Jay Z or JAY-Z?: Billboard's Copy Chief Discusses Handling Pop Star Name Changes

JAY-Z's announcement Monday (Jun. 19) that a new album was on its way in late June came alongside an even more shocking revelation: Though several years ago the rapper made it clear that he was nixing the punctuation form his title, it is back, along with a new all-caps stylization.

Because JAY-Z has changed his name before -- and he’s certainly not the first major artist to change the spelling of their name -- Billboard talked to our own Copy Chief, Chris Woods, about the process that the media and the music industry have to follow when such an alteration occurs. 

“The procedure [when an artist changes their name] is real simple -- we abide by whatever preferred spelling that the artist wants," Woods says. "For JAY-Z, there is really no need to debate such an issue because he’s such a major artist. Unless it would inhibit understanding or impede ease of reading, we will abide by vanity spellings. If there is any industry out there that should be willing to bend the rules, it’s the arts.” 

While JAY-Z’s recent change was mostly a simple matter of reinserted punctuation, in the past the Billboard copy desk has had to dabble in trickier games of “How do we style this artist’s name?” before. Woods explains that all-caps, dollar signs, and exclamation points, which “were hot for a while,” have raised questions, citing artists like BadBadNotGoodPanic! At The Disco, and Joey Bada$$ as causing particular difficulty. 

In terms of multiple title changes, while it's happened to perpetually image-shifting artists like Snoop Dogg and Sean 'Diddy' Combs, Woods says stage name re-stylization isn't a particularly frequent occurrence. “I find it fascinating that it’s occurred twice now to JAY-Z," he says.

As for the all-time biggest artist name change, “I don’t think anyone will ever touch Prince because he just decided to turn himself into a symbol,” Woods proclaims. “But in this day and age where these sorts of things are used to embolden and emphasize one’s brand, one’s artistic style -- sometimes these names are more like logos than actual names [anyway].” 

Because Billboard’s copy desk is frequently having these conversations in order to provide clarity for readers, JAY-Z’s effort did not go unnoticed. “[JAY-Z’s name change] was the first thing the people on the copy desk were talking about this morning," Woods says. He also sees some underlying implications of unity in the dash: "It joins words. I think the world could use a little more joining together, so there’s nothing but positivity coming from this artistic choice."

Besides, for the desk, the return of the dash may remind of simpler times, with Woods relating, "I think one of our Copy Editors said it best: ‘I’m glad the hyphen is back in. [Its absence] was driving me nuts.'"