Behind the Name: How Elvis Costello Chose His Moniker

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

The legendary singer/songwriter Elvis Costello was born Declan Patrick MacManus on August 25, 1954. Yes, his name is not really Elvis Costello—at least, that’s not the one on his birth certificate.

But how does one decide on taking on the name Elvis Costello? What are the steps toward that? And how does one choose both Elvis and Costello? These are the questions we will attempt to tackle here.

So, without further ado, let’s do just that. Here is the story behind the name, Elvis Costello.

The Career

Over his illustrious career, Costello earned Grammy Awards in 1999 and 2020 and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Costello started his career in London’s pub rock scene in the early 1970s. He released his acclaimed debut album, My Aim Is True, in 1977 and followed that up with This Year’s Model in 1978.

Subsequently, he toured with his group The Attractions and recorded more records. The group split in 1986 and he’s essentially been a solo artist ever since.

The Early Live

Costello is the son of jazz trumpeter and vocalist, Ross MacManus, who had a hit in Australia in 1970 under the name Day Costello with his cover of the Beatles’ “The Long and Winding Road.”

In 1971, Costello, just 16 years old, moved to Birkenhead, not far from Liverpool, and formed his first band, a folk duo called Rusty. After completing his studies at St. Francis Xavier’s College in Liverpool, he worked a number of jobs, including as a data entry clerk.

Later, he moved to London in 1974 where he formed the pub rock band, Flip City, which was active from 1974 to 1976. His first broadcast recording was with his musical dad for a television commercial for R. White’s Lemonade, which aired in 1974. His dad sang the song and Costello sang backup.

The ad won a silver award at the 1974 International Advertising Festival.

The Name

After the award-winning commercial, Costello looked for a solo recording contract and in 1976 he signed to the indie label Stiff Records after they liked a demo tape he’d sent in.

His manager at Stiff, Jake Riviera, suggested that Costello, who was then calling himself D.P. Costello, start using the first name: Elvis. Costello agreed to take on the name, inspired directly by Elvis Presley (why not, right?), and keeping his father’s last name stage moniker, Costello.

Then on March 25, 1977, Stiff released his first single, “Less Than Zero.” Four months later, Costello released his debut album in 1977 and it earned commercial success, landing at No. 14 in the U.K. and Top 40 in the U.S. Costello appeared on the cover in his oversized glasses, recalling another great artist, Buddy Holly.

Photo by Diana Krall / Shorefire

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