Bob Dylan Is Not His Real Name (And Why That Matters To Musicians)

Just like a Russian spy, Bob Dylan is not his real name. It’s just an alias.

Bob Dylan aka Robert Zimmerman

Bob Dylan aka Robert Zimmerman (photo via GQ.com)

Early on in his career, Robert Zimmerman (later to be called Dylan) introduced himself as Elston Gunn at concerts. But in his autobiography, Chronicles, he said that name was just temporary.

Once he left his hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota, he was going to call himself Robert Allen, saying “that was who I was.”

But then he decided he liked the spelling Allyn better. Then he saw some poems by Dylan Thomas and thought the name Robert Dylan would be cool.

So he ended up at a crossroads, trying to decide between Robert Allyn, Robert Dylan, Bob Allyn, or Bob Dylan.

His sub-conscience made the decision for him.

“The first time I was asked my name in the Twin Cities, I instinctively and automatically without thinking simply said, ‘Bob Dylan,’” he writes. “Now, I had to get used to people calling me Bob. I’d never been called that before, and it took me some time to respond to people who called me that.”

But it stuck. And it worked out for him.

In 2004, a 60 Minutes interviewer asked him why he changed his name in the first place. His answer was so Dylan-esque.

“Some people — you’re born, you know, the wrong names, wrong parents,” Dylan said. “I mean, that happens. You call yourself what you want to call yourself. This is the land of the free.”

The moral of this story: put a lot of thought into your stage name or band name, but ultimately, it’ll come to down to your gut feeling.

For example, when my band mates and I were trying to decide on a name, some of the “options” included Shark Farts, The Immediate Regret, and other terrible ideas that I’m too embarrassed to type.

Fortunately, I went with my gut and chose Caleb J. Murphy and The Bright Future.


I originally wrote a version of this article for Crazy4Rock

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2 thoughts on “Bob Dylan Is Not His Real Name (And Why That Matters To Musicians)

  1. Bob picks a new last name and 50 years later, there are tens of thousands of kids (and adults) named “Dylan”

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