15 Freewheelin' Facts About Bob Dylan

Evening Standard/Getty Images
Evening Standard/Getty Images

Facts and Bob Dylan have always made for strange companions. Though he achieved worldwide fame as The Voice of a Generation—a young man hailed in part for his honesty as he sang of both the hard truths of social injustices as well as his own personal romantic anguish—he did so as Bob Dylan, not as Robert Zimmerman, the name he was born with and went by growing up in Minnesota.

Even today, more than 50 years after he first began kicking around the Greenwich Village club scene, Dylan remains an elusive figure who has at times been accused of making career choices specifically to obfuscate and muddle his identity. With that in mind, and in honor of the icon's birthday, here are some truths about the man behind the man who wrote some of the most important songs in music history.

1. HE DIDN'T SHOW UP TO HIS OWN HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION PARTY.

Robert Allen Zimmerman graduated from Minnesota's Hibbing High School in 1959. Under his yearbook picture, his life goal reads “to join Little Richard.” The teenager likely had a 1956 school talent show incident in mind when he decided on that caption: as he played keyboards and sang a Little Richard song with his band, the school principal cut them off and pulled the curtain. By graduation night, he was ready to leave.

2. HE USED TO GO BY THE NAME OF ELSTON GUNNN.

Yes, with the extra N. In the summer after his high school graduation, Zimmerman was working as a busboy at a Fargo, North Dakota cafe when he conned his way into future music star Bobby Vee’s band, The Shadows, by claiming he had just been on the road with Conway Twitty and only showcasing his piano skills in the key of C. The stage name Zimmerman gave himself was Elston Gunnn. The group arrangement didn’t last for very long, due to lack of funds for all involved, and Zimmerman/Gunnn left for Minneapolis at the end of the summer to attend the University of Minnesota.

3. CHARLIE CHAPLIN IS ONE OF HIS BIGGEST INFLUENCES.

Dylan was quoted as early as 1961 as saying he is “always conscious of the Chaplin tramp.” Early in his performing career, the musician would use his hat as a prop, just as Chaplin did in his films. In 2006, Dylan released an album titled Modern Times, an obvious nod to Chaplin's classic 1936 film of the same name.

4. HE WAS AN OPENING ACT FOR THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS, BEFORE THEY GOT HIM FIRED.

That happened in Denver in 1960, a few years before Dylan or the Smothers brothers were famous. Neither the siblings nor the audiences liked Dylan’s obscure songs, and Tommy wasn't keen on the musician’s near-homeless look.

5. JOHN H. HAMMOND SIGNED HIM TO COLUMBIA RECORDS AFTER HE HEARD HIM PLAY HARMONICA ON A CAROLYN HESTER ALBUM, WITHOUT PERMISSION FROM HIS BOSSES.

The same John H. Hammond signed Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, and (later) Bruce Springsteen, so Dylan was in talented company. Though Columbia's vice president said Dylan’s voice was “the most horrible thing he'd ever heard in his life," Hammond signed him anyway (he did the same thing a few years later with Leonard Cohen). When Dylan’s self-titled debut album, which consisted mainly of covers, only sold 5000 copies in its first year, his signing became known as “Hammond’s folly.” Hammond always contended that the so-called flop of an album only cost $402 to make anyway.

6. HE BROKE AN UNWRITTEN RULE OF FOLK MUSIC BY RECORDING A COVER OF "HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN."

Dylan learned the song from fellow folk musician Dave Van Ronk, who was the inspiration behind the Coen brothers' movie Inside Llewyn Davis. Dylan asked Ronk for permission to record the song with Ronk’s guitar arrangement on his first album—after he had already done so. Ronk was upset because he had plans to record his own version for his album, and soon he stopped performing the song entirely because people believed he got it from Dylan. Karmically, Dylan himself had to stop playing “House of the Rising Sun” after The Animals came out with their definitive version.

7. JOHNNY CASH WAS A VERY EARLY ALLY.

Cash and Dylan hung out together as early as 1962, when Columbia was openly discussing dropping Dylan before he even had the chance to record his famous second album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. John Hammond claimed it was Cash’s endorsement of Dylan that helped to convince Columbia not to make a colossal mistake by dumping Dylan. In 1969, Dylan returned the favor by making his first television appearance in three years to perform on the first episode of The Johnny Cash Show.

8. FOR YEARS, PEOPLE BELIEVED THAT HE STOLE "BLOWIN' IN THE WIND" FROM A NEW JERSEY HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT.

