Playing The Name Game

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    380pxChaka-Khan

    Melinda Doolittle, exceptionally talented season six “American Idol” finalist whose book, “Beyond Me: Finding Your Way to Life’s Next Level,” will be released next month, says she loves to laugh. But quickly adds with a smile that with a surname like “Doolittle,” you learn to laugh early on.

    Of course, most names of celebrities from the music world are not humorous, but so many of them are surprising. In some cases, it could even be speculated that had a stage name not been chosen, certain artists are likely to have not found success in show business.

    Would Tina Turner be a rock legend had she entered the music business as Anna Mae Bullock? Would hard-core rapper Ice-T be fully “street credible” as Tracy Morrow? Similar reality for Snoop Dogg as Cordozar Broadus. And Elgin Lumpkin sounds less compelling than Ginuwine.

    Legendary “American Bandstand” host Dick Clark may not have wanted the general public to be aware of the fact that his middle name is Wagstaff.

    Innovative rap star Afrika Bambaataa (“Planet Rock”) gave himself that exotic, Afrocentric moniker, but his name is actually Kevin Donovan.

    Chaka Khan is another one who went the Afrocentric, exotic route. She was born Yvette Marie Stevens. Her sister Yvonne, who at one time sang with the Undisputed Truth, decided to call herself “Taka Boom.”

    Here’s a very strange one. On the late, legendary, flamboyant Liberace’s birth certificate it says “Wladziu Valentino Liberace.”

    HANK BALLARD, who had a lot of hits in the 1950s and 1960s, including the original version of “The Twist” and the then-scandalous “Work With Me Annie,” has a name that is not startling, just so much different than the name he became famous with. John Henry Kendricks is his name.

    Did you know that Grace Jones’ real name is Grace Mendoza?

    When Dionne Warwick’s first single, “Don’t Make Me Over,” was released in early 1963, it proved to be a big national hit. However, there was a mistake on the record label. Her last name is actually “Warrick.” But she felt that it would be too much trouble, and mildly confusing to the public, to make the switch for the next single, “This Empty Place.” So the decision was made to let it stay Warwick.

    There was actually an “s” on the legendary Nat “King” Cole’s last name. He was born Nathaniel Adams Coles.

    Everyone is very happy for the major success that has finally come for Detroit’s own Bettye LaVette. Talk about hanging in there through the toughest of times! Early on, Betty Haskins felt that “LaVette” had a more “show bizzy” sound to it. Along her journey, including a long stint in the stage musical “Bubbling Brown Sugar,” she decided to add an “e” to “Betty.”

    The impact of the great Billie Holiday (an icon) could never be overstated, and her impact is still felt today. She was originally Eleanora Fagan. “Billie” was adapted from the stage name of film actress Billie Dove who was popular in the 1920s. “Holiday,” apparently, just sounded good.

    REMEMBER Clay Aiken, the season two runner-up on “American Idol”? His name is Clayton Grissom.

    It is possible that Motown would not have recorded Kim Weston as Agatha Weston. Similarly, the lyrical “Nina Simone” has a better sound to it than Eunice Waymon.

    Ne-Yo’s name is Shaffer Smith.

    A lot of frustrated workers related to country singer Johnny Paycheck’s amusing-yet-serious 1977 hit “Take This Job and Shove It.” Most of them didn’t know that his real name was Donald Lytle.

    David Ruffin’s first name was actually Davis.

    It’s a good thing rap star Kool Moe Dee chose that name because so many people would have been pronouncing his real name incorrectly: Mohandas Dewese.

    John Legend may become a legend one day, but his name is really John Stephens.

    Nelly, another rap star, made a name for himself with hits like “Hot In Herre” (that’s how he spelled it) and “Dilemma” (featuring Kelly Rowland). As far as we know, there is no particular reason why he chose Nelly, but his real name is Cornell Haynes Jr.

    Cher was born Cherilyn Sarkisian LaPiere.

    IRENE CARA, singer/actress, enjoyed giant hits with two songs that help define the era of the 1980s, “Flashdance…What a Feeling” and “Fame.” The public is largely unaware of the fact that her name is actually Irene Esca­lera.

    Most of the world knows Seal. Less known is the fact that his name is Henry Samuel.

    Chubby Checker will be forever associated with the twist. His name is Ernest Evans. The stage name was given to him by Dick Clark’s wife at the time, Barbara. She likened Evans to Fats Domino and did a play on his name, saying, “Ernest is cute, like a Chubby Checker.”

    M.C. Hammer is really Stanley Burrell.

    Rapper/actor Mos Def is actually Dante Smith, but since he was in the habit of using the term “most definitely,” he eventually acquired the nickname “Mos Def.”

    Natalie McIntyre is the real name of Macy Gray.

    Flavor Flav, formerly of the politically attuned rap group Public Enemy (and also an artist who annoys a lot of people), is actually William Drayton Jr.

    Seems every time you turn around these days you see Lady Gaga. She is Stefani Germanotta.

    Equally omnipresent is Rihanna. Real name: Robyn Rihanna Fenty.

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