AJ McLean on How His Daughter Elliott’s Name Change Was Inspired by “Pete’s Dragon”

Getty / Albert L. Ortega

AJ McLean is opening up about his 9-year-old daughter’s recent decision to change her name to Elliott. Ahead of Friday’s season two finale of “RuPaul’s Secret Celebrity Drag Race” (in which AJ is facing off against Tatyana Ali and Mark Indelicato for the title of America’s next celebrity drag superstar), the 44-year-old father of two tells POPSUGAR that the new name isn’t a “sexual or transgender thing” for Elliott.

Even though AJ and his wife, Rochelle, only recently revealed Elliott’s name change to the public, the Backstreet Boys singer says she’s been using the moniker for over a year. “It took some getting used to. But I tell people, she’s Elliott,” AJ says. “But if she’s in deep doo-doo, she’s Ava James McClean, and that’s how she knows she’s in some serious, serious hot water with daddy. If I full name her, she knows.”

AJ admits that he was initially “a little bit stunned” when Elliott told him she wanted to change her name. He explains, “I didn’t really understand where it was coming from. I literally had just come home from the studio and I was just like, ‘Wait, what is happening?’ . . . And she sat me down and she got really emotional, because she thought I was going to have a problem with it. And I said, ‘No, baby, not at all. I just want to know why. Just tell your dad why.'”

Back in August, AJ and Rochelle shared a joint Instagram post in honor of their kids returning to school. “After two and half years years of homeschool, these two beauties are back to school! Lyric is starting kindergarten and Elliott (Ava) is in fourth grade!” they captioned it. The caption immediately prompted questions from their followers, asking about the name change. Per People, Rochelle later explained on her Instagram Story, “For those asking . . . not that it’s anyone’s business but Elliott’s name change is not a gender thing,” she wrote, adding that her daughter has had a few other name changes in the past, but Elliott “stuck.”

Related: AJ McLean Reveals the Backstreet Boys’s Reaction to Him Joining “RuPaul’s Secret Celebrity Drag Race”

AJ tells POPSUGAR that Elliott told him that “she felt her name [Ava] wasn’t very unique” because a lot of other girls at school and dance class had it, so “she wanted to be someone different for herself.” He adds, “[The name] came from ‘Pete’s Dragon,’ and it took some adjusting for me, because at that point, she had been Ava for eight years, so I’d slip up. But she made sure to correct me and to correct anyone that didn’t know.” McLean says he had to really “plug it into” his bandmates’ heads so they wouldn’t forget when his family joined them on the road. He recalls, “I’m like, ‘Don’t forget, she’s not Ava, she’s Elliott, and she will correct you if you get it wrong. You don’t want to get embarrassed by a 9-year-old.'”

AJ says he has an open-door policy with his kids. “My kids can talk to me about anything. It doesn’t matter what it is,” he says, jokingly adding, “Boys, please let me talk to you about boys. Please let me put the fear of God in you about boys.”

“RuPaul’s Secret Celebrity Drag Race” season two finale airs Friday at 8 p.m. EST on VH1.

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