The Many Names of David Bowie: Part 1
During his long career, rock icon David Bowie was the master of reinvention, constantly changing image and donning guises, until it has become a cliche to describe him as chameleon-like. More unusually, the masks that Bowie wore and the roles he assumed were often given a name, becoming characters in their own right. In tribute to David Bowie, who passed away earlier this year, here are some of the names he wore or were connected with him.
Before he was David Bowie, he was plain David Jones. Mr and Mrs Jones chose one of the most popular names of the 1940s for their son – a clear indication that you do not need an unusual name to lead an extraordinary life.
David is derived from the Hebrew Dawid, meaning “to love,” and usually translated as “beloved” or “my darling.” The name came into common use because of the biblical character, a handsome young warrior and talented musician who eventually became king of Israel. We usually remember him for the “David and Goliath battle” when he beat a giant single-handed. A timeless classic since the Middle Ages, David is popular internationally, and in the English-speaking world is most popular in the US, where it is Number18 and stable. It’s never gone out of style, and could unobtrusively honour David Bowie.
When David Jones was a struggling pop singer, his stage name Davie Jones was easily confused with Davy Jones from The Monkees. So he changed his name to David Bowie, the surname after American pioneer Jim Bowie, who he saw in the historical film The Alamo. He chose the name of a famous American in tribute to the American music which first inspired him, and reportedly because he wanted a “cutting” name like Mick Jagger – the fighting knife called the bowie was created for Jim Bowie.
Bowie is a Scottish surname derived from the Gaelic nickname Buidhe, meaning “yellow,” to denote someone blond or fair haired. It was first used as a personal name in Scotland, but in the US was increasingly given to honour Jim Bowie, and particularly associated with the Alamo-remembering south. In 2014 there were 59 boys named Bowie and 30 girls in the US, while in the UK there were 5 boys and 3 girls. A musical name like Lennon and Hendrix, this also fits in with the trend for weapon names like Blade and Arrow. The passing of David Bowie could increase the number of Bowies, already rising for boys in the US.
Before he became David Bowie, he seriously considered Tom Jones as his stage name. Instead, Major Tom the doomed astronaut became the hero of David Bowie‘s 1969 Space Oddity. The song didn’t get much airplay until after the safe return of the Apollo 11 mission, but became Bowie‘s breakout hit, and is regarded as one of the greatest rock songs of the twentieth century. David Bowie refers to Major Tom in other songs (notably ‘Ashes to Ashes’), and in the music video for Blackstar we get a possible hint of his final fate. Such a seminal figure is Tom that he is mentioned in several songs by other artists as well.
Tom, a short form of Thomas, is currently popular in Ireland and elsewhere in Europe, and fairly well used in the UK. Despite the charm of American classic Tom Sawyer, the name is not common in the US where there were 76 boys named Tom in 2014.
Ziggy Stardust is probably Bowie‘s most famous alter ego, inspired by pioneering English rocker Vince Taylor, who impressed Bowie with his magnificent repertoire of dottiness, which included the belief that he was the son of God and a diet composed solely of eggs. The name Ziggy came from a London tailor’s shop that Bowie passed on a train, while Stardust was after weird American novelty act The Legendary Stardust Cowboy. Thus Ziggy Stardust was a mixture of fashion, madness, outsider art, and rock and roll excess.
Ziggy is a nickname for Germanic names such as Sigmund, but in practice used for a variety of names starting with Z. In 2014 there were 43 boys and six girls named Ziggy in the US: it’s more popular in the UK, where it is #935 for boys, and four girls were given the name.
The Spiders from Mars were David Bowie‘s backing band in the early 1970s, especially known from the album Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. They were named after an alleged 1954 UFO sighting at an Italian football game, blamed on migrating spiders. Bowie was very interested in UFOs, and believed he had witnessed some himself. A keen sci-fi fan, the planet Mars was another fascination of his, featuring enigmatically in the song ‘Life on Mars?’
The planet Mars is named after the Roman god of war and agriculture. Although the origin of the name is unknown, it is the basis for the word martial, meaning “war-like,” and the names Marcus and Martin. Mars has been rarely used as an English name, not always a reference to the god or planet, as Mars is also a surname that’s a variant of Marsh. It’s more common in Scandinavia and Central Europe, a contraction of Marius. It might be considered too out of this world, or a source of teasing because of the Mars candy bar, but in 2014 there were 34 boys named Mars; celebrities who’ve used it include Erykah Badu and Blake Anderson.
Stay tuned for Part II–coming soon.