Over the years, Lady Gaga has become one of the biggest pop stars in the world. She’s also made her mark on film, makeup, fashion, and activism — but there was a time when she was just an up-and-coming musician living in NYC.
Of course, she wasn’t raised with the name Lady Gaga, but the moniker symbolizes a lot of her lifelong values when it comes to performance, such as authenticity and free self-expression. “I’ve always been Gaga,” she told Rolling Stone in 2009. “I suppressed all those eccentricities about myself so I could fit in. Once I was free, I was able to be myself.”
During an interview with Elle in 2013, Gaga explained that she uses the stage name to separate her private self from her public persona. “I am — Stefani is — a perpetually tortured artist,” she explained. “That’s why I changed my name. I can’t be her in public. She would be a mess!”
Before her debut album “The Fame,” Mother Monster was just plain ole Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. Born to an Italian-American family in New York City on March 28, 1986, she attended the all-girls school Sacred Heart, but she struggled as a teen. “I suffered so much when I was much younger, especially in my teenage years,” she previously told POPSUGAR. “I felt so mercilessly bullied. I didn’t feel beautiful on the outside. When I discovered makeup, I realized that I could create any person that I wanted to be at any given moment.”
Gaga went on to study music at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts for two years, per Elle, before dropping out to pursue her music career.
While her stage name has become world famous, according to Gaga, it came about rather naturally — though there are several different versions of the story of her name’s origins. In 2010, Gaga told Oprah Winfrey that her name was inspired by the Queen song “Radio GaGa.” For a while, Gaga was “just a nickname [her] friends had for [her] in New York and [her producer],” she said, “and it just kind of stuck.”
According to Insider, in a since-deleted 2010 interview with Flybe Magazine, Gaga attributed the second half of her nickname to her producer, Rob Fusari. “He started to call me Gaga when I’d come into the studio,” she reportedly said. “I decided that I’d been playing under my real name for so long, I wanted to reinvent myself. So I said, ‘What about Lady Gaga, because Gaga is sort of crazy and Lady has such connotations.'”
In 2010, Fusari sued Gaga for $30.5 million, arguing he was owed compensation for coming up with her stage name and claiming he had helped shape her image. In the lawsuit, Fusari also told his version of the story of her name. “Fusari also created the name ‘Lady Gaga’ for his protege,” the suit alleged, according to the New York Post. “He played the Queen song ‘Radio Ga Ga’ whenever she arrived at his studio, and one day when Fusari addressed a cell phone text to Germanotta under the moniker ‘Radio Ga Ga’ his cell phone’s spell check converted ‘Radio’ to ‘Lady.’ Germanotta loved it and ‘Lady Gaga’ was born.”
Gaga countersued, arguing that a contract between herself and Fusari was invalid because he was not a licensed talent agent, per The Hollywood Reporter, though she did not address his claims about her name publicly. Fusari eventually dropped the lawsuit, per CBS News — but of course, no matter where it came from, the name Lady Gaga was obviously the right choice.