What’s in a name?

Dylan Thomas and Bob Dylan


  • David Boucher University of Cardiff and University of Johannesburg




America, the Beats, Chelsea Hotel, Cohen, fame, poetry, masks


In this article I want to address more directly and extensively than previous studies why Bob Dylan chose his stage name. There are three contexts which allow us to arrive at an answer: the first, for which there is a good deal of evidence; the second, more speculative; and the third, evaluative. The article puts forward the proposition that Bob Dylan’s choice of surname was motivated by the pervasive mythology and enviable cultural capital of Dylan Thomas in the years after his death in 1953. The first question to be addressed is why would anyone want to adopt the name Dylan in the late 1950s. Second, attention focuses on Robert Zimmerman in particular and asks why he, given the broader context of the Welshman’s cultural capital, decided to take Dylan Thomas’s Christian name as his surname. The third context is that of poetry and the influence Thomas had upon Bob Dylan’s work. I suggest that Robert Zimmerman’s choice was not because he was influenced by the poetry itself.

Author Biography

David Boucher, University of Cardiff and University of Johannesburg

David Boucher is a research professor at Cardiff University and Senior Fellow of the University of Johannesburg. He has published widely in the history of political thought, international relations and popular culture. Among his publications are Dylan and Cohen: Poets of Rock and Roll (2004), and edited with Gary Browning, The Political Art of Bob Dylan (2009). His most recent book is The British Idealists: A Guide for the Perplexed (2011 with Andrew Vincent).


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How to Cite

Boucher, D. (2014). What’s in a name? Dylan Thomas and Bob Dylan. Popular Music History, 8(2), 106–125. https://doi.org/10.1558/pomh.v8i2.106