Alicia Keys is one of the most successful musicians in recent history, but it might surprise fans to know she was almost not “Alicia Keys” at all. The “No One” singer says she had a different stage name in mind before her mother said it sounded like “a stripper.”
As her mom is one of her biggest supporters and inspirations, Keys found another name, and the rest is history.
Alicia Keys’ real last name and childhood
As a child, the world outside Keys’ front door was what many might consider rough. Born Alicia Augello-Cook, Keys grew up in Hell’s Kitchen, New York — a neighborhood dangerous enough that she always carried a knife with her.
As a method of survival, Keys took to wearing baggy clothes and avoiding attention. “I was a tomboy because I thought I had to protect myself in that way,” she told The Guardian.
Daughter of Terri Augello (aka Terria Joseph) and Craig Cook, Keys’ father left when she was two. From that point on, it was Keys and her mother against the world.
Alicia Keys was almost ‘Alicia Wild’
Augello was one of Keys’ earliest and biggest role models. The singer recalls her mother often working late into the night as a paralegal and still making time for the gym in the morning.
Her mother also recognized and supported Keys’ talent from a very young age. Keys began singing at only four years old. Shortly after that, Augello employed a piano teacher for her daughter and purchased a piano for the pair’s one-bedroom New York apartment, as Rap-Up reports.
Turning to the dictionary, Keys thought she found it when she arrived at the W’s. But when she announced her new name, Alicia Wild, to her mom, Augello replied, “It sounds like you’re a stripper.”
The meaning behind Alicia Keys’ stage name
Many believe Keys’ stage name is a tribute to playing piano, and she confirmed that the name attracted her because it evoked the idea of her preferred instrument. But in a CBS This Morning interview with Gayle King in 2013, Keys also revealed a greater meaning behind the name the world associates with her.
“It came from a dream,” Keys tells King. The dream involved a friend of Keys searching for his keys in his briefcase. Keys says her friend then turned to her in the dream and asked, “So, what do you think, Alicia Keys?”
The meaning behind the name was not lost on the songwriter. Keys says she was instantly taken with the moniker after she woke up from her dream.
In addition to the association with the piano, Keys also tells King that she was drawn to the idea that keys open doors — something she was eager to do as a new artist.
The name stuck, the doors opened, and Keys is now a 15-time Grammy-Award-winning musician, actor, entrepreneur, author, producer, and activist with her mom still by her side.