The Real Reason Prince Changed His Name To A Symbol

The artist formerly known as "The Artist Formerly Known As Prince" was an enigma and a half. The legend put it best in one of the many classic songs from the Purple Rain soundtrack, "I Would Die 4 U," in which the artist then-known as Prince declared, "I'm not a woman. I'm not a man. I am something that you'll never understand." Those words never rang more true than in 1993, when Prince changed his name to "an unpronounceable symbol," per the Independent. True to his lyrics, the symbol didn't identify him as a woman or a man, but was rather a hybrid of the astrological ideograms for Mars and Venus, which represent "male" and "female" respectively.

Prince called it a "Love Symbol," but a lot of people hated it. The BBC reports that the symbol was ridiculed as "ridiculous" and "crazy." Even crazier, it turns out the answer to the question, "What's in a name?" was record sales, because Prince's sales slumped ... though it probably didn't help that he sang about being reincarnated as a dolphin, which obviously symbolized a mistake. The decision was certainly a head-scratcher — the name, not the dolphin song (really both, if we're being totally honest) — but was it something that you'll never understand? Nope. Prince had a pretty clear reason for shedding his royal title.

A symbol of protest

When asked to explain his name change in a 1999 Larry King interview, Prince replied, "I had searched very deep within my heart and spirit and wanted to make a change and move to a new plateau in my life. And one of the ways in which I did that was to change my name. It sort of divorced me from the past and all the hang-ups that went with it." That sounds like a very diplomatic way not to say he was giving the finger to the Warner Brothers record label.

As detailed by the Independent, Warner Brothers and Prince had long been at odds over his prolific LP production. Though Prince had a proven track record of making it rain purple, the label wanted to slow his output to prevent the law of diminishing returns from diminishing their profits. The artist bristled at having his creativity shackled and began performing with "SLAVE" scrawled across his cheek. Similarly, his symbol became a way to tell Warner Brothers to kiss his cheeks — presumably while he sported the same flamboyantly butt-less pants that he wore when performing "Get Off" at the 1991 MTV VMAs.

In a blistering rebuke, Prince described his symbol as "the first step I have taken towards the ultimate goal of emancipation from the chains that bind me to Warner Brothers," which he accused of using him as profitable pawn. After his contract with the label expired in 2000, according to the BBC, he resumed being Prince.