Dylan wrote the iconic tune himself, based on an old spiritual called “No More Auction Block.” However, Lorre Wyatt performed the song for his school 10 months before Dylan’s recorded version of “Wind” was released. This was made possible due to the fact that Dylan’s music arrangement and lyrics were published in Broadside magazine a year before Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan came out, and it was a magazine Wyatt read. In November 1963, Millburn High School students told Newsweek  that they believed Wyatt wrote the song, even after their fellow student denied it, thinking Dylan paid him $1000 for the rights to it.

9. SUZE ROTOLO WAS THE INSPIRATION FOR MANY OF HIS CLASSIC SONGS.

Rotolo was an artist and Dylan’s girlfriend from 1961 to 1964, and the woman on his arm on the cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. It was Rotolo who told Dylan the story of Emmett Till, which led him to write "The Ballad of Emmett Till." "Boots of Spanish Leather," "One Too Many Mornings," "Tomorrow Is a Long Time," "Ballad in Plain D," and "Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right" were all about Rotolo, sometimes about their separation when she briefly lived in Italy, and other times about their final break-up. Even though she suspected that Dylan exaggerated things, she was still upset to discover his real name only after his draft card fell out of his wallet one day. She nicknamed him “RAZ” as playful revenge for hiding his true identity, as well as “Pig.”

10. ROTOLO’S MOTHER NEVER TRUSTED HIM.

Mary Rotolo was never happy with her daughter’s decision to date Dylan, after Dylan told her in one of their initial meetings that he was suffering from a degenerative eye disease that would gradually result in blindness. He was clearly lying.

11. AN EXECUTIVE WANTED HIM TO PLAY HOLDEN CAULFIELD.

In 1962 an agent from the talent agency MCA told Hammond that his company had the movie rights to The Catcher in the Rye, and after seeing Dylan, they felt that they had their leading man.

12. HE REFUSED TO APPEAR ON THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW.

Ed Sullivan himself actually had no issue with Dylan playing “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues”; it was a CBS executive who decided, hours before Dylan was set to appear, that the Birch organization could possibly sue for libel. After being told that he had to either change the lyrics or play a different song entirely, Dylan responded by asking the executive if he was out of his “f***in’ mind” before choosing option C: walking away and never coming back.

13. HE GOT THE BEATLES INTO POT.

On August 28, 1964, Dylan met The Beatles for the first time at The Delmonico Hotel in New York City. Dylan believed the group was familiar with marijuana, mishearing the lyrics to “I Want To Hold Your Hand” as “I get high” instead of “I can’t hide.” The Beatles tried marijuana four years earlier one night in Germany before deciding it wasn’t for them (their “drug” of choice was scotch and Coke). After Ringo bogarted the first joint, the other three joined in, and soon after became full-fledged pot smokers.

14. DYLAN DIDN’T SPEAK FOR ONE WEEK AFTER ELVIS PRESLEY DIED.

The King passed away on August 16, 1977. Dylan, who was going through a divorce at the time, was at his Minnesota farm with his kids and their art teacher, Faridi McFree, who told him the news. Dylan later said that once he heard, "I went over my whole life. I went over my whole childhood. I didn't talk to anyone for a week after Elvis died. If it wasn't for Elvis and Hank Williams, I couldn't be doing what I do today."

15. HE CO-WROTE AND DIRECTED A NEARLY FOUR-HOUR MOVIE.

The 1978 film Renaldo and Clara was a 235-minute-long French New Wave/Beat Generation-inspired collage of concert footage, documentary, and dramatic fiction. After almost universally negative reviews, its limited release in theaters in major U.S. cities was stopped. Rolling Stone insisted: “This is meant to work at the level of Freud, but it is a lot closer to fraud.” In The New Yorker, Pauline Kael wrote, "It’s what Louis and Marie Antoinette might have done at Versailles if only they’d had the cameras.” Dylan played Renaldo.

When “Weird Al” Yankovic Asked Kurt Cobain for Permission to Parody "Smells Like Teen Spirit"

Erik Voake/Stringer/Getty Images
Erik Voake/Stringer/Getty Images

"Weird Al" Yankovic has gotten plenty of rejections throughout his career. Prince, Jimmy Page, and Paul McCartney have all denied the musical comedian the right to turn one of their hit songs into an irreverent parody. Even so, Weird Al was hesitant to ask for Kurt Cobain's permission to skewer the Nirvana chart-topper "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in the early 1990s.

