I must have read, in my life, a fair estimate of around 500 or 600 books on the Beatles. I have read each and every one worth reading. I will give most any Beatles book a fair chance, but if I spot more than two or three errors or obvious mistakes, I will just stop reading it and go on to another book.
(As an interesting side note, of these hundreds of actual bios, autobiographies and memoirs, I have only found a handful that did not have some kind of a mistake, error, wrong date, or omission- at least one.)
Many questions involving their fascinating history are undisputed, but many are still debated and are a bit foggy, even to this day. One of these is: how did the Beatles get their name? Okay, let's go back to Liverpool, England in the mid-1950's and do some investigating.
In 1956, John Lennon, a loud-mouthed, but talented teenager, started a group called “The Blackjacks.” This original rock "skiffle" band consisted of John and a few of his close pals. Skiffle groups were groups who played on improvised instruments, such as tea chest bass, washboards, etc.
Though this was the group's very first name, the briefly-named Blackjacks never performed under this name. Lennon soon changed his group's name to “The Quarrymen" (in honor of his current school Quarry Bank High School.) It was as The Quarrymen (sometimes spelled as Quarry Men) that John Lennon and his band actually started singing in public.
This was the band Paul McCartney watched the day he met John on July 6, 1957. This is the band Paul McCartney joined in October of 1957. On February 6, 1958, another local lad, George Harrison, also joined the Quarrymen.
It was during this late 1950's period that name changes became frequent. Once, all the members of the group showed up in different colored shirts, so they called themselves “The Rainbows.” At a talent show the boys entered in 1959, they dubbed themselves “Johnny and the Moondogs.” In May of 1960, John and Paul did two small shows by themselves and dubbed themselves “The Nerk Twins.”
In 1960, reputedly, John and his best friend at art college, Stu Sutcliffe, came up with the name “The Beatles.” The story goes that the band loved Buddy Holly and his group "the Crickets.” So the two went through several insect names and finally arrived on “Beetles".
Stu thought of “The Beetles,” but then John, who loved puns and wordplay, thought of changing the spelling to “Beatles,” as they were a beat group. As John was to later elaborate in a 1964 interview: “It was beat and beetles and when you said it, people thought of crawly things, and when you read it, it was beat music.”
Ironically, Paul recalls everyone telling the band what a lousy name “Beatles" was and urging them to change it. Paul himself says he remembers John and Stu running up to him and anxiously telling him how they had thought of the name “Beatles" the previous night.
In the interim, during the first half of 1960, from officially deciding on the Beatles, the group morphed through "the Beetles,” "the Silver Beetles,” "the Beatals,” "the Silver Beets,” and "the Silver Beatles" -in no particular order. John recalled once being introduced onstage as “Long John and the Silver Beetles.”
(Historical note: in May of 1960, the group did their first tour, a brief series of gigs in Scotland. It was during this tour that the boys changed their individual names: Paul became “Paul Ramon" and George became “Carl Harrison.” John was reputed to have changed his name to “John Silver,” but he always denied this and his version seems to be correct. “I always liked my own name too much,” explained John.)
The “John invented the name Beatles" version was accepted for decades, but two other explanations were to surface after his death in 1980.
In the 1995 documentary Beatles Anthology, George explained that the Beatles came from the 1953 Marlon Brando film The Wild One. In this film, Brando plays a character called “Johnny" and he has a motorcycle gang called "the Beetles" in it.
Beetles. Johnny. Get it? A perfectly logical fit.
This sounds good, except that the film The Wild One was banned in England until 1968. This would seem to discount this much-after-the-fact revisionist theory. Curiously, although George first mentions The Wild One genesis theory as early as 1975 in an official interview, he is on record many times in the '60's being asked the question about how the group got their name and he never once mentions the Brando film.
As I see time after time in studying the Beatles, one of the biggest sources of false data in the Beatles' history is the Beatles themselves. Incredibly, in his later years, George once cited the wrong date for his own birthday.
Later, an obscure beat poet named Royston Ellis came forth and claimed he had thought up the Beatles name. Ellis had spent the night hanging out with John and his friend Stu in June of 1960. The fact of this get-together is confirmed and undisputed. On the night in question, during a chat, Ellis asked John about his group's name and John replied “The Beetles.” He asked john how he spelled it and john said “B-E-E-T-L-E-S.”
According to Ellis, he thought of the changing of the spelling to "B-E-A-T-L-E-S" because he was a "beat" poet, beatniks were the rage at the time, and John and Stu fancied themselves part of "the beat scene.”
When John wrote a 1961 comical article for a local paper about how he came up with the name “Beatles,” he jokingly said, “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’.”
Even this explanation gives rise to debate, because Royston Ellis further claims that the night he gave John and Stu the name Beatles, he heated them a chicken pie for dinner, and the pie caught fire in the oven. Thus, Ellis was "the man on a flaming pie.”
Royston Ellis with the Beatles in 1963
Now, John Lennon was well-known to put actual autobiographical occurrences into his songs and his writings throughout his career. Could Royston Ellis actually be the guy who thought of the name the Beatles?
The band went to Hamburg, Germany, to do several months of shows in August of 1960. It was there that they "officially and forever" changed their name to the Beatles.
Oh yes, I forgot to mention one final Beatles name-derivation theory. John's wife, Yoko Ono, claims that john actually thought of the name completely alone, without anyone else's help. According to Yoko, John literally "had a vision of the man on a flaming pie" and that he, alone, thought of the name from this alleged incident.
Which theory do you believe?