Musical monikers: what’s in a name?
Forgive me, Bey. For I have sinned.
Last Thursday, I called Britney Spears ‘The Queen’ in an over-punctuated, but seemingly innocuous, tweet.
‘So excited for #Glory. Brit is da QUEEN!!!!!’
Oh, you sweet, simple fool.
My Twitter erupted in flames. Under fire from Little Monsters, Swifties, Lovatics, and Selenators. Beyonce fans, however, (the Bey Hive), took it surprisingly well. Simply taking note of my ineptitude, then quietly beginning work on a multi-million dollar album in the shadows.
But there’s something to the titles we give musicians—the monikers we bestow upon the glammed out and fabulous. From Madge to the Modfather, the Chairman of the Board to the Lizard King.
The nomenclature wasn’t self-ascribed—no offense, Avicii. I mean, uh. Tim Bergling. These names were pulled from lyrics and stripped from turns of phrase, evolved through word of mouth and mispronunciation like so many other nuances in the English language.
So, let’s talk about a few. While staying far, far away from queens, kings, princes, princesses, or third duchesses of any musical genre. Because I can’t take any more mean tweets from rancorous KatyCats, guys. I just can’t.
Remember back in 4th grade when that weird kid called you ‘Booger’ and it just kind of stuck? Even though you totally weren’t picking your nose, JEREMY. Well, that’s how Bruce Springsteen felt about being ‘The Boss’. Didn’t like bosses. Didn’t think of himself as a bossy guy. Just generally opposed to the whole idea of bossiness.
But when Springsteen was playing around New Jersey, he’d be the one to collect the gig money from bar owners—and then hand it out to the band at the end of the night. Which, unfortunately for him, is rather boss-like.
There’s also a rumor that it came from long nights hanging with musicians on the Jersey Shore…playing Monopoly. Which is honestly the last way I expected that sentence to end.
Famous for her style as much as her sound, Madonna’s garnered more than a few nicknames over the years. Madge. The Material Girl. And, as my mother fondly refers to her, ‘turn off the television that’s inappropriate’.
Madge is technically the short form of Marjorie, Margaret, and Madeline—from Magdalene. Which, sure, looks kind of like ‘Madonna’. If you see life through the same blurry filter as the one used to shoot ‘Vogue’.
At first, Madonna wasn’t having ‘Madge’. Concerned over its colloquial connotation: a middle-aged housewife. But things changed after she learned that Madge is short form for ‘Your majesty’. A form of the same truncation that morphed ‘totally’ into ‘totes’. Obvi.
The Lizard King
Okay, this one calls for a quick timeout on my ‘no talking about kings or queens’ rule. Because Lizard King. Come on.
The Lizard King is a mantle for Jim Morrison. You’ll know him as the lead singer of The Doors. And that guy your grandma had a crush on. The nickname first appeared on the sleeve of the record Waiting For the Sun in a poem called ‘The Celebration of the Lizard’. The poem is in first-person, and the line reads ‘I am the Lizard King / I can do anything’. Although the poem is written by a fictional author, his fans didn’t care. Lizard King it was. And he went with it. #LizardKing
Paul Weller. Lead singer of The Jam. Guitarist extraordinaire. Trench coat enthusiast. And the guy who revived the Mod movement and took punk rock to the next level.
Honestly, the Mod Revival wouldn’t have happened without Paul Weller. So it makes sense that in the 90s, he became known as the Modfather. Kind of like how in your freshman history lecture, you learned that James Madison was the ‘Father of the Constitution’. They even look alike—if James Madison had owned a hair straightener.
The Chairman of the Board
Photo credit: “Portrait of Frank Sinatra at Liederkranz Hall, New York” by William P. Gottlieb [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
The suave and sonorous Frank Sinatra has been called The Voice, Ol’ Blue Eyes, and even the Sultan of Swoon. But one of his lesser-known nicknames is the Chairman of the Board. A name that he, to be Frank, hated (get it?).
The nickname stands out because it’s so different from his other titles—which are based around this cultivated crooner persona. And the origin story is equally unromantic. Sinatra literally was the Chairman of the Board for Reprise Records, a label he started in 1961. But the name lasted. Along with his distaste for it.
Although if I were him, I’d be more concerned about another rumored nickname: Lady Macbeth. Which I desperately hoped was a drag alter ego, but was given to him for his frequent showers and wardrobe changes. Eh. Close enough.
Photo credit: “Louis Armstrong” by World-Telegram staff photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Everything about Louis Armstrong is crazy—and crazy fun. His music, style, and voice are all so memorable. So of course he had an amazing nickname. And, unlike some of the others on the list, Louis loved it.
The guy has a big mouth. And people liked to talk about it. He was called dipper mouth, gate mouth, and then, satchel mouth. Story goes, when Louis was working the streets of New Orleans as a kid, he’d keep the money he earned in his mouth. Hard to steal from a kid who stores change in his cheeks. It’s a lot like what I do with jalapeno poppers when I go to Chili’s with friends.
Anyway, ‘Satchel Mouth’ was his fans’ favorite of the mouth metaphors, and was working fine until a Brit misheard him and thought he said ‘Satchmo.’ From then on, Louis was obsessed. Insisting that everyone only refer to him as ‘Satchmo’.
Man, Louis Armstrong is the best.
Photo credit: “Buddy Holly and the Crickets in 1957” by Coral Records [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
The evolution of Buddy Holly’s simple stage name is especially unique in its subtlety. Turns out, not all nicknames allude to reptile royalty or begin with ‘the’. But the name isn’t something he made up for himself.
Born Charles Hardin Holley, the famous rock and roll musician didn’t change his name to sound cool—or to get attention once he was in ‘the biz’. His mom just thought he was more of a Buddy than a Charles—a common pet name plucked from the parental lexicon. And Holley to Holly? A total oopsie. Just some bad proofreading on a record deal.
But, since it’s his birthday today, I’d like to suggest some posthumous nicknames to accompany his legacy.
The Holley Moley
Air Buddy Holly
1950s Ira Glass
Rick, from Accounts Payable
No? Hmm. How about something like ‘The King of Rock and Roll?’
Aaaaand someone just threw a brick through my window. You know what? ‘Buddy Holly’ is fine.