Diddy, Snoop Dogg, Kesha and more have changed their names mid career. Here’s when it makes sense to do it
What’s in a name?
Changing your name professionally could be a tool to rebrand yourself. Take it from music mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs – also known as Puff Daddy, Puff, P. Diddy and Diddy – a serial name changer known for having many monikers throughout his career. His latest title, Brother Love, could lend itself to new music and a call to action from his fans, experts say.
“I knew it was risky, ‘cause it could come off as corny to some people, [but] I decided to change my name again,” he said in a video on Twitter. “I’m just not who I am before. I’m something different. So my new name is Love or Brother Love.”
I decided to change my name again!
— Sean Diddy Combs (@diddy) November 4, 2017
But anyone who knows Combs can expect a new business venture, album launch or powerhouse project to follow. When his debut single “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down” was released in 1997, he went by the name Puff Daddy and the single went platinum twice. In 2001, he became P. Diddy timed to his album “The Saga Continues,” which hit No. 2 on music charts. Then he dropped the “P” in his name and became Diddy in 2005 not long before “Press Play” hit No. 1 upon its release the next year.
“He’s been very masterful at not just changing his name, but following that up with some brilliant level of marketing that is drilled down to product sales,” branding expert Mark Zablow, owner of entertainment marketing firm Cogent World tells Moneyish.
The entrepreneur and musician is still one of the richest hip hop artists to date with an estimated net worth of $820 million, according to Forbes. Much of his wealth comes from deals with spirits wholesaler Diageo’s vodka Ciroc, his stake in the TV network Revolt and last year’s Bad Boy Reunion Tour, which wrangled together top acts on his Bad Boy Entertainment label. Now he could be launching a platform for social change.
“If you look at today’s climate of all the hate in the world, this fits very well with the pop culture conversation and his brand with calling himself Brother Love. The same way he taught us how to wear Versace and drink champagne, he’s going to teach us how to respect and treat each other,” predicts Zablow.
Diddy is just one of a fleet of other celebrities who have changed their names before promoting new projects or pivoting to another area of interest. Rapper Snoop Dogg gave himself the new name Snoop Lion in 2012 in tandem with his album “Reincarnated,” embracing reggae culture and steering clear from the guns and violence he once rapped about. Former One Direction boy band star Zayn Malik dropped his last name after leaving the British pop group to become a solo artist and now goes by just Zayn. And musician Kesha removed the dollar sign from her name before launching new music telling fans she wanted to be more authentic.
Other stars — including Vin Diesel (originally Mark Sinclair) and Olivia Wilde (originally Olivia Cockburn) — have changed their names to more Hollywood-sounding names. “Originally you needed to have a certain image. If somebody had a name that didn’t sound exciting they would change it. They wanted that illusion of excitement. In today’s environment you don’t need that,” says TV expert Marc Berman, Editor-in-Chief of The Programming Insider.
Newer stars, like Israeli actress Gal Gadot of “Wonder Woman,” Kenyan-Mexican actress Lupita Nyong’o and British-Nigerian actor and producer David Oyelowo have also kept and embraced their birth names in Hollywood.
“The rule of thumb today is you are who you are and you should be proud of it. It doesn’t have to be a name that rolls of the tongue anymore,” says Berman.
For the rest of us, changing your name doesn’t have to be as drastic as Diddy, but it could be a good career move.
“If you want to change your name to make yourself more marketable that’s a fine decision to make,” says Deborah Searcy, an HR manager at Florida Atlantic University College of Business.
That’s what J.K. Rowling did. The “Harry Potter” author anticipated her target audience of young boy might not want to read a book written by a woman, so she asked publishers to use two of her initials J.K. — short for Joanne Kathleen — rather than her full first name.
Studies show that when evaluating identical resumes for science, technology, engineering and math-related jobs, candidates with a feminine name equally qualified to a male competitor would be less likely to get the job due to gender basis. It’s also been proven that minorities who change their names on resumes get more interviews. Companies are more than twice as likely to call minority applicants for interviews if they submit “whitened” resumes than those who reveal their race, according to research from Harvard Business School.
Even famous people have said changing their names to something less ethnic has sadly helped them along with their careers. Indian-American actress and comic Mindy Kaling’s real name is Vera Chokalingam and actor Kal Penn was born Kalpen Modi.
When applying for a corporate job as a female, Searcy says it’s okay to use initials like Rowling did, as long as you never lie about your name.
“Unless you are changing your name in a very permanent way you’d never want to present yourself as someone you’re not,” says Searcy. “If you get hired, you’re going to get called out.”
Another time job candidates may want to change their name slightly is if they’re just entering the workforce.
“Sometimes people change their names when they start college or get their first job,” notes Searcy, of instances like going from Tommy to Tom or Katie to Caitlyn. “When you’re 22 or 25 entering a serious job for the first time you’re already at a disadvantage because of your youth, sometimes the name change makes sense for colleagues to take you more seriously.”
© 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved