The Name Game

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"The Name Game"
Single by Shirley Ellis
from the album The Name Game
B-side"Whisper To Me Wind"
Released1964 (1964)
GenreR&B, novelty
  • 2:39
Producer(s)Charles Calello
"Name Game"
Single by Laura Branigan
from the album Touch
GenreSynth-pop, pop rock
LabelAtlantic Records
Songwriter(s)Shirley Elliston, Lincoln Chase
Producer(s)David Kesherbaun
Laura Branigan singles chronology
"Cry Wolf"
"Name Game"
"Moonlight in Water"

"The Name Game" is an American popular music song co-written and performed first by Shirley Ellis[1] as a rhyming game that creates variations on a person's name.[2] Ellis recorded the song in 1964. She explains through speaking and singing how to play the game. The first verse is done using Shirley Ellis's first name; the other names used in the original version of the song are: Lincoln, Arnold, Tony, Billy, and Marsha, while the final verse is the one syllable "Little Trick with Nick".


Written by American singer Shirley Ellis and Lincoln Chase, Ellis's recording, produced by Charles Calello, was released in late 1964 as "The Name Game". The record scored number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, and number 4 on the magazine's R&B charts during 1965. The record was re-released in 1966 and again in 1973. A R&B singer for 10 years before that success, Ellis was also successful with "The Clapping Song (Clap Pat Clap Slap)" (#8 pop and #16 R&B), and "The Nitty Gritty" (#8 on the Hot 100 and #4 on the Cash Box R&B chart). Ellis performed on then-major television programs, including Hullabaloo, American Bandstand and The Merv Griffin Show. It later became a popular children's singalong.[2]

"The Name Game" has been recorded by dozens of recording artists in the years since, notably Laura Branigan, whose version produced by Jeff Lorber was included on her 1987 album Touch, released as the fifth single. It features a classroom of third-grade schoolchildren singing along to the game. Judy Moody, Hannah Banana and many other phrases have been referenced from this song.

Often sung by relative unknowns for collections of songs for children, other cover versions have been recorded by artists as diverse as:

Ellis told the publication Melody Maker that the song was based on a game she played as a child.[2] On May 3, 2017, Howard Stern stated that he sings this song to young children, and calls it "his secret weapon" saying "it not only comforts them, it also distracts them from [his] unsightly features".[3]

This song was excerpted in Dickie Goodman's novelty break-in record single called "Shonanza" (1965), a spoof on the popular television Western Bonanza, where the "Tony" verse is sped up, and then slowed, losing its energy.

The former oldies AM radio station AM 1110, did a version of that song in the late 1980s, with the names of the living disc jockeys, who presided in that station at that time.


Using the name Katie as an example, the song follows this pattern:

Katie, Katie, bo-batie,
Bonana-fanna fo-fatie
Fee fi mo-matie

A verse can be created for any name with stress on the first syllable, with X as the name and Y as the name without the first consonant sound (if it begins with a consonant), as follows:

(X), (X), bo-b (Y)
Bonana-fanna fo-f (Y)
Fee fi mo-m (Y)

If the name starts with a b, f, or m, that sound simply is not repeated. For example: Billy becomes "Billy Billy bo-illy"; Fred becomes "bonana fanna fo-red"; Marsha becomes "fee fi mo-arsha"[2]

The song as originally performed gives no indication of what to do with names where the stress falls on a syllable after the first, like Anita or Antoinette, however, the cover version on the workout video Sweatin' to the Oldies 3 (vocals by Donna Miller) suggests that the first syllable should be dropped after the name is first said; the name Madonna is sung as "Madonna-donna-bo-bonna," etc.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Name Game". Billboard.
  2. ^ a b c d The Shirley Ellis Name Game Page
  3. ^ "'The Name Game' Is Howard's Secret Weapon With Children". Howard Stern. Retrieved 2017-05-07.