Early life and ancestry
Rose was born William Bruce Rose Jr. in Lafayette, Indiana, the oldest child of Sharon Elizabeth (née Lintner), then 16 years old and still in high school, and William Bruce Rose, then 20 years old. He is of paternal Scots-Irish and maternal German ancestry. His father has been described as "a troubled and charismatic local delinquent," and the pregnancy was unplanned. His parents separated when Rose was approximately two years old, prompting his father to abduct and allegedly molest him before disappearing from Lafayette. His mother remarried to Stephen L. Bailey, and changed her son's name to William Bruce Bailey. He has two younger siblings—a sister, Amy, and a half-brother, Stuart. As a young child both Axl and his siblings were regularly beaten. Until the age of 17, Rose believed Bailey was his natural father. He never met his biological father as an adult; William Rose Sr. was murdered in Marion, Illinois, in 1984 by a criminal acquaintance who was convicted even though the body was never recovered. Rose did not learn about the murder until years later.
The Bailey household was very religious; Rose and his family attended a Pentecostal church, where he was required to attend services three to eight times per week and even taught Sunday school. Rose later recalled an oppressive upbringing, stating, "We'd have televisions one week, then my stepdad would throw them out because they were Satanic. I wasn't allowed to listen to music. Women were evil. Everything was evil." He accused his stepfather of physically abusing him and his siblings and sexually abusing his sister. Rose found solace in music from an early age. He sang in the church choir from the age of five, and performed at services with his brother and sister under the name the Bailey Trio. At Jefferson High School, he participated in the school chorus and studied piano. A second baritone, Rose began developing "different voices" during chorus practice to confuse his teacher. He eventually formed a band with his friends, one of whom was Jeff Isbell, later known as Izzy Stradlin.
At the age of 17, while going through insurance papers in his parents' home, Rose learned of his biological father's existence, and he unofficially readopted his birth name. However, he referred to himself only as W. Rose, because he did not want to share a first name with his biological father. Following the discovery of his true family origins, Rose became a local juvenile delinquent in Lafayette; he was arrested more than twenty times on charges such as public intoxication and battery, and served jail terms up to three months. After Lafayette authorities threatened to charge him as a habitual criminal, Rose moved to Los Angeles, California, in December 1982. After moving to Los Angeles, he became so engrossed in his band AXL that his friends suggested he call himself Axl Rose; he legally changed his name to W. Axl Rose prior to signing his contract with Geffen Records in March 1986.