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Why Did Michael Jackson Change His Name? The Reasons and Legacy

Hey there! If you‘re curious why Michael Jackson changed his famous name, you‘re not alone. His decision has sparked questions and theories for years.

As a huge fan, I‘ve done a deep dive to figure out the key reasons behind Michael‘s name change. I want to share what I‘ve uncovered about this intriguing choice that was part of his larger-than-life career.

Let‘s start from the beginning…

From Michael Joe Jackson to the King of Pop

Michael Joseph Jackson was born on August 29, 1958 in Gary, Indiana. One of 9 children, Michael was shaped hugely by his family‘s deep passion for music – especially his father Joe Jackson.

Joe Jackson had always dreamed of being a successful musician himself. When he noticed his kids‘ talents, he decided to mold them into the family band The Jackson 5 in the mid-1960s.

With Michael as lead vocalist, The Jackson 5 scored their first four singles at just ages 11 to 13. Michael was undoubtedly a prodigy.

But Joe Jackson was also notoriously strict and even abusive towards Michael and his siblings. Michael later said that his father would beat him and tease him about his appearance.

This complicated dynamic with his father loomed large as Michael rocketed to global fame by age 13. With the Jackson 5 and as a young solo artist, he achieved huge pop chart success through the 1970s.

But Michael yearned to fully break out on his own. In 1979 at age 21, he cut ties with his father and brothers. That year he released Off the Wall, which sold an astonishing 20 million copies worldwide.

Michael‘s 1982 album Thriller then smashed all records to become the best-selling album of all time. He earned the nickname the "King of Pop" for taking the music world by storm.

However, Michael still longed for more control and freedom from his beginnings. This brings us to…

The Big Name Change

In 1987, Michael officially changed his name from Michael Joe Jackson to Michael Joseph Jackson.

He modified his middle name, switching out "Joe" for "Joseph" – his father‘s full name.

This marked a turning point in Michael‘s journey to distance himself from his family background.

By dropping "Joe", Michael could finally separate his identity from the enormous influence – and at times torment – of his father.

“He’s very respectful to his mother but he does not have the same relationship with his father,” his longtime producer Quincy Jones said.

Michael‘s name change also coincided with bigger changes in his life:

  • In 1986, Michael released the genre-defining Thriller short films that shattered music video boundaries

  • In 1987, his album Bad was eagerly anticipated to follow up Thriller‘s earth-shattering success

  • Also in 1987, Michael‘s skin tone started noticeably lightening, sparking rumors of skin bleaching

So by legally changing his name, Michael declared complete independence and control as he reached incredible new heights of fame.

The change was subtle, just dropping one letter in his name. But for Michael, it carried deep meaning.

This brings us to the next obvious question…

Why Was Joe Jackson So Controversial?

To really grasp Michael‘s name change, you have to understand his dad Joe Jackson.

Joe Jackson had always dreamed big about stardom and lived vicariously through his kids‘ talents.

As the Jackson 5 manager, he ruled with an iron fist. Michael and his siblings described Joe‘s constant insults, whippings, and abuse growing up.

“We’d perform for him and he’d critique us. If you messed up, you got hit, sometimes with a switch, sometimes with a belt," Michael wrote in his 1988 memoir.

Michael said Joe would mock his appearance, calling him ugly and teasing his skin conditions. This contributed to Michael‘s later obsessiveness about plastic surgery and altering his looks.

Even as Michael achieved astronomical success, Joe remained controlling. Michael decided he needed to fully detach.

“I just remember one day having enough and telling him I wasn’t going to be bullied,” he recalled.

So shedding the name “Joe” felt liberating and empowering for Michael.

How Michael Jackson Redefined His Identity

Michael took back control over every aspect of his identity in the late 1980s. Here are some of the biggest changes.

His Name:

  • From Michael Joe Jackson to Michael Joseph Jackson in 1987

His Appearance:

  • Lighter skin achieved through procedures like bleaching creams
  • Multiple plastic surgeries on his eyes, cheekbones, chin, lips and nose
  • Long, straightened hair instead of an afro

His Sound:

  • Edgier, rock-influenced pop on Bad compared to his earlier bubblegum soul/disco
  • Darker themes and imagery in songs like Smooth Criminal

His Image:

  • Shifted from cute child star to sophisticated, sexy pop icon
  • Pioneered narrative music videos as spectacle with hits like Thriller

Michael‘s transformations were dramatic and complete. While he never directly addressed the speculation about why he changed so much, it seems clear it was about control.

After feeling defined and constrained by his father and juvenile stardom for so long, Michael used these changes to assert his independence and reclaim his identity on his own terms.

How Michael‘s Name Change Compares to Other Icons

Michael isn’t the only legendary artist to change his name over the course of his career. Here are a few interesting examples:


  • Given name Prince Rogers Nelson
  • Changed name to unpronounceable “Love Symbol” in 1990s
  • Later went by “The Artist Formerly Known As Prince”
  • Reverted back to Prince in 2000

Elton John:

  • Born Reginald Kenneth Dwight in 1947
  • Took stage name Elton John in the 1960s, inspired by Bluesology bandmates Elton Dean and Long John Baldry

Marilyn Monroe:

  • Born Norma Jeane Mortenson 1926
  • Adopted stage name Marilyn Monroe in 1946 after signing first movie contract

Bob Dylan:

  • Born Robert Zimmerman in 1941
  • Legally changed name to Bob Dylan in 1962 after already using it as a stage name

Like Michael, these artists switched up their names to transform themselves. The new monikers became icons.

