Prince assumed his widely-known moniker upon getting into the music business. However in 1993, the Purple One become fed up with his binding contract with Warner Bros. and decided to change his name to an unpronounceable purple symbol that became known as the Love Symbol, as a way to take back control of his music.

He explained the reasoning behind adopting the symbol as such: “I was born Prince and did not want to adopt another conventional name. The only acceptable replacement for my name, and my identity, was the Love Symbol, a symbol with no pronunciation, that is a representation of me and what my music is about.”

Following that, he became known by Warner as “The Artist Formerly Known As Prince” before regaining his given name in 2000 when his contract expired.

Photo by Jo Hale/Getty Images

Photo by Jo Hale/Getty Images

Cat Stevens

The British folk icon/humanitarian Steven Georgiou was widely known by his stage name Cat Stevens throughout his early career in the ’70s that spawned great hits including “Wild World” and “Peace Train.” In 1977, Stevens converted to Islam and adopted the name Yusuf Islam a year later to fit the religion. He now professionally goes by the single moniker Yusef and has released two studio albums under his new name.

Photo by Vince Bucci/Getty Images

Photo by Vince Bucci/Getty Images

Jefferson Airplane

With lineup changes comes names changes. In the early ’70s, psychedelic rock group Jefferson Airplane was on the verge of disbanding after gaining huge commercial success in the ’60s with hits like “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit.”

Rather than breaking up the band, Jefferson Airplane members Paul Kantner, Grace Slick, Joey Covington, and Jack Casady began recoding new music under the moniker Jefferson Starship. After Kantner released his solo album Blows Against the Empire, he co-billed the project as Jefferson Starship. The concept album centered around a group of musicians who hijacked a starship to escape earth, and even went on to win the prestigious sci-fi prize, the Hugo Award.

Photo by Getty Images

Photo by Getty Images

Small Faces

Another case of lineup changes inspiring a fresh start and new name. Influential ’60s British group The Small Faces enjoyed four years of success with hits “Lazy Sunday” and “All or Nothing” with original members Steve Marriott, Ronnie Lane, Kenney Jones, and Jimmy Winston (who was later replaced by Ian McLagan on keys).

After the group called it quits in 1969, two new members joined Lane, Jones and McLagan to form a new group under the name Faces. Those two members happened to be Ronnie Wood and Rod Stewart, who both came over from The Jeff Beck Group.

Can you think of any other artists who underwent name changes during their music careers? Add yours to the list in the comments below!


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