Update, February 8, 3:47 p.m. ET:
This piece has been updated to correct formatting and link issues caused by the transferring of this post to our since-redesigned website.
Bruno Mars was born Peter Gene Hernandez on October 8, 1985, in Honolulu, Hawaii. In an interview with GQ, the pop star explains he had to change his name to literally sound like he was from another planet so record labels would stop trying to make him the next Enrique Iglesias. He says the following to GQ:
Mars was born Peter Hernandez twenty-seven years ago to a Puerto Rican Jewish percussionist from Brooklyn and a singer and dancer from the Philippines who met in Hawaii, and he landed the nickname Bruno as a toddler, supposedly because as an infant he looked like a famous wrestler, Bruno Sammartino; the surname Mars would only come as an adult. The most famous fact in Bruno Mars’s biography is that by the age of 4 he was appearing onstage in his father and uncle’s Hawaiian variety show impersonating Elvis Presley. “I don’t remember much,” he says. “I probably couldn’t even speak that much.” A grin. “But I was fucking great at it.”
Against that, school paled. “And then you’re going to school and learning about fucking Christopher Columbus and stuff…” says Mars. It was hard to care. All day he would be thinking how he couldn’t wait to go and perform that night. “It was like turning into Batman. I’d go to school and kids are calling me Peter and we’re playing baseball and kickball and shit, and then—’All right, guys, I’ve got to go!’—you put on a sequined jumpsuit, and all of a sudden you’re Bruno, the world’s youngest Elvis impersonator!”
Whatever wisdom he assimilated back then, his talent still took time to congeal. After Mars moved to Los Angeles at 17, there were various misfires—a contract with Motown, a spell with Will.i.am’s management—and a few years in the wilderness. One problem was his name. He parodies the kind of response he would get: “Your last name’s Hernandez, maybe you should do this Latin music, this Spanish music…. Enrique’s so hot right now.” He shakes his head. Eventually he sidestepped the issue by adopting the name Mars, perhaps figuring that the best way to avoid being stereotyped by race is to sound as though you come from a different planet altogether.