The Lesser-Known Name Bob Dylan Used Before His Famous Moniker

Even today at the age of 81, Nobel Prize-winning folk legend Bob Dylan remains one of the great enigmas of our time. Despite the myriad of deep dives, biopics, biographies, and iconic collaborations that have shined light on the man who Interscope Records CEO Jimmy Iovine once said "enabled Rock 'n' Roll to grow and survive," there's still a sort of dusty, ominous veil that shrouds Dylan's overall being. 

Biography reports that Bob Dylan was born on May 24, 1941, in Duluth, Minnesota to Abram and Beatrice Zimmerman, two wealthy Midwestern department store owners. As he rose to fame in the 1960s, Dylan — by his own design — drifted further and further away from his affluent roots in order to embody his image as a downtrodden man of the people who lamented proletariat struggles through melody and lyrics. While his timeless songs and numerous philanthropic efforts over the years indeed reflect his devotion to the common man, true fans know that before Bob Dylan was Bob Dylan, he was someone else entirely. 

Bob Dylan was originally Robert Zimmerman

"What I was going to do as soon as I left home was just call myself Robert Allen," Dylan wrote in his memoir, "Chronicles" (via Internet Archive). "As far as I was concerned, that was who I was –- that's what my parents named me. It sounded like the name of a Scottish king, and I liked it. There was little of my identity that wasn't in it." While his birth name certainly wasn't one he was trying to outrun, Dylan understood that his personal and creative quest would inevitably entail the creation of a new identity entirely. According to Far Out magazine, anonymity was the cornerstone of that ever-growing identity. 

An artist's work is the true spectacle of their existence, but a good name is still important. It's the insignia you're bound to wear for the rest of your days, and Dylan wanted to make certain he chose the right one. It was in 1962 that Robert Allen Zimmerman would forever become known as Bob Dylan, but before then, he sported a different name that few people know he ever had (via Far Out magazine). 

Elston Gunnn, the other other Bob Dylan

According to "Chronicles," Bob Dylan took a crack at the name Elston Gunnn long before he ever adopted his current title (Robert Allen was the moniker that he bore between Gunnn and Dylan). At the time, Gunnn was working as a bus boy in New York City, which is where he met one Bobby Vee. Vee fronted a popular local band called The Shadows, and after Gunnn introduced himself to one of the group's members (Bill Velline), telling him it was Gunnn with three N's, per Goldmine (via Expecting Rain) and offered to play keys, Vee was delighted to see his musical project grow. 

However, the venture didn't last long. Far Out Magazine reports that Gunnn was hardly a proficient piano player, and after only a brief period, he was forced to part ways with The Shadows. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the ambitious young musician. A few years later, Vee saw what became of his old friend and former bandmate. "A couple of years later I was in New York in Greenwich Village. I was walking down the street. There was a record store there, and there was an album in the front window. And it said, 'Bob Dylan.' And I thought to myself, 'Looks a lot like Elston Gunnn!'" He told Goldmine in 1999 (via expecting rain).