Rhodri Marsden's Interesting Objects: Prince's symbol


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The Independent Culture

* Today in 1993, on his 35th birthday, Prince changed his name to the symbol pictured above, provoking consternation, derision, amusement and indifference.

* His decision, ranked by Rolling Stone as the 4th Boldest Career Move In Rock History and by Time magazine as the 7th Most Ridiculous Celebrity Name Change, was a consequence of a dispute with his label, Warner Brothers. By becoming an entity other than 'Prince', he figured that he could fulfil his contractual obligations to the label by delivering old material from the vault, and release new music as 'Love Symbol' with another label. "Prince is dead," he said, "but I control his music." Warners, unsurprisingly, didn't see it this way.

* The symbol, a combination of the Mars and Venus signs and designed by Prince himself, had first been seen on the cover of his 1992 album, later awkwardly dubbed the 'Love Symbol Album'. It left people in a quandary about what to call him; one unknown British journalist came up with 'The Artist Formerly Known as Prince', and it stuck. Online, fans oscillated between using O{+> and O+>.

* How should be pronounced? In a 1996 interview, Oprah Winfrey calls him "friend" to get around the problem. "I don't even know how to pronounce it," Prince tells her. "If ever I'm told, you'll be the first to know." Frustrated American fans at a 1994 show called for an encore by shouting "We want..." and making two whooping sounds.

* Relations with Warners were strained further when his Greatest Hits album was advertised with the tag line 'Just don't call him Prince, OK?'. That tension continued until 31 December 1999 when his contract expired, "thus emancipating the name I was given before birth, 'Prince', from all long-term restrictive documents". He threw a party to celebrate.