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What is Nicki Minaj’s real name? Nicki Minaj was born Onika Tanya Maraj on Dec. 8, 1982. The wig-loving, booty-flaunting singer and rapper hails from Saint James, Trinidad and Tobago, and she lived on that Caribbean island until the age of five. Nicki—or Onika Tanya, rather—owes her unusual name to her parents, who are of Indian and Afro-Trinidadian descent. Nicki’s folks spent her early years searching for a home in Queens. Before joining them in that New York City borough, she lived with her grandmother.

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Onika Tanya Maraj has gone by many names over the years, and after studying performing arts at the prestigious LaGuardia High School, working as a waitress at Red Lobster, and rapping in a girl group called H.O.O.D.S.T.A.R.S., she began calling herself “Nicki Maraj.” It wasn’t until Fendi, CEO of the Brooklyn label Dirty Money Records, suggested a change that she adopted the moniker we’ve all come to know. “My real name is Maraj,” she told RapIndustry.com in an early interview. “Fendi flipped it when he met me because I had such a nasty flow! I eat bitches!”

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These days, Onika Tanya Maraj doesn’t just go by Nicki Minaj. She’s known as the Harajuku Barbie—a reference to the voluptuous Mattel doll and an especially fashionable neighborhood in Tokyo—and over the years, her other alter egos have included Cookie, Nicki Teresa, Rosa, and of course Roman Zolanski, who she portrayed during her bizarre appearance at the 2012 Grammys. Roman, who’s referenced in the title of Nicki’s sophomore album, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, supposedly comes out when she’s angry, and some critics have likened the male character to Eminem’s Slim Shady persona.

Whatever she calls herself, she was probably wise to ditch Onika Tanya for Nicki Minaj. It rolls off the tongue, just like those lyrics she spits with such unrivaled speed, humor, and spunkiness.

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