It’s hard to imagine a world in which The Beatles never existed, but were it not for John Lennon’s love of wordplay, The Fab Four might never have been.
Well, that’s not entirely true. The band would have existed, but it might still have been known as The Quarrymen, a group formed by Lennon and his schoolmates in the mid-’50s.
So how did The Quarrymen metamorphose into the group whose name is synonymous with musical inventiveness and celebrity? Legions of fans probably want to assign layers of meaning and mystery to the decision, but the answer, as it turns out, is pretty mundane.
According to a transcript of first interviews during the group’s American debut in 1964, George Harrison admitted the change was the result of a pun.
“We were just racking our brains and John came up with the name ‘Beatle,’ ” he explained. “It was good because it was the insect and it was also ... you know, ‘beat,’ [like] ‘on the beat.’ ”
It’s hard not to feel a bit let down by that revelation, but one could argue that The Quarrymen was an equally punny name for a rock band. Besides, what do you expect? They were a bunch of kids with no concept of the legacy their music would spawn.
In fact, The Beatles were reeling from fans’ enthusiastic reception at JFK Airport. During the same interview, Lennon said, “We don’t think we’re going to last forever,” a statement an older and more self-sure Lennon would probably have snickered at just a few years later.
In “Romeo and Juliet,” Shakespeare famously dismisses names as shallow and inconsequential: “... a rose by any other name.” That may be true, but a band’s name is a statement of intent, a calling card and a slogan all mashed together
A good name can help sell a band and convince people to give them a chance. This is becoming increasingly important thanks to an indie movement that is spawning more and more groups all clamoring for ever-slimmer pieces of the audience pie.
I think the best names should be celebrated, and as such, I’ve decided to assign homework this week. Send me a list of your favorites and why they tickle your fancy.
n Speaking of quirky band names, Toad the Wet Sprocket will be at Track 29 on July 12. Tickets at Track29.co are only $22, if you grab them early. Extra credit to anyone who can tell me the origin of that name without Googling it. (You’re on your honor here.)
Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.
Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...