How Did John Legend Get His Stage Name? Kanye West Was Involved

John Legend’s real name isn’t John Legend. And while that’s become common knowledge since he and Chrissy Teigen’s fame has reached new heights, some fans might not know the story of how the man became a legend. The “All of Me” singer recently shared the story of his stage name, and it involves some famous faces.

John Legend sitting in a red chair wearing a blue blazer and black shirt on set of 'The Voice' | Trae Patton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
John Legend | Trae Patton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

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Legend’s real name is John Roger Stephens, so his kids’ names are Luna and Miles Stephens. (Teigen kept her last name when they married.)

Legend always loved music. The E.G.O.T. winner learned to play the piano at a young age when growing up in Ohio, and he performed with his church’s choir. He studied English at the University of Pennsylvania (come on, Ivy League!) and directed an a cappella while there.

John Legend smiling in a black shirt in 2005 | Johnny Nunez/WireImage
John Legend | Johnny Nunez/WireImage

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What did John Legend do before music?

Although he had his heart set on being a musician, Legend worked a corporate job at the Boston Consulting Group after graduating in 1999. All the while, he would perform at night clubs in New York City in a continued commitment to his art.

He did start making his own music in college, though. UPenn’s campus is in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and The Roots had a huge presence in Philly while Legend was in school.

“I was a kid from Ohio with a dream to be a musician eventually for a living,” he told Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show.

After one of The Roots’ open mic nights in Philly, Legend (still going by John Stephens at the time) approached Questlove and asked him to listen to his CD. When they worked on Wake Up! in 2010, Questlove had no memory of the moment. But they share Grammys together now, so it’s all good.

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Why did John Legend change his name?

Fallon then asked the 42-year-old when he made the switch to his stage name. And it wasn’t because he didn’t like his given name. The La La Land actor was totally comfortable with the name John Stephens and could see his career progressing under that name. But then, things changed. He said:

“Well, it was a nickname that some friends started calling me in the studio, just guys that I was collaborating with. The first guy to call me that was J. Ivy. He’s a spoken word artist from Chicago. I met him through Kanye (West). We were all in the studio together. He just started calling me ‘The Legend’ because he thought I sounded like one of our old school soul legends. And it just caught on with our little group of friends, and then they were like, ‘We should call you John Legend.’ And it just really was in our little circle.”

John Legend and Kanye West attend Kanye West and John Legend hosts G.O.O.D. Music Label Launch Party at Duvet on February 7, 2005 in New York City | Chance Yeh/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

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Kanye West called him John Legend on a mixtape

Even though he hadn’t made the decision to use a stage name, West ended up referring to him as John Legend on a mixtape.

He continued:

“And one time, Kanye put a mixtape out, and he called me John Legend on the mixtape. And it just started to spread among more of the people that were listening to our music. And then, at some point, I had to decide, ‘Am I going to stick with John Stephens?,’ which I was perfectly fine with. I wasn’t looking for a stage name. ‘Or am I going to go with this more audacious name and call myself a legend before I even have a record deal?’”

He eventually had to make a choice.

“At some point, I had to decide, ‘Am I going to stick with John Stephens?,’ which I was perfectly fine with. I wasn’t looking for a stage name,” he said. “‘Or am I going to go with this more audacious name and call myself a legend before I even have a record deal?’”

He decided the risk could be worth the reward.

“That was a challenge,” he told Fallon. “And, so, I was like, ‘I know this is a bold move, but I’m not going to go into this expecting to fail. I’m going to go into it hoping that I can try to live up to this. And I’ve spent the rest of my career trying to do so.”

We’d say he’s succeeded.