The Name Hugh Hefner Almost Chose For Playboy

Hugh Hefner's Playboy empire made an impression on the world as big as Disney's. The mainstream acceptance of pornography, the great authors whose stories and essays ran a few pages from the centerfolds, the mansion, the ubiquitous bunny, even the word "playboy" — which once meant an idle, wealthy man, and now describes a Don Juan — we owe to one man from the Midwest and the shabby, low-budget girlie mag he launched in 1953. (Very low budget: As Business Insider reports, Hefner needed a loan from his mother just to get the first issue to print.)

So it may be surprising to learn that "Playboy" was not Hefner's first pick for the title of his magazine. Hefner, a discharged soldier and junior-level magazine cartoonist, needed a name that would embody the erotic intrigue and romantic masculinity that he'd seen as a boy in "Esquire" magazine, per The Washington Post. Beautiful women, exotic adventures, sex, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, more sex — what one word contained all that?

Deer me, that won't work at all

You might be disappointed by his initial proposal: "Stag Party," according to Complex. It's appropriate enough, in its way. After all, stags are male, and not only male but flamboyantly so, with big spreading antlers to advertise their sexual availability. They fight over mates, they eschew monogamy, they play a role in the lives of men all over rural America (who hunt them). So far, so Hefner. The term "stag party," for an exclusively male gathering or bachelor party with pornographic implications, had also been in use since the 1850s (per Merriam-Webster). 

Unfortunately for Hefner — or perhaps fortunately — there was already a magazine called "Stag" in circulation in the 1950s. The Magazine Data File shows a few of its covers, which reveal a magazine with the same general interests as Hefner. The names were too similar to avoid a cease-and-desist letter.

In any case, Hefner's vision was more grandiose than the pulpy, adolescent "Stag" stuff. He wanted a name that implied refinement, leisure, cultivation, a philosophy of hedonism instead of a raw mimesis. "Playboy" fit the bill. "Can you imagine," Hef would later joke, "a chain of clubs staffed by girls wearing antlers?"

The five-part documentary series "Secrets of Playboy" begins streaming January 24 on A&E.