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How The Beatles Did Not Get Their Name

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When the remaining Beatles re-grouped for the Anthology project back in 1995, public interest in the Beatles soared. One of the questions that was frequently asked was 'How did the Beatles get their name?'. Paul, George, and Ringo answered that it was an idea of John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe, yet many people believed that the truth was that John alone thought of the name, through a dream.

This idea was based on an article that John wrote for the Mersey Beat, a newspaper about the music of Liverpool, and was the first thing that John ever had printed. It was printed in 1961, before the Beatles were famous, before Ringo joined, before 'Love Me Do' and 'Please Please Me', and even before Brian Epstein had met them. It was typical of John Lennon's style, later reflected in his books In His Own Write and A Spaniard In The Works. This is part of what it said:

Being A Short Diversion On The Dubious Origins Of Beatles

Once upon a time there were three little boys called John, George and Paul, by name christened. They decided to get together because they were the getting together type. When they were together they wondered what for after all, what for? So all of a sudden they all grew guitars and fashioned a noise. Funnily enough, no-one was interested, least of all the three little men. So-o-o on discovering a fourth little even littler man called Stuart Sutcliffe running about them they said, quote 'Sonny get a bass guitar and you will be alright' and he did....
... many people ask what are the Beatles? Why Beatles? Ugh, Beatles how did the name arrive? So we will tell you. It came in a vision - a man appeared on a Flaming Pie and said unto them 'From this day on you are Beatles with an A'. 'Thankyou, Mister Man,' they said, thanking him...

This was the tale that many people believed, much to the amazement of the Beatles. When interviewed for his 1997 album Flaming Pie, Paul McCartney said:

We were asked what the meaning of the name the Beatles was, and John wrote a little piece in the 'Mersey Beat', which was the local music paper in Liverpool. It was a kinda joke piece, and it was kinda biblical, sort of thing...
... When we were doing the 'Anthology' it became a matter of much glee for those of us who had been in the group that certain people involved in the 'Anthology' actually thought John had had a vision and took it literally, which is no, it was a joke, believe me. It's kinda Liverpool humour, a little of the Goons, it really was a joke - he didn't have a vision... If he had said a man on a Flaming Phoenix, maybe you could keep a straight face and believe him, or Flaming Chariot, maybe, but the minute he said 'pie', it was a kinda humour. And it became a bit of a thing, and it later came to me that I should write a song about the Man on the Flaming Pie, and make him a complete nutter.

So, if the 'Man on the Flaming Pie' story of how the Beatles got their name was wrong, how did the Beatles get their name?

In March 1957, after getting his first guitar, John formed a group which, for the first week, involved only himself and Pete Shotton1. They called themselves the Black Jacks for less than a week, before changing their name to The Quarry Men, as they both attended the Quarry Bank High School for Boys, and Quarry Men sounded more skiffly2. Paul McCartney joined in 1957, and George Harrison joined 1958, and they remained The Quarry Men until the very end of 1959, when they briefly appeared as Johnny and the Moondogs, which sounded more skiffle-like. John, however, hated it, and in 1960 they changed their name five times before settling on The Beatles. The Quarry Men, as a name for a group, had become 'too skiffly and restricting' according to John.

In January 1960, Stuart Sutcliffe joined the group. During this time the band's favourite music was by Buddy Holly, and Stuart especially was interested in Buddy Holly's backing group, the Crickets. He suggested that the band should call themselves The Beetles3 as a play on that, and later John and Stuart between them settled on The Beatals, to include the word 'Beat', which was how they described their music. This name, though, did not last long, and soon the band was playing under other names - The Silver Beats, The Silver Beetles and settled on The Silver Beatles. However, when John was introduced on stage as 'Long John Silver' of the Silver Beatles, he immediately shortened the name to Beatles, as the name 'Long John Silver' reminded him of the embarrassing Johnny And The Moondogs days. And it was as the Beatles that, since August 1960, they were known as ever since4.

So as you can see, the name 'The Beatles', far removed from being an immediate decision caused by a Man on a Flaming Pie telling them that there would be 'Beatles with an A' in a dream, was an evolved name that went through different but similar stages before finally being settled upon.

1Pete Shotton remained a close friend of John's throughout his life, and can even be heard singing the word 'Hey!' in the song 'You've Got To Hide Your Love Away' on the album Help!.2This is in reference to the skiffle musical movement of the time.3The 1954 film The Wild One may also have been an influence as some of the motorcyclists are called 'The Beetles'.4With the exception of when they recorded 'My Bonnie' in Hamburg with Tony Sheridan in 1961, when the single was credited to 'Tony Sheridan and The Beat Brothers' as the record label feared that 'Beatles' sounded too like a German slang word, peedles.

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