“I was very nervous, and I didn’t know how he would take my requesting the parody," Yankovic told Loudwire in 2014. The phone call would have been especially nerve-wracking because he wasn't planning to write a spoof that was divorced from the original artist, as was the case with previous hits like "Eat It" and "Like a Surgeon." His parody "Smells Like Nirvana" was going to make fun of the fact that no one could understand Cobain's incoherent singing.

But, as Yankovic recounted decades later, he had no reason to worry. "I explained it’s about how nobody could understand his lyrics. There was probably half a beat on the phone, and he said, ‘Yeah, yeah, sounds like a funny idea.’”

Cobain would have been sympathetic to Yankovic's sense of humor. The Nirvana frontman had a reputation for being a serial prankster, pulling stunts like taping an upside down cross onto the drive-through window of his favorite fried chicken place. Other stories tied to the band's antics involved lighting tour bus curtains on fire, giving out a friend's phone numbers in a live interview, and inviting the audience on stage to escape security.

"Smells Like Nirvana" debuted in 1992 and it was an instant success. It topped the Billboard charts and earned a platinum record, and Yankovic credited the track for revitalizing his career after a brief slump. You can watch Weird Al channeling Cobain in the music video below.

[h/t Loudwire]

The Full Names of 37 One-Name Celebrities

Rihanna and Madonna attend the Tidal launch event in New York City.
Rihanna and Madonna attend the Tidal launch event in New York City.
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images For Roc Nation

A rose by any other name probably wouldn't smell as sweet, at least not in the cases of some of these one-named celebrities. From A-Z, here are the full names of some of your favorite mononymous stars, and the reasons they dropped the rest of their names.

1. Adele

Singer Adele performs
Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images

Real Name: Adele Laurie Blue Adkins

As far as we can tell, Adele’s first name is simply distinctive enough to stand on its own. Plus, “Adele Adkins” sounds a bit like she should be playing at the Grand Ole Opry (which would be lovely, but not quite the sound she’s going for).

2. Awkwafina

Awkwafina attends the 2020 Critics' Choice Awards in Santa Monica, California.
Awkwafina attends the 2020 Critics' Choice Awards in Santa Monica, California.
MATT WINKELMEYER/GETTY IMAGES FOR CRITICS CHOICE ASSOCIATION

Real Name: Nora Lum

“There’s really no great, symbolic story,” Awkwafina told Cosmopolitan of her chosen moniker. "I just really thought it was funny when people try to subtilize products like Neutrogena," she said. "Because I just imagine someone sitting there thinking about all these weird names, especially the water names. But anyway, I just came up with it when I was 16 and thought it was really funny. And then I eventually adopted it."

3. Beck

Musician Beck attends the KROQ Absolut Almost Acoustic Christmas 2019 at Honda Center on December 07, 2019 in Anaheim, California
Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

Real Name: Bek David Campbell

He added the “c” to his real name, hoping that it would prevent people from pronouncing his name as Brock, Breck, Beak, or Bic. Fun Fact: Beck's mother is Bibbe Hansen, an original Warhol superstar.

4. Bono

Bono of music group U2 performs onstage at the 2016 iHeartRadio Music Festival at T-Mobile Arena on September 23, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Real Name: Paul David Hewson

Without a doubt, Bono is the only rock star in the world named after a hearing aid. His school friends in Dublin all gave each other nicknames, and his was "Bono Vox," Latin for "good voice," based on the Bonavox hearing aid store. Eventually he dropped the "Vox" and became the Bono we all know today.

5. Charo

Pop music icon Charo attends "Dancing with the Stars" Season 24 at CBS Televison City on March 27, 2017 in Los Angeles, California
David Livingston/Getty Images

Real Name: Maria Rosario Pilar Martinez Molina Baeza

I mean, Charo is 31 characters (not including spaces) shorter than her real name, so you can see why she decided to shorten things up. But why “Charo” instead of “Maria” or even something more distinctive like “Rosario”? As it turns out, “Charo” is actually not an uncommon nickname for “Rosario.”

6. Common

Rapper Common performs on stage at The Moore Theatre on July 14, 2019 in Seattle, Washington
Mat Hayward/Getty Images

Real Name: Lonnie Corant Jaman Shuka Rashid Lynn

Lynn adopted the stage name "Common Sense" at a young age, then shortened it to Common after he was sued by a band using the name handle.

