What’s in a name?

Dylan Thomas and Bob Dylan

Authors

  • David Boucher University of Cardiff and University of Johannesburg

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.1558/pomh.v8i2.106

Keywords:

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

Abstract

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).

References

Briggs, Robert. 1999. Poetry and the 1950s: Homage to the Beat Generation. Skysociety, ASIN B001GLA4L2.

Cale, John. 1989. Words for the Dying. Beggar’s Banquet. UK.

—1992. Fragments of a Rainy Season. Hannibal. UK.

Dylan, Bob. 1962. Bob Dylan. Columbia Records.

—1976. Desire. Columbia Records.

—1990. Under The Red Sky. Columbia Records.

—1992. Good As I Been To You. Columbia Records.

—1993b(a). World Gone Wrong. Columbia Records.

—2010. Folksinger’s Choice: Live Radio Performance, March 11th 1962, with Cynthia Gooding. Leftfield Media. Smith, Harry (compiler). 2009 (1952). The Anthology of American Folk Music. Smithsonian Folkways.

Thomas, Dylan. 2010. ‘Visit to America’ on Dylan Thomas Reads his Own Poetry. ALN 1912. ASIN: B002WFGQCC, Track 7.

Todd, Dylan. 1958. ‘American Folk Songs’. Overlord OLM101. LP.

Published

2014-05-20

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

Issue

Section

Articles