John, Paul, George and Ringo – so famous they are recognised by first names alone, as the most influential group in music history, The Beatles. But that was not the name they started with.
So what was The Beatles original name? The first name for the band that included John, Paul and George (who joined in 1958) was the Quarrymen, sometimes referred to as ‘the Quarry Men’. They were briefly known as the Blackjacks before Paul joined, but changed this because another local band had the same name. The band never performed under the Blackjacks name, which is why the Quarrymen is the Beatles original name.
Why the Quarrymen?
The original line up of the band was John and some school mates from Quarry Bank High School in the Liverpool suburb of Allerton.
Some stories credit John with coming up with the name himself, whilst others say that it really came from his close friend Pete Shotton. Whoever came up with the name, the name is actually taken from a line in their school song.
It is under this name that the band first performed at parties, school discos and amateur skiffle contents. It was also the bands’ name when Paul McCartney first met John Lennon in 1957, joining in October of that year. Paul later asked his close friend George Harrison to join the group, which he did in early 1958.
Most of the original band and school friends of John left in 1957 and 1958, chiefly to go to art college or in the case of Pete Shotten, because he was fired, although he remained close friends with John.
The move from Quarrymen to the Beatles happened over a period from 1959 into 1960, driven primarily because all of John Lennon’s old school mates had now left the band, so it’s meaning and legacy didn’t feel appropriate anymore, thus the band decided it was time to come up with a new name.
A Love for Buddy Holly
The origins of the Beatles name itself is well known. John and Stuart Sutcliffe were big fans of Buddy Holly and loved the name of his band ‘The Crickets’. Having searched similar insects, they settled on ‘The Beetles’, picked by Stuart. John changed this because of his love of wordplay and concluded that because they were a ‘beat’ band, they should adjust the name to ‘the Beatles’.
At least, that is the story most Beatles historians agree as being the most likely. A couple of rival theories do exist, one involving a little known beat poet called Royston Ellis, the other is the one spoken of by George Harrison on a few occasions in interviews much later in his life.
George claims that Stuart Sutcliffe was a big fan of the Marlon Brando film ‘The Wild Ones’. His character was called ‘Johnny’, who had a motorcycle gang named the ‘Beetles’. Most have trouble with this version because George never mentioned it until 30 years after the band was formed and because the film itself was banned in the UK at the time the band came up with the Beatles name.
Random Band Names and That Nickname
Aside from the Blackjacks and Quarrymen, the early Beatles used a number of different names. For example, they once called themselves the Rainbows because they turned up together for a show wearing different coloured shirts. In 1959, at a talent show, they actually dubbed themselves ‘Johnny and the Moondogs’ and in 1960 Paul and John did a couple of smaller shows by themselves under the name ‘The Nerk Twins’.
After deciding upon the Beatles as their name, the band was at various points called ‘The Silver Beetles’, ‘The Beetles’, ‘The Silver Beets’ and ‘The Silver Beatles’. John jokes that he was once introduced as Long John from the Silver Beetles!
The Beatles are often referred to just by their nickname, the ‘Fab Four’, which was actually first coined by their publicist Tony Barrow in a press release.
Reforming the Band
In 1997, the surviving members of the original Quarrymen; Pete Shotton, Rod Davis, Len Garry, Eric Griffiths and Colin Hanton, got together for a 40th-anniversary performance of the bands’ formation, at the venue where Paul McCartney and John Lennon first met, Woolton village fete.
Whilst he was ‘fired’ from the band after telling John that he didn’t enjoy playing in the band anymore, Pete had remained a close friend of John even after leaving the band and had a good relationship with the Beatles throughout their career.