15 Years Ago: Prince Reclaims His Birth Name
For the first 16 years of his career, there were two things we could take for granted when it came to one of the biggest music stars on the planet. His name was Prince and he was funky. But that all fell apart in 1993, when the man behind such landmark albums as 1999, Purple Rain and Sign O’ the Times announced he was changing his name.
He would no longer go by the moniker Prince (the actual birth name given to the multi-talented musician). Instead, he would be known as an unpronounceable, curlicue “love symbol.” The move wasn’t an artistic, but a business decision. By changing his name, Prince was able to get out of what he considered an unfair contract with Warner Bros.
“I was born Prince and did not want to adopt another conventional name,” Prince said at the 1993 press conference. “The only acceptable replacement for my name, and my identity, was the Love Symbol, a symbol with no pronunciation that is a representation of me and what my music is about.”
For the rest of the ’90s, record industry executives, announcers, fans, journalists and everyone else were forced to use the cumbersome title “the Artist Formerly Known as Prince,” anytime he did anything. Eventually, his contractual obligations to Warner Bros. ended and he began releasing music independently or with the help of other labels. Due to distribution issues as well as a perceived lack of creative quality, most of the releases earned a mixed response from all but die-hard fans.
But in 2000, an announcement was made that brought joy to everyone sick of having to write or say “the Artist Formerly Known as Prince” or TAFKAP or “The Artist.” At a May 16 press conference, Prince announced that he was going to be called Prince again.
“On Dec. 31, 1999, my publishing contract with Warner-Chappel expired, thus emancipating the name I was given before birth, Prince, from all long-term restrictive documents,” he said, before revealing that he would be celebrating by opening up his Paisley Park studios for tours in June and play a special concert that same week.
Within a few years, Prince had returned as an elder statesman of pop music, making a heralded return to the Grammy Awards in 2004 (performing a medley with Beyonce), gaining lots of attention with his Musicology album and blockbuster tour and becoming a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And, thankfully, he didn’t even have to be inducted as a symbol.