What’s in a name? When it comes to rock and roll, pretty much everything.
Rock stardom is all about reinventing yourself, becoming a larger-than-life figure that stands apart from the crowd. And if you want the girls or guys, or both, to scream your name, it had better be an awesome, sexy and memorable one. Or at least pronounceable.
Here we spotlight 10 guitar heroes who played the name game and won. Sorta.
For an American guitar hero, “Slash” is the best stage name ever. It suggests a violent guitar style and a certain swashbuckling attitude—perfect for a guitarist from Guns N’ Roses. Perfect, that is, unless you’re from Britain, where the former Saul Hudson was born. Across the pond, “Slash” is slang for making wee-wee. Not exactly the stuff of rock legend.
9. The Edge
As your mother once told you, if they’re really your friends, they won’t make fun of the way you look. Unless, of course, your friend is a mullet-headed blabbermouth named Paul Hewson. Hewson took one look at Dave Evans’ prominent beak and dubbed him “The Edge.” At least Evans wasn’t stuck with “Bono Vox,” the nickname Hewson earned because his voice suggested the need for a popular hearing aid (the Bonavox). He later shortened it to simply Bono.
8. John Denver
The former Mr. Deutschendorf renamed himself after his favorite city and then wrote a bunch of classic tunes about the area, most notably “Rocky Mountain High.” He was encouraged to change his name when someone pointed out that “Deutschendorf” wouldn’t fit on a club marquee. Like that was the only reason.
7. Alex Lifeson
Zivojinovic. Say it backward and you might find yourself in the Bizarro World. That’s certainly where Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson found himself on New Year’s Eve 2003, when he tangled with police at the Naples Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Florida. The brawl had several repercussions for Lifeson: a broken nose, a lawsuit, and the publication of his real name, Aleksandar Zivojinovic. It’s reportedly Serbian for “Lifeson.”
6. C.C. DeVille
Bruce Johannesson’s chosen stage name suggests a classic luxury automobile designed to impress the ladies. Unlike the Cadillac Coupe de Ville, however, C.C’s look and style would not transcend the decades.
5. Zakk Wylde
For a rebel like Zakk Wylde—formerly known as Jeffrey Wielandt back in his home state of New Jersey—the rules do not apply. Especially trivial rules such as proper spelling.
4. Mick Mars
More truth-in-advertising than a stage name, Mick Mars (a.k.a. Bob Deal), suits the out-of-this-world former Mötley Crüe guitarist all too well.
Tough to say how Brian Carroll arrived at his stage name. No one is really sure at all. Any ideas, readers?
2. Joe Strummer
The Clash’s Joe Strummer was a songwriter of stunning brilliance. Unfortunately, that trait was far from evident in his choice of stage name. When it came time to reinvent himself, as so many did in the early days of punk, the former John Mellor took the concept of an average Joe and melded it to a description of his modest guitar skills. Thus was born Joe Strummer.
1. Yngwie Malmsteen
Like so many guitar heroes before him, Lars Johan Yngve Lannerbäck realized that an unwieldy, hard-to-pronounce name could work against him in show biz. So he changed his name to…Yngwie Malmsteen?! Well yes. Englebert Humperdinck was already taken.