Elton John’s real name is not Elton John. It’s really Reginald Kenneth Dwight. But “The award-winning composer of The Lion King, Reginald Dwight” doesn’t really have the best ring to it, so it’s clear why Elton John decided to change his name when he was just starting out in the music industry (no offense to anyone named Reginald or Dwight).
Obviously changing your name is not something to consider lightly, especially when you’re going on to sell out stadiums all over the world. The new Elton John biopic, Rocketman, shows us some of Reginald thought process for the name change, including one, very well placed Beatles poster. But did Elton John really name himself after John Lennon, or was that just a cute, dramatic flourish for his biopic?
In Rocketman, Reginald (Taron Egerton), starts pondering the idea of a name change as he’s on the rise to making it big. While in the process of doing this, the movie shows Reginald looking at a picture of Lennon, thus giving way to his name John (and as the movie suggests, he takes the name “Elton” from one his bandmates, Elton Dean). However, that’s not exactly how it happened in real life, and while part of the naming story is true, John Lennon actually had nothing to do with it.
Before he was a solo act, Reginald — or “Reggie” — was recording with a band called Bluesology. In the mid-1960s, they started performing as musician Long John Baldry's supporting band and played 16 times at the Marquee Club in the 1960s. Shortly after this, Reginald answered a musical ad on his own and started working with Bernie Taupin (a partnership that still continues today). At this time, Reggie changed his name to Elton John as a homage to two members of Bluesology: saxophonist Elton Dean and vocalist Long John Baldry.
He also replaced his middle name, swapping Kenneth for Hercules (so yes, Elton John's middle name is actually Hercules, as he states in Rocketman). He did it, not as a nod to the mythological Greek hero, but rather the horse from the British sitcom Steptoe and Son.
On January 11, 1972, The London Gazette published a quick little blurb about Elton John's name change, because that’s how they did it back in the day before Twitter. The paper wrote, “ELTON HERCULES JOHN of 14 Abbotts Drive, Wentworth, Surrey, a British Subject, abandoned the surname of Dwight and the Christian names of Reginald Kenneth.” And thus, Elton John was born.
However, even though Elton John didn’t lift his name from John Lennon, the two still have a history together. Lennon's last performance ever was with John, at Madison Square Garden on November 28, 1974. The only reason Lennon even appeared onstage was because he lost a bet to John. At the time, Lennon was the only former Beatles member without a number one hit, but after the singers collaborated together, John bet him that it would reach number one.
"He sang harmony on it and he really did a damn good job," Lennon explained in 1980. "So, I sort of halfheartedly promised that if 'Whatever Gets You Thru the Night' became No. 1, which I had no reason to expect, I'd do Madison Square Garden with him. So one day Elton called and said, 'Remember when you promised ...'"
While John didn't actually choose his name because of Lennon, at least they shared a number one song and a concert together.