Mars was born Peter Gene Hernandez and raised in the Waikiki neighborhood of Honolulu, Hawaii, by parents Bernadette "Bernie" and Pete Hernandez, of Filipino and Puerto Rican descent.His mother emigra ted to Hawaii from the Philippines as a child and his father moved to the island from Brooklyn, New York.
Mars' parents met while performing in a show, where his mother was a hula dancer and his father played percussion. At the age of two, he was nicknamed "Bruno" by his father, because of his resemblance to chubby professional wrestler Bruno Sammartino. Mars was one of six children and came from a musical family who exposed him to a diverse mix of reggae, rock, hip hop, and R&B. From a young age, he was impersonating and performing songs by artists such as Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, The Isley Brothers, and The Temptations. At age four, Mars began performing five days a week with his family's band, The Love Notes, in which he became known on the island for his impersonation of Presley. In 1990, Mars was featured in MidWeek as "Little Elvis", going on to have a cameo in the film Honeymoon in Vegas in 1992. He later reflected on the influence Presley had on his music, saying, "I watch the best. I'm a big fan of Elvis. I'm a big fan of 1950s Elvis when he would go on stage and scare people because he was a force and girls would go nuts! You can say the same thing for Prince or The Police. It's just guys who know that people are here to see a show, so I watch those guys and I love studying them because I'm a fan." In 2010, he also acknowledged his Hawaiian roots and musical family as an influence, saying, "Growing up in Hawaii made me the man I am. I used to do a lot of shows in Hawaii with my father's band. Everybody in my family sings, everyone plays instruments. My uncle's an incredible guitar player, my dad's an incredible percussionist, my brother's a great drummer, he actually plays in our band. I've just been surrounded by it." In 2003, shortly after graduating from President Theodore Roosevelt High School at the age of seventeen, Mars moved to Los Angeles, California to pursue a musical career. He adopted his stage name from the nickname his father g
ave him, adding "Mars" at the end because "I felt like I didn't have pizzazz, and a lot of girls say I’m out of this world, so I was like I guess I'm from Mars." Shortly after moving to Los Angeles, Mars signed to Motown Records in 2004, in a deal that "went nowhere". However, Mars' experience with Motown proved to be beneficial to his career when he met songwriter and producer Philip Lawrence, who was also signed to the label. Mars, Lawrence, and engineer Ari Levine began writing songs together, and formed the production team The Smeezingtons. In 2006, Lawrence introduced Mars to his future manager at Atlantic Records, Aaron Bay-Schuck. After hearing him play a couple of songs on the guitar, Bay-Schuck wanted to sign him immediately, but it took about three years for Atlantic records to finally sign Mars to the label. In the meantime, Bay-Schuck hired Mars and the Smeezingtons to write and produce songs for the label's artists. According to Bay-Schuck in an interview with HitQuarters, Mars had stated that although his ultimate goal was to be a solo artist, he was willing to write and produce for other artists, both to help improve his songwriting and help him discover the type of artist he ultimately wanted to be. Bay-Schuck credits this as a period of "self-discovery" that contributed significantly to Mars' later success.