“It was a nickname that some friends started calling me in the studio, just guys that I was collaborating with,” John said during his appearance on The Tonight Show. “The first guy to call me that was J. Ivy. He’s a spoken-word artist from Chicago.
He said he met J. Ivy through Kanye.
“We were all in the studio together. He just started calling me ‘The Legend’ because he thought I sounded like one of our old-school soul legends. And it just caught on with our little group of friends and then they were like, ‘We should call you John Legend.‘ And it just really was in our little circle,” John said.
Then, Kanye actually called him “John Legend” on a mixtape he released.
John said, “At some point, I had to decide, ‘Am I going to stick with John Stephens—which I was perfectly fine with, I wasn’t looking for a stage name—or am I going to go with this more audacious name and call myself a legend before I even have a record deal?’”