7. Drake

Drake accepts the Top Billboard 200 Album award for "Views" during the 2017 Billboard Music Awards at T-Mobile Arena on May 21, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Real Name: Aubrey Drake Graham

Drake is a better rapper name than Aubrey. Back when he was an actor on Degrassi, though, Aubrey served him well.

8. Eminem

Eminem
Christopher Polk/Getty Images for MTV

Real Name: Marshall Bruce Mathers III

The rapper’s stage name was originally M&M, a reference to his initials. He eventually began spelling it phonetically instead.

9. Enya

Singer Enya attends the Clive Davis annual Pre-Grammy Gala at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 11, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California
Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

Real Name: Eithne Ní Bhraonáin

Because she knew that most of the world would scratch their heads when presented with the Irish “Eithne,” Enya changed her name to the phonetic spelling of her real name. Yep, “Eithne” = “Enya.”

10. Flea

Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers performs in concert during The Getaway World Tour at the AT&T Center on January 5, 2017 in San Antonio, Texas
Rick Kern/Getty Images

Real Name: Michael Peter Balzary

The itchy moniker goes back to Balzary's high school days, when friends called him “Mike B the Flea.”

11. Gotye

Musician Gotye, winner Best Alternative Music Album for "Making Mirrors" and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for "Somebody That I Used To Know", poses in the press room at the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards at Staples Center on February 10, 2013 in Los Angeles,
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Real Name: Wouter “Wally” De Backer

It’s the French version of his real name, Wouter. "Wouter translates into French as 'Gaultier,'" Gotye told Interview Magazine. "When I was in my early 20s, I wanted a name for my project that was kind of personal and similar to the way that I felt about my music: using the past to broaden into the present. I called her up, and she reminded me of that name. I decided how to spell it as a kind of jumbled surname, Gotye. I wanted a name that had passion. I came up with my own spelling for it, and that’s where it comes from."

12. Hammer

MC Hammer attends the premiere of Lionsgate's "All Eyez On Me" on June 14, 2017 in Los Angeles, California
David Livingston/Getty Images

Real Name: Stanley Kirk Burrell

Yeah, if you’re of a certain age, you probably know him as MC Hammer, but he dropped the Master of Ceremonies a while back. The “U Can’t Touch This” rapper and former batboy for the Oakland A's received his nickname from an unlikely source: Pedro Garcia, then of the Milwaukee Brewers, who thought a young Burrell was a dead ringer for Hammerin’ Hank Aaron. (Reggie Jackson has also taken credit for the nickname.)

13. Ice-T

Ice-T performs onstage at the Premiere Ceremony during the 60th Annual GRAMMY Awards at Madison Square Garden on January 28, 2018 in New York City
Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Real Name: Tracy Lauren Marrow

The name is a tribute to Iceberg Slim, a reformed pimp who later wrote novels. “I’d taken my name as a tribute to Iceberg, and then it hit me one day—dude is a writer. I thought he was fly because he was a pimp, but I realized that I really admired him because he was a writer,” Ice-T wrote in his autobiography.

14. Jay-Z

Shawn "Jay Z" Carter makes an announcement on the Steps of City Hall Downtown Los Angeles for a Labor Day Music Festival at Los Angeles City Hall on April 16, 2014 in Los Angeles, California
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Real Name: Shawn Corey Carter

There are a few theories as to where Jay-Z came from, including that he was paying homage to his mentor, Jaz-O, or that it was a nod to the spot in Brooklyn where the J and Z trains meet up. But Carter maintains that it’s just a variation on his childhood nickname, “Jazzy.”

15. Ke$ha

Kesha attends the 2018 Billboard Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 20, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada
John Shearer/Getty Images

Real Name: Kesha Rose Sebert

Kesha is her real name, but the dollar sign was part of her party girl image. She’s actually just Kesha now; she dropped the symbol several years ago. In a discussion at SXSW, Kesha told Refinery 29, “I let go of my facade about being a girl who didn't care. My facade was to be strong, and I realized it was total bullshit. I took out the $ because I realized that was part of the facade.”

16. Liberace

Liberace in the back seat of a limo
Terry Disney/Getty Images

Real Name: Władziu Valentino Liberace

It's just his last name. After using the stage name “Walter Busterkeys” for a time, Liberace decided to go by his surname only as a nod to his idol, pianist Igancy Paderewski, who did the same.

