This Is How Toto Got Its Name

Its heyday is, by and large, decades behind us, but in the 1980s there was nothing bigger musically than "arena rock." Like the new wave genre, arena rock is one of those things that's hard to define -– it's more of an "I'll know it when I hear it" sort of thing. But overall, arena rock was and is defined by power ballads, anthems, and generally melting the faces of sold-out arenas in front of tens of thousands of fans.

One of the biggest arena rock bands of the day was Toto, formed in Los Angeles in the mid-1970s, according to the band's website. They may not have been the biggest of their day –- that honor probably goes to Styx – but with singable and catchy hits like "Hold the Line," "Africa," and "Rosanna," Toto certainly played its share of stadiums in its day. Not a bad accomplishment for a group of men who had been laboring behind the scenes for years, providing backing music for other, bigger artists.

session musicians

For as long as the music industry has been a thing, it has relied on so-called "session musicians" to get the job done. A session musician, for those not familiar, is someone who provides background music for another act, either in the recording studio or on tour. For example, The Carpenters were big for a decade, but Richard and Karen alone couldn't play all of the instruments at the same time on all of their records and live performances, and anonymous session musicians worked behind the scenes, both on tour and in the studio, to provide the background sound for their performances.

The founding members of Toto were all session musicians, according to the band's website, and in a round-about way, that informed their name. Specifically, bassist David Hungate told his bandmates that the Latin word, toto, means "total" or "all-encompassing." The other members of the band figured that word worked, considering their musical backgrounds. "['Toto' is] representative of our music. Mishmash. A goulash," said drummer Jeff Porcaro.

But what about the dog?

Of course, when the word "Toto" comes to mind, most Americans aren't going to go directly to the word's Latin roots. Instead, the image conjured up is going to be the dog from the film "The Wizard of Oz," and one of its most famous lines, "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore." 

So did the dog have anything to do with the band's name? Yes, actually, according to the band's website. Specifically, Porcaro had recently watched the movie and had written the word "Toto" on the demo tapes he'd recorded as a way to keep track of them. So in a way, Porcaro's writing of the word on the tapes spurned Hungate to muse on the Latin meaning of the word. In other words, the band wasn't named directly for the dog, but the dog did inform the band's name, however obliquely.

As for how L. Frank Baum, author of "The Wizard of Oz," came up with the name for the dog; according to Bleeding Cool, the name probably came from a Latin phrase involving another dog (of a sort): Sirius, the Dog Star. "Dum calidus toto Sirius ore latrat," which translates loosely to a reference to what we now refer to as the dog days of summer — "While hot all over, Sirius' mouth barks," according to a trusty Google translation.