How Did The Mamas And The Papas Get Their Name?

The Mamas and The Papas won over legions of fans with their impressive harmonies on songs such as "California Dreamin'" and "Monday, Monday." The quartet, which consisted of John Phillips, Michelle Phillips, Denny Doherty, and Cass Elliot, enjoyed an impressive run on the musical charts beginning with their 1966 debut album, "If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears" (via AllMusic).

The band was also famous for the complicated relationships between its members. The band's name, The Mamas and The Papas, may have seemed to have some upbeat, happy family connotation, but that wasn't always the case behind the scenes. Initially, John Phillips didn't want Cass Elliot in the group. But she persisted, eventually winning him over. Phillips was swayed, at least in part, by an accident that expanded Elliot's vocal range. As she explained to Rolling Stone magazine in 1968, "Workmen dropped a thin metal plumbing pipe and it hit me on the head and knocked me to the ground. I had a concussion and went to the hospital. I had a bad headache for about two weeks and all of a sudden I was singing higher."

The Mamas and The Papas' first name didn't stick

According to the official The Mamas and The Papas website, by the time the band formed, each member had already been in several different groups, but none of these acts had particularly stellar names. John Phillips started with the Journeymen, which was a three-person folk act. Cass Elliot and Denny Doherty were a part of the Big Three and Halifax Three respectively. Then the two played together in the oddly named the Mugwumps. Elliot managed to avoid the whole naming challenge for a time, performing as a solo act, singing jazz in Washington, D.C., per AllMusic.

To fulfill an existing recording contract, John Phillips revived his old band and rebranded it as The New Journeymen. This time, though, he brought his wife Michelle into the group and got Doherty to sign on. The new name didn't last long, though, and once Elliot was accepted as a member, they first tried calling themselves the Magic Circle. But then Elliot found inspiration for the moniker which struck in a somewhat unlikely place: Television.

Cass Elliot found inspiration on TV

According to Doherty's official site, the band members were hanging out together one night watching television when a few members of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang appeared on a talk show. One gang member talked about how they call their girlfriends "Mamas." After watching this show, Elliot noted that she wanted to be a mama, too, and Michelle Phillips liked the idea. John Phillips thought that he and Doherty could be the papas. That's how one of rock's most memorable band names was born.

Around the same time, they decided on a name, some tensions soon surfaced between members of the group. Doherty said that he got involved with Michelle while she was still married to John. This romantic liaison must have upset Elliot because she was in love with Doherty, per Rolling Stone magazine. Add drugs and alcohol to this simmering mix of personal tensions, and it's impressive that The Mamas and The Papas managed to stay together long enough to make four albums (via AllMusic). By 1969, it was all over for The Mamas & the Papas, and each member tried going solo. Elliot's untimely death in 1974 ended what could have been a promising career, and the others never recaptured the magic of The Mamas and The Papas.