BARRY LEVINE: Rockers play ‘The Name Game’

OLD ROCKER: Shirley Ellis has a hit with name game song

Shirley Ellis

Shirley Ellis


“Shirley, Shirley bo Birley Bonana fanna fo Firley

Fee fy mo Mirley, Shirley!


“Lincoln, Lincoln bo Bincoln Bonana fanna fo Fincoln

Fee fy mo Mincoln, Lincoln!”

“Come on everybody!

"I say now let’s play a game

"I betcha I can make a rhyme out of anybody’s name

"The first letter of the name, I treat it like it wasn’t there

"But a B or an F or an M will appear

"And then I say

"And then I say bo add a B then I say the name and Bonana fanna and a fo

"A"nd then I say the name again with an F very plain and a fee fy and a mo

"And then I say the name again with an M this time and there isn’t any name that I can’t rhyme.”

— Shirley Ellis’ 1964 hit “The Name Game”


Shirley Ellis started a trend with this 1964 Top 5 novelty hit which played games with people’s names.

Rock stars played games with their names long before “The Name Game” reached the charts. It was not uncommon for performers to change their names for a variety of reasons.

Some changed their names to make it more generic. As examples, Frankie Avallone became Frankie Avalon, Concetta Rosa Marie Franconero became Connie Francis and Robert Velline became Bobby Vee,

Here’s how five rockers got their professional names.

Albany’s own Ray Charles had 33 Top 40 hits including three No. 1 smashes — “Georgia on My Mind” in 1960, “Hit the Road Jack” in 1961 and “I Can’t Stop Loving You” in 1962.

His real name was Ray Charles Robinson. He dropped his last name to avoid confusion with Sugar Ray Robinson, the Georgia native who was a champion boxer.

Ray Stevens, who spent his high school years in Albany, became the king of the novelty tune. He had 10 Top 40 hits, two of which reached No. 1 — “Everything is Beautiful” in 1970 and “The Streak” in 1974.

Stevens was born Harold Ray Ragsdale. He adopted the professional name of Ray Stevens, which was a combination of his middle name and his mother’s maiden name.

Reaching superstardom during 1960 when “The Twist” reached No. 1 for the first of two times, Chubby Checker gained his reputation as the king of the dance song. Besides “The Twist”, he charted with dance songs including “The Hucklebuck” in 1960, “Pony Time,” “Mess Around,” “The Fly” and “Let’s Twist Again” in 1961 and “Slow Twistin,’ ” “Dancing Party,” “Limbo Rock” and “Popeye (The Hitchhiker)” in 1962. Overall, he had 23 Top 40 hits with “The Twist” and “Pony Time” climbing to No. 1.

He was born Ernest Evans and two people helped formulate his professional name. His boss at the Produce Market in Philadelphia gave him the nickname “Chubby” for obvious reasons. Then at a recording session for American Bandstand, he was asked my host Dick Clark’s wife, what his name was. He replied, “My friends call me ‘Chubby.’ ” She said, “As in Checker?” Hence the name Chubby Checker.

One of the red-hot stars of the late 1950s and early 1960s, Bobby Darin quickly reached stardom in 1958 when “Splish Splash” reached No. 3 on the charts. He quickly followed with Top 10 hits “Queen of the Hop” in 1958, “Dream Lover” and “Mack the Knife” in 1959 and “Beyond the Sea” in 1960. Darin finished his career with 22 Top 40 hits and a No. 1 smash “Mack the Knife” that remained No. 1 for nine weeks.

Born Robert Walden Cassotto, he was called Bobby as a youngster growing up in the Bronx, N.Y. He got his new surname, “Darin,” from a neon sign on a Chinese restaurant that was supposed to say “Mandarin” but the first three letters were burned out.

Barry Manilow started his career in 1974 with “Mandy,” a No. 1 hit. He later had two other No. 1 hits — “I Write the Songs” in 1975 and “It Looks Like We Made It” in 1977. Throughout his career, He amassed 25 Top 40 hits, eight of which reached the Top10. In 1978. Five of Manilow’s albums were on the best-seller charts at the same time, a feat matched only by Herb Alpert, The Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen and Johnny Mathis.

Born Barry Pincus, he was the son of Harold Pincus and Edna Manilow. His mother’s family was Jewish and his father’s family was Jewish on his father’s side and Irish American on his mother’s side. At the time of his bar mitzvah, he decided to adopt his mother’s maiden name, Manilow.

Johnny Rivers had a tremendous string of hits from 1964 and 1968, including “Memphis,” “Maybelline,” “Mountain of Love,” “Midnight Special,” “The Seventh Son,” “Muddy Waters,” and “Secret Agent Man.” During his career, he had 17 Top 40 songs, eight of which climbed into the Top 10.

Born John Henry Ramistella, he was advised in 1958 to change his name by renowned New York DJ Alan Freed, who is credited with coining the phrase, “rock ‘n’ roll.” Ramistella, who was living in Batron Rouge, La., at the time, had an attorney change his name to Johnny Rivers after the Mississippi River that flows through Baton Rouge.

Barry Levine is an entertainment writer for The Albany Herald. He can be emailed here.