But while others changed names to reinvent themselves artistically, Michael seemed motivated more by breaking free from his past.

The Paradoxes of Michael‘s Later Career

In the 1990s and beyond, Michael Jackson‘s life grew increasingly paradoxical.

On one hand, he achieved new heights of artistic innovation with albums like Dangerous (1991) which sold 32 million copies worldwide.

His concert tours broke records including:

  • Most Successful Concert Series – Completed with over 500,000 attendees across 69 concerts on the Bad World Tour in 1987/88

  • Highest Grossing Tour Ever – Made $125 million on the Bad World Tour, doubling the previous record

However, Michael’s strange appearance and eccentric behavior also raised eyebrows:

  • The dramatic lightening of his skin drew accusations of wanting to be white

  • Tabloid obsession over his many plastic surgeries grew

  • Bizarre stories emerged about behaviors like shopping with a chimpanzee named Bubbles

Michael also became entangled in legal controversies like child abuse allegations that seriously damaged his reputation, despite no charges.

His last decade was a nonstop media circus filled with sensational headlines. For fans, it was painful to see Michael’s increasingly frail physical and mental state.

But when Michael suddenly died in 2009, the public outpouring of grief showed his artistic legacy could never be tarnished.

The Continuing Impact of Michael‘s Legacy

Despite all the tribulations of his later years, Michael Jackson remains the most legendary entertainer of all time:

  • 350+ million records sold globally
  • 13 Grammy Award wins
  • 23 Guinness World Records including most successful entertainer of all time
  • 17 US and UK #1 singles
  • 750 million+ in total worldwide viewership for Motown 25 performance debuting the moonwalk

Decades later, Michael‘s influence is still felt across music, dance, fashion, and culture.

Everyone from Bruno Mars to The Weeknd exhibits Michael‘s musical DNA. His style defined era-changing pop videos. Stars like Beyoncé continue to credit Michael for inspiring their careers.

In short, Michael Jackson has permanently shaped pop music and culture. He deserves to be remembered first and foremost for his incomparable creative genius that brought joy to millions.

Michael‘s Enduring Legacy: His Children

Michael fiercely guarded his private life. But one undeniable legacy lives on through his three children:

  • Son Michael Joseph Jackson Jr. (nicknamed Prince) born in 1997

  • Daughter Paris-Michael Katherine Jackson born in 1998

  • Son Prince Michael Jackson II (nicknamed Blanket) in 2002

After Michael‘s tragic passing, Prince and Paris have cautiously moved into the public eye to honor their father‘s memory while also establishing their own identities.

This brings us to Michael‘s youngest child Blanket, who made surprising recent headlines.

Blanket Jackson Steps Into Adulthood

Michael‘s third child Blanket Jackson was born in 2002 via an anonymous surrogate mother known only as “Helena.”

After Michael’s death Blanket lived very privately with his grandmother Katherine Jackson. His face was always hidden by masks in public.

But photos surfaced in 2022 of a grown-up Blanket in a tux at his prom and high school graduation ceremony!

According to Prince, Blanket now goes by Bigi Jackson – dropping his childhood nickname to claim his own identity.

The 20-year old also enrolled in college after finishing high school. Bigi seems to be following his older siblings’ lead in cautiously engaging with the public on his own terms.

Bigi‘s Journey Echoes Michael‘s

When you look closer, Bigi Jackson’s coming-of-age story parallels his late father’s in many ways.

Like Michael removing “Joe” from his name, Bigi has shed the nickname “Blanket” to redefine himself.

Just as Michael sought independence from Joe Jackson, Bigi is finding his own way as he steps out of the King of Pop‘s shadow.

Of course, every child eventually becomes their own person. But for Bigi, growing up as one of the most famous musician’s sons brings added complexity.

By choosing a new name and pursuing education, Bigi makes symbolic moves towards autonomy that evoke Michael’s own defiance of expectations.

The desire to forge your own identity resonates across generations. Both Michael and Bigi Jackson have taken bold steps to rewrite their stories on their own terms.

There’s certainly pressure and baggage that comes with the territory as a Jackson. Maybe Bigi just wants a shot at a normal life.

But if he wishes to pay tribute to his father’s legacy later on, I have a feeling we’ll be hearing Bigi Jackson’s name for years to come. Those musical genes run strong!

The Meaning Behind Michael Jackson‘s Name Change

In closing, let’s recap why Michael Jackson‘s name change from Michael Joe to Michael Joseph Jackson in 1987 was so monumental.

While subtle, this change was deeply symbolic of Michael‘s mission to break free from his past. By removing his father‘s name “Joe,” Michael seized control over his identity and career.

The name change marked a new chapter as Michael redefined his sound, look, and image entirely on his own terms. After years under his father’s thumb, Michael could finally call the shots.

Of course, Michael’s life had many complex turns after 1987. But his name change was a bold statement – he was no longer “Joe Jackson’s son.” The world would come to know him as the one and only King of Pop.

Decades later, the ripples of Michael‘s choices continue through his children. Bigi Jackson now walks a similar path towards redefining himself outside his father’s shadow.

No matter what names they take, the Jackson family‘s prodigious musical legacy persists. Michael Jackson forever changed pop music and culture while inspiring generations of artists worldwide. His name will always be remembered.

Hope this gives you some insight into Michael Jackson’s history and motivations! Let me know if you have any other burning questions about the King of Pop. I‘m always ready for a deep dive into MJ‘s fascinating life and work.



Michael Reddy is a tech enthusiast, entertainment buff, and avid traveler who loves exploring Linux and sharing unique insights with readers.