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Remember When Prince Changed His Name?

People | May 28, 2019

Prince performs onstage at The Hollywood Palladium on March 8, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. Source: (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage for NPG Records 2013)

It is hard to believe that 26 years have passed since the singer Prince officially changed his name to a mash-up of symbols that no one knew how to pronounce. Prince Rogers Nelson was already a groundbreaking and innovated musician who blurred gender lines when he decided to change his name to a symbol he created that was a blend of the classic symbols for man and woman. Let’s look back at this pivotal moment in Prince’s career and how this move was ahead of his time. 

Prince was an '80s icon. Source: (mysanantonio.com)

An Out-Of-The-Box Entertainer

When Prince burst onto the music scene in the early 1980s, he was different than any other singer of his day. His music was a tantalizing mix of rock and funk with explicit lyrics that were designed to shock his listeners. His 1984 semi-autobiographical movie Purple Rain and the soundtrack album of the same name shot Prince to the top. Prince earned an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score and had number one hits with “When Doves Cry”, “Purple Rain,” And “Let’s Go Crazy”. Follow up songs, “Kiss” and “Raspberry Beret” were also hits for the singer. 

Source: (billboard.com)

Prince’s Androgynous Phase

The early 1990s saw a shift in Prince’s persona. In the past, he had used female back-up singers to accompany his music, but as a true solo artist, Prince adopted an androgynous look and sang many of his songs in a higher-pitched, female-sounding voice. He loved to keep his fans and critics guessing about his own sexual orientation. During this time, Prince was a prolific songwriter and was alleged to have upwards of 500 finished songs in his vault, ready to be recorded and released. 

Source: (theguardian.com)

A Contract Dispute

Prince was eager to record the many songs he had written, but his record company, Warner Bros. demanded that he pump the brakes. The execs at Warner Bros. felt that if Prince released too many songs, then his fans would grow tired of him and lose interest in his songs. He felt stifled by the contract he had with Warner Bros., which he had signed in the 1970s when he was an up-and-coming singer. Warner Bros. trademarked Prince’s name and maintained tight marketing control over the name and all the music produced under that name. He later explained, “I became merely a pawn used to produce more money for Warner Bros.” 

Prince's Love Symbol. Source: (thefader.com)

An Innovative Way Out

Prince made an announcement in 1993 that he was changing his name. He would no longer go by Prince, the name his record company owned, but would go by a symbol. He developed the Love Symbol, a merger of the traditional Mars and Venus symbols that had been taken from the astrological symbols of the two planets and assigned to represent females and males. The male Mars symbol shows a shield and spear, while the female Venus symbol shows a hand-held mirror. Prince’s Love Symbol includes elements from both the Venus and Mars symbols. At the time, Prince explained, “It is an unpronounceable symbol whose meaning has not been identified. It’s all about thinking in new ways.”

Prince even had a guitar made to look like the Love Symbol. Source: (wired.com)

What Do We Call Him?

An unpronounceable symbol created some problems for Prince’s fans and the media. What were people supposed to call him? The media landed on the awkward phrase, “The artist formerly known as Prince.” Industry insiders thought the move was career suicide, but it kept Prince in the media spotlight. For his part, Prince never disclosed that the name change was his way of sticking it to the Warner Bros. exec, but the new name gave him a new degree of freedom. 

Source: (buzzfeed.com)

Quietly Back to Prince

If anyone doubted that the name change was a result of Prince’s contract woes with Warner Bros. then consider this. In 2000, when his contract with Warner Bros. was up, Prince resumed using his original name. He didn’t totally abandon the Love Symbol, though. 

Source: (musicfeeds.com.au)

Prince as an LGBT Icon

The gender ambiguity and use of the merged male-female symbol helped Prince to become an icon for the LGBT community. Many people adopted the Love Symbol to represent people who don’t want to be defined by a gender binary. In his later years, however, Prince refused to speak publicly about his own views on same-sex marriage and gay rights. A reason for this could have been religion. In the early 2000s, Prince became a practicing Jehovah’s Witness and took a more conservative stance on many controversial issues. When he died in April of 2016, he was remembered for his enormous contribution to pop music as much for his androgynous Love Symbol. 

Tags: famous people | music | Prince | singers

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.