Before he became the lead star of U2, Bono went by many names. Born Paul David Hewson, he experimented with a range of stage names before settling on his famous public moniker.
Bono’s former stage names include Bono Vox, Hausman, Steinvic von Huyseman, Bon Murray and, most spectacular of all, Steinhegvanhuysenolegbangbangbang. More than a gag, this name was part of a rich history of using punk and rock to redefine oneself.
Born on May 10, 1960 in Dublin, Bono was raised with one older brother in an interdenominational Christian family. He was christened Paul David and attended Glasnevin National School, St. Patrick’s Cathedral Grammar School and Mount Temple Comprehensive School.
Bono’s mother died suddenly when he was 14, and the newfound loneliness of home life drove him to spend as much time with friends as possible.
The social lives of young Dubliners were often marred by poverty and violence. “In housing schemes like Tallaght [a satellite town of Dublin], I think it’s 27,000 young people between the ages of twelve and eighteen walking the streets every night,” Bono has recalled. “It’s like an army. There was nowhere for people to go, nothing.”
This restlessness gave birth to a spirit of rebellion. Punk and rock were popular forces among Bono’s peers. “I think what punk rock gave to us was that you could knock everything down and start again, [even] decide who you wanted to be: a new name, a new pair of shoes, a new way to see the world,” Bono has described. “Everything was possible, and the only limit was your imagination.”
In the case of Bono and his friends, this spirit took the form of a surrealist street gang that he named Lypton Village.
“I might have come up with [the name] Lypton Village but from where, who knows?” Bono has said. “We were inventing names, mythical places, even our own language. We just didn’t like the world we were living in so we started re-imagining it, and I’m sure it was very arrogant and exclusive.”
Pranks and stunts became the group’s main entertainment in life. “We used to do these kind of art attacks, where we would go into Grafton Street, get on the number nineteen bus and bring stepladders, a drill, a few saws, a bunch of bananas,” Bono has remembered. “We would climb the stepladder, set up these little performances and try to get the crowd interested in us, and then run off.”
“I don’t think there was much art involved – it was just the idea of using humour as a weapon,” he added. “It was all very Monty Python.”
Most importantly, upon joining the gang, newcomers were given a suitably surreal nickname by the other members. Strongman, Pod and Day-Vid were among them. The young Bono’s first ever nickname was Steinhegvanhuysenolegbangbangbang.
Though this original name was granted by the other members, Bono soon adapted it to make it less cumbersome. It became Steinvic von Huyseman, and then Hyseman.
“The idea was that if you don’t want the life you’ve been given, perhaps you don’t want the name that you were given to live with,” Bono has elaborated on the gang’s naming rituals. “It is probably the ultimate form of rebellion against your father – you won’t take his name. But you still weren’t allowed to choose your new name, that was a part of it.”
Nevertheless, Bono ended up choosing his own nickname – one that stuck for life. Once he formed U2 at the age of 16 – along with guitarist David ‘The Edge’ Evans, Dik Evans (The Edge’s older brother, initially the band’s second guitarist who soon left), bass player Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. – he knew it was time to make a new name for himself.
“One weekend we were walking up O’Connell Street,” Larry Mullen Jr has recalled. “As we pass a sign over a hearing-aid shop, Bono points to it and says, ‘That’s me.’ It said Bono Vox.”
This Latin phrase translates to “Good Voice”. His closest friends began to use the name for him – but it took more work to make it stick with his newfound bandmates.
“One day, I said to the band would they mind calling me Bono from now on?” he has remembered. “‘Sure Paul!’ But to their credit they did, it just took them a while.”