17. Lizzo

Recording artist Lizzo performs at The Chelsea at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas on October 25, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada
David Becker/Getty Images

Real Name: Melissa Jefferson

Contrary to popular belief, Jefferson swears that her moniker was not inspired by the Jay-Z song “Izzo.” It came about in middle school, when she and her friends created nicknames by adding “O” to the end of their names. “You would be Gayle-O,” she told Gayle King. Because the musician went by Lissa at the time, she became Lisso, which eventually evolved into Lizzo.

18. Ludacris

Rapper Ludacris performs in concert during So So Def 25th Cultural Curren$y Tour at State Farm Arena on October 21, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images

Real Name: Chris Bridges

"Ludacris' is something that I made up," Bridges told MTV News in 2000. "It just kind of describes me. Sometimes I have like a split personality. Sometimes I'm cool, calm, and collected, and other times I'm beyond crazy. I'm ridiculous, I'm ludicrous. Plus my birth name is Chris, so it kind of incorporates that.”

19. Madonna

Madonna performs a tribute to Prince onstage during the 2016 Billboard Music Awards at T-Mobile Arena on May 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Real Name: Madonna Louise Ciccone

While we're in the M section: Madonna's given name is, in fact, Madonna.

20. Moby

Moby performs onstage during The Last Weekend Kickoff LA Presented by Swing Left at The Palace Theatre on November 1, 2018 in Los Angeles, California
Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

Real Name: Richard Melville Hall

“The basis for Richard Melville Hall—and for Moby—is that supposedly Herman Melville was my great-great-great granduncle,” Hall once explained.

21. Nenê

Nene Hilario #42 of the Houston Rockets reacts on the bench during the second half against the Washington Wizards at Toyota Center on April 3, 2018 in Houston, Texas
Tim Warner/Getty Images

Real Name: Maybyner Rodney Hilário

Nenê is one of the few mononymous people in the U.S. to have legally switched to a single name. The Brazilian basketball player, who most recently played for the Houston Rockets, was called “Nenê” as a child because he’s the youngest kid in his family and nenê is Portuguese for “baby.”

22. Pink

Recording artist Pink performs on stage during Pink at Nomadic Live! at The Armory on February 2, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

Real Name: Alecia Beth Moore

According to the magenta musician herself, it was a cruel childhood nickname: "It was a mean thing at first; some kids at camp pulled my pants down and I blushed so much, and they were like, 'Ha ha! Look at her! She's pink!' And then the movie Reservoir Dogs came out and Mr. Pink was the one with the smart mouth, so it just happened all over again."

23. Prince


BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images

Real Name: Prince Rogers Nelson

The artist formerly known as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince was, indeed, born Prince Rogers Nelson.

24. ?uestlove

Questlove of music group The Roots performs onstage during the 2016 BET Awards at the Microsoft Theater on June 26, 2016 in Los Angeles, California
Kevin Winter/BET/Getty Images for BET

Real Name: Ahmir Khalib Thompson

Before he was ?uestlove, the former Ahmir Khalib Thompson wanted to be plain old ?, which he meant to mean “anonymous.” When people started calling him “Question Mark,” he changed his name again to “B.R.O. the R. ?” That didn’t work either: fans thought his name was Brother Question Mark. He finally arrived at ?uestlove because “in the old days, your name ended in rock, ski or love. ?uestrock was not happening and neither was ?uestski. So ?uestlove became my new old school name, ’cause I’m so old school!”

25. Raffi

Real Name: Raffi Cavoukian

Because when your name is actually Raffi, you don’t need a surname.

26. Rihanna

Rihanna attends the Queen & Slim at AFI FEST 2019.
Rihanna attends the Queen & Slim premiere at AFI FEST 2019.
FRAZER HARRISON/GETTY IMAGES

Real Name: Robyn Rihanna Fenty

The singer/actor from Barbados goes by her middle name professionally. "I get kind of numb to Rihanna, Rihanna, Rihanna," she told Rolling Stone, noting that her close friends and family still call her by her first name. "When I hear Robyn, I pay attention."

27. Sade

Singer/songwriter Sade performs at the MGM Grand Garden Arena September 3, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Real Name: Helen Folasade Adu

Though her given name may be Helen, no one has ever referred to the velvet-voiced singer as such. Her parents called her Sade, a shortened version of her middle name, from a young age.

