Prince: The story behind his name(s)

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Prince Dies at Age 57

From the very beginning, his name was Prince. The musician who died Thursday morning at age 57 went by several names throughout his career but Prince was his birth name. His father John Nelson was a jazz musician who played under the stage name Prince Rogers in a group called the Prince Rogers Trio. When he had a son with the Trio's singer Mattie Della Shaw in 1958 (he already had four children with his ex, Vivian Nelson), he decided to give the baby his stage name, so the boy became Prince Rogers Nelson. In a 1991 interview, the elder Nelson explained his thinking behind the choice: "I named my son Prince because I wanted him to do everything I wanted to do." From the very beginning he went by the singular Prince as a stage name.

Read MoreLegendary Artist Prince Found Dead at 57

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Prince through the years
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Prince: The story behind his name(s)
Singer Prince performs in a surprise appearance on the "American Idol" television show finale at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, California in this May 24, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/Chris Pizzello/Files
NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 15: American singer, songwriter, musician and actor Prince performing in NYC at the Bottom Line on February 15, 1980. (Photo by Waring Abbott/Getty Images)
Prince performing in Minneapolis on April 30,1990. (Photo: Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect)
American pop star Prince performing at Wembley, London, 22nd August 1990. (Photo by Graham Wiltshire/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
PRINCE IN "ROCK IN RIO" CONCERT, BRAZIL 1992. (Photo via Alamy)
American singer-songwriter Prince performs on stage, London, 1993. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)
The Artist formerly known as Prince performing at Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View Calif. on October 10th, 1997. Image By: Tim Mosenfelder/ImageDirect
FOR RELEASE WITH STORY BC-ENTERTAINMENT-PRINCE - The Artist formerly known as Prince seen here in a publicity photograph, July 29. The Artist formerly known as Prince has a new album "Newpower Soul" which was recorded, pressed and distributed by his NPG records label without the assistance of a major industry label. MS/CM/SB
05/16/00 New York City The Artist Formely Known as Prince reclaims his name 'Prince' and announces public tours at his Paisley Park Studio, during a press conference in New York City. Photo by Evan Agostini/ImageDirect
UNDATED FILE PHOTO: Singer Prince. (Photo by Diane Freed)
LOS ANGELES - FEBRUARY 8: Musical Artist Prince performs at the 46th Annual Grammy Awards held at the Staples Center on February 8, 2004 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)
Singer Prince, who was presented the Vanguard Award, performs during the 36th NAACP Image Awards at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles, March 19, 2005. The award show will be telecast on the Fox televison network in the United States on March 25. REUTERS/Lee Celano ljc/MK
HOLLYWOOD - FEBRUARY 27: Musician Prince arrives at the 77th Annual Academy Awards at the Kodak Theater on February 27, 2005 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - MARCH 19: Musician Prince performs onstage at the 36th Annual NAACP Image Awards at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on March 19, 2005 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Jun 30, 2006; New York, NY, USA; PRINCE performing at the Celebrate Brooklyn concert in Prospect Park. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Aviv Small/ZUMA Press. (©) Copyright 2006 by Aviv Small
Milan, ITALY: US singer Prince is pictured during Italian fashion house Gianni Versace show during the Spring/Summer 2007 women's collections, 29 September 2006 in Milan. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - FEBRUARY 04: Musician Prince performs during the 'Pepsi Halftime Show' at Super Bowl XLI between the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears on February 4, 2007 at Dolphin Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
MIAMI - FEBRUARY 01: Musician Prince performs during the Super Bowl XLI Half-Time Press Conference at the Miami Convention Center on February 1, 2007 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)
July 7th, 2007 - Minneapolis, MN, USA - The first ten fans in line for an exclusive Prince performance at Macy's downtown received photographs of the iconic Minneapolis funk rocker. Prince performed with his band on the 8th floor at Macy's downtown during an exclusive concert launching his new per
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 25: Recording artist Prince leaving the 2007 Vanity Fair Oscar Party at Mortons on February 25, 2007 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)
PASADENA, CA - JUNE 01: Singer Prince performs onstage during the 2007 NCLR ALMA Awards held at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium on June 1, 2007 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for NCLR)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 10: Singer Prince on stage at the 50th Annual GRAMMY Awards at the Staples Center on February 10, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 3737 -- Air Date 03/27/2009 -- Pictured: Musical guest Prince performs during the Mercedes Benz outdoor concert series on March 27, 2009 -- Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank
US singer Prince performs on October 11, 2009 at the Grand Palais in Paris. Prince has decided to give two extra concerts at the Grand Palais titled 'All Day/All Night' after he discovered the exhibition hall during Karl Lagerfeld's Chanel fashion show. AFP PHOTO BERTRAND GUAY (Photo credit should read BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JUNE 08: Prince attends the Apollo Theater's 75th Anniversary Gala at The Apollo Theater on June 8, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by George Napolitano/FilmMagic)
Prince Tour 2011
US singer and musician Prince (born Prince Rogers Nelson) performs on stage at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, outside Paris, on June 30, 2011. AFP PHOTO BERTRAND GUAY (Photo credit should read BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images)
Sept. 24, 2012 - Chicago, Illinois, U.S. - Prince performed at the United Center on Monday night. Prince is scheduled to play three consecutive night as part of Welcome 2 Chicago. September 24, 2012, Chicago, Illinois, United Center, Prince in Concert, Welcome 2 Chicago (Credit Image: © Carlos Gonzalez/Minneapolis Star Tribune/ZUMAPRESS.com)
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During his storied career the performer adopted several pseudonyms: Alexander Nevermind (for a 1984 song he wrote for Sheena Easton), Jamie Starr (for songs he wrote the Time and others in the early 1980s), Joey Coco (for songs he wrote for Sheena Easton and Kenny Rogers) and Christopher (for the writing credit for the Bangles Manic Monday). He also went by several nicknames, including The Purple One, His Royal Badness, The High Priest of Pop and The Prince of Funk. Probably the most un-Prince-like of all was the nickname his family gave him as a child: Skipper.

His most dramatic name change came in 1993 when he adopted an unpronounceable symbol as his name as a protest against his label Warner Bros. The symbol looked like this:

And was sometimes typed as "O(+>" though Warner Bros. sent out thousands of computer disks to music journalists with a custom font so they could type the symbol in their stories. It was sometimes referred to as the love symbol and Prince explained it came about as fanciful merging of the male and female symbols. Faced with a name that literally had no pronunciation, the media started referring to him as "The Artist Formerly Known as Prince," a nickname he told Larry King he did not like. When his contract with Warner Bros. expired in early 2000, he went back to Prince.

See More: Remembering Prince: The Iconic Singer's Career Through the Years

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