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In 1993, Prince frustrated contract lawyers and computer users everywhere when he changed his name to glyph known as “The Love Symbol.” Though he never said so explicitly, it’s generally understood that the name change was an attempt to stick it to his record label, Warner Bros., which now had to deal with a top-tier artist with a new, unpronounceable, untypeable name.
But it wasn’t just Warner Bros. that had a problem: The Love Symbol proved frustrating for people who wanted to both speak and write about Prince. Writers, editors, and layout designers at magazines and newspapers wouldn’t be able to type the actual name of the Artist Formerly Known As Prince. So Prince did the only thing you could do in that situation: He had a custom-designed font distributed to news outlets on a floppy disk.
The Prince font substituted his symbol for what would otherwise be a capital P. In addition, the font was also made available for download on CompuServe. It was accompanied by a stern letter featuring both usage and installation instructions.
The font idea, according to Chuck Hermes, who worked on the Paisley Park graphic-design team, came out of internal frustration. “It just seemed like a logical thing to do. Everybody was having a hard time. He didn’t even want us to be calling him Prince in person. Part of it was, there was this glyph, this symbol that we didn’t know how to pronounce, and he wasn’t giving us any clues.”
Hermes said that Prince, in the early ‘90s, was excited by consumer technology. “I was working there and was kind of the first one to introduce him to bulletin-board systems and very early America Online back then. He was really engaged in all of this. We would spend hours every night. He’d come in and out of the studio and come into our offices just to experiment with graphics and Photoshop and all that software.” Unsurprisingly, Prince was thrilled at the possibility of being able to create art at such a rapid clip.
Fans were perplexed but went along with the name change, never doubting their hero’s unimpeachable creative instincts, while the press reacted with ridicule, which the performer simply shrugged off with characteristic disdain.
But one interesting problem remained: how to address a man whose name could not even be pronounced? Journalists commonly opted for “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince” or simply “The Artist” but neither stuck. That was partly the point.
“It is an unpronounceable symbol whose meaning has not been identified. It’s all about thinking in new ways, tuning in 2 a new free-quency.” - Prince
Prince would later suggest that the glyph “entered his consciousness during meditation” and was inspired by two of his backing dancers, Mayte Garcia (his future wife) and Tara Leigh Patrick (the future Carmen Electra).
In truth, he actually tasked his creative consultants Mitch Monson and Lizz Luce to design it one day at his Paisley Park recording compound in Chanhassen, Minnesota.
Apparently a combination of the astrological symbols for Mars and Venus - commonly used to stand for male and female - the “love symbol” has been interpreted as a reflection of Prince’s androgynous sexuality and rejection of binary gender roles.
It has also been compared to an ancient Egyptian ankh and even a crucifix. Taken together, the two interpretations suggest a fusion of sex and religion entirely appropriate to the man and his unique brand of sexually-charged pop funk.
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