28. Sinbad

Sinbad attends Pilot Pen & GBK Celebration Lounge - Day 2 at LÕErmitage on September 15, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California
Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images for GBK Productions

Real Name: David Adkins

Adkins thought using one distinctive name would help him stand out in the saturated world of stand-up comedy. He chose Sinbad after the mythological seafarer, telling Ebony magazine: “Sinbad was a leader. When monsters would show up, the men would scream out Sinbad’s name. He wasn’t the biggest guy, but he was clever and resourceful. He was a loner and lived life as a journey.”

29. Skrillex

Skrillex performs during the SnowGlobe Music Festival 2019 at Bijou Park on December 31, 2019 in South Lake Tahoe, California
Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Real Name: Sonny John Moore

Here’s another case of a high school nickname that got carried over into adulthood. “Throughout my teen years my friends would call me Skrillex or Skril or Skrilly. Just became a stupid nickname that came out of the social online networking handles," Moore explained. "Really means nothing.”

30. Slash

Slash performs onstage at the GIBSON NAMM JAM Opening Party 2020 at City National Grove of Anaheim on January 16, 2020 in Anaheim, California
Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for Gibson

Real Name: Saul Hudson

The Guns N’ Roses guitarist credits a rather surprising source for his badass nickname: character actor Seymour Cassel. Slash was friends with Cassel’s son, and after observing him always running around “in a hurry, hustling whatever it is I was hustling at the time,” Cassel dubbed him Slash.

31. Twiggy

Twiggy Lawson attends a private screening of 'The Boy Friend' hosted by Twiggy at Kings Cross Everyman Cinema on October 23, 2019 in London, England
David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Everyman

Real Name: Lesley Lawson (née Hornby)

When the fashion model was just a girl, kids at school referred to her as “Sticks” because she was so thin. Her boyfriend later gave her a slightly nicer (?) version of the nickname, which became her name when she hit it big. “Twiggy is a stupid name for a woman in her 40s,” she once remarked, “But it would be hard to drop.”

32. Usher

Usher performs at the 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards on January 26, 2020 in Los Angeles, California
John Shearer/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Real Name: Usher Terry Raymond IV

Let’s just say it’s a good thing Usher didn’t go the route of Drake and other celebs who eschewed their first names for their “cooler” middle names.

33. Voltaire

Portrait of French writer, essayist and philosopher Francois Marie Arouet de Voltaire (1694-1778), author of "Candide
The Print Collector/Getty Images

Real Name: François-Marie Arouet

Is it any surprise that Voltaire liked wordplay? The Latinized spelling of his surname is “AROVET LI,” and “Voltaire” is an anagram of that.

34. will.i.am

Will.i.am attends The Voice UK 2019 photocall at The Soho Hotel on December 16, 2019 in London, England
Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images

Real Name: William James Adams, Jr.

“I liked playing with words. I noticed that my name was a sentence, meaning one with will, who is strong-willed. And so I called my mom and said, ‘Hey, Mom, do you mind if I call myself Will.i.am?’ She was like: ‘Whaaa? You’re crazy.’ She was cool with it.”

35. Yanni

Yanni performs at The Greek Theatre on June 9, 2018 in Los Angeles, California
Oliver Walker/Getty Images

Real Name: He was born Yiannis Chryssomallis, though that's sometimes Americanized to John Yanni Christopher.

See “Raffi,” above. Actually, Yiannis is a very common name in Chryssomallis's native Greece. He was known as “John” to his classmates at the University of Minnesota. Yanni is a just a slight variation of his given name.

36. Zendaya

Zendaya attends the Bvlgari B.zero1 Rock collection event at Duggal Greenhouse on February 06, 2020 in Brooklyn, New York
Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Real Name: Zendaya Maree Stoermer Coleman

Zendaya is her real name. She’s never used her last name professionally, though, because her first name is so distinctive. “I [dropped my last name because I] just thought it was cool, like Cher or Prince,” she told Allure.

37. Zucchero

Zucchero Sugar Fornaciari attends the 70° Festival di Sanremo (Sanremo Music Festival) at Teatro Ariston on February 05, 2020 in Sanremo, Italy
Daniele Venturelli/Getty Images

Real Name: Adelmo Fornacirari

Zucchero is the Italian word for sugar, a name given to him by one of his elementary school teachers. It’s also an apt description for his sweet, sweet music: The Italian musician has worked with everyone from Ray Charles to Pavarotti and has a couple of World Music Awards and a Grammy nom under his belt.

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