How Did The Beatles Get Their Name?

Three possible things come to mind when someone hears the word "beetle." Some may think of the bug. Others may think of the Volkswagen Beetle. However, many would likely think of The Beatles, despite the spelling change. Arguably the most famous band in the world has a rather simple name, phonetically speaking. Before setting the record for most No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 with 20 songs (17 on the British song charts) over the course of their short 10 years together, the band had a couple of other names.

With 60 years of history and countless stories about the band, some truths get muddled with folklore. To get to the origins, we have to go back to Liverpool in 1956. A teenage John Lennon and some friends had a skiffle band called "The Blackjacks." They did not perform publicly until changing their name to The Quarrymen, named after the Quarry Bank high school that Lennon attended (per Neatorama).

John Lennon gave multiple stories about the band's name

Far Out states that after Paul McCartney and George Harrison joined The Quarrymen, the name changed once to The Rainbows and then to Johnny and the Moondogs — still nothing close to the final name. Between 1959 and the band's first use of the name The Beatles in 1961, John Lennon's friend Stu Sutcliffe joined the band and suggested that they think of an insect as they were all fans of Buddy Holly and The Crickets. Sutcliffe suggested "The Beetles." Even still, different names ensued, like "The Silver Beetles" and "Long John and the Silver Beetles."

The switch from the insect spelling of beetle to The Beatles adds another layer to the lore. As they made a name for themselves in the United Kingdom, Hamburg, and finally the United States, media outlets frequently questioned the band about their name. Ever the jokester, Lennon stated that years before, he had a vision. "I saw a man on a flaming pie, and he said, 'You are the Beatles with an A.' And so we are," he explained on more than one occasion (per CBS News). 

A Beat Generation poet may have inspired the band's name

John Lennon once offered a more realistic explanation, stating that they derived the name from "beat music." However, George Harrison remembers things differently. He stated that the name was inspired by the film "The Wild One" wherein Marlon Brando plays a member of a gang called "The Beetles" (per Far Out).

Perhaps the Beat Generation culture played a role in the spelling change as well. Famous beat poet Royston Ellis claims to have thought of the spelling. He met Lennon in Liverpool and clearly left an impression given that The Beatles song "Paperback Writer" is about him. "Paperback Writer" and the possible influence of the Beat Generation of the early 1960s offer credibility to Ellis as the mastermind behind the "a" in The Beatles. Lennon was a fan of prominent Beat Generation writer Jack Kerouac, according to

The senses of freedom and unpolished thought flow from writers of the Beat Generation does seem to align with the lifestyle of John Lennon and Beatles songs, some of which have long been dissected for meaning. Perhaps Ellis is correct. Or perhaps the band's decision to call themselves The Beatles isn't actually that deep. If even the band members themselves aren't sure of the name's origin, how can anyone else?