JAY-Z, CeeLo, Kesha & The Art of Stage-Name Stylization

We're all born with a name. Some are great (Chris P. Bacon) and some, well, are just not (Jesus Condom). The beauty of being a star is that you get to choose your name and spell it any way you want. Several ways if you feel like it. And unlike the legal hassle the rest of us need to go through involving a trip to probate court and filling out a bunch of papers, the stars are not like the rest of us: They can do it whenever they damn well please.

Which is exactly what JAY-Z did this week. Take that, rewind it back, did you notice there's a hyphen between the Y and the Z? After inexplicably dropping the dash back in 2013 after the release of his Magna Carta Holy Grail album, forcing schlubs like me to constantly remember that it was now Jay Z, he brought it back this week, again with no explanation. Plus, he doubled down and his people informed the press that it is now JAY-Z, all caps.

If that's confusing, the announcement for his upcoming album, 4:44, lists him as JAY:Z. Got all that?

Jay is, of course, not the first artist to play around with the spelling and look of his stage alias. Here are a few other evolving handles:

When we first met Ke$ha, she was a pop fun-splosion who loved singing about brushing her teeth with a bottle of Jack and partying at a rich dude's house. Hence, the dollar sign in place of an S in her name, which she's said was intended as an ironic statement on how broke she was at the time. After checking into rehab in 2014, she went back to the traditional spelling, dropping the $.

The late pop icon literally became an icon in 1993 in the midst of a contract dispute with former label Warner Bros., when he changed his name to the unpronounceable "love" symbol (Prince logo.svg), signifying his break with the major label. He explained the switch at the time by saying it was a symbol whose "meaning has not been identified. It's all about thinking in a new way, tuning in 2 a new free-quency." Once his Warner contract expired, Prince went back to his birth name.

CeeLo Green
Add Goodie Mob charter member Green to the list of artists who just can't pick one name. Variously known as CeeLo Green (his current moniker), Cee-Lo Green or Cee Lo Green, the artist formerly known as Thomas Callaway has it his way on albums like Cee-Lo Green and his Perfect Imperfections and Cee Lo's Magic Moment.

Sean Combs
Best to grab a pen and paper to keep up with this one: The hip-hop mega-mogul has changed his name so often it's possible even he has to double-check before signing a check. He started out in 1997 as Puff Daddy, went back to using his birth name, Sean John, in 1998, and then switched  to Puffy in 1999, then P. Diddy in 2001, before down-shifting to just Diddy. He briefly tried on "Swag" in 2011 for a week, then back to Puff Daddy, and now either Diddy or Sean Combs.

Panic! at the Disco
This one has confounded from the jump. The Las Vegas emo/glam popsters inexplicably included an exclamation point in their name when they broke out in 2005 only to drop it just as confusingly three years later while promoting the similarly punctuation-challenging album Pretty. Odd. Less than a year later, the exclamation point was back. Why? Who! Knows?

Alecia Moore burst into our lives as the pop tornado whose name practically screamed its way into radios as P!nk. And while her verified Twitter still bears that exclamatory nom de pop, as do her other social media feeds, most people, and media outlets (but not Billboard), have decided that just plain-old Pink will do, thank you very much.

Honorable Mention: Matchbox Twenty
We're still trying to figure this one out. The Rob Thomas-led group started out life as Matchbox 20 back in 1996 only to change things up for their second album in 2000, when they suddenly went by Matchbox Twenty. And if you went by their album covers alone, you'd have four options: matchbox20, matchbox TWENTY, MATCHBOX twenty and on 2012's North, MATCHBOX TWENTY. yeah, iT's A LoT.


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