In case you didn't know, Elton John's real name is not Elton John. As the new biopic Rocketman makes very clear, the artist's given name is Reginald Dwight. So, where did the name Elton John come from? The movie tells a story about where the singer got his inspiration, but unless John's been keeping something very secret from his fans, it's not totally accurate.
In Rocketman, John (Taron Egerton) tells one of the guys in the band he's in, Bluesology, that he's thinking of changing his name to Elton Dean. In response, the bandmate says, "But that's my name." And John says, "Yeah, I know." (In the trailer, for some reason, it's cut down so he just says "Elton" instead of "Elton Dean".)
Then, a little bit later in the movie, the singer shows up to a meeting at a record label, and when he's asked his name, he says "Elton" and then adds "John" after seeing a photo of John Lennon on the wall.
So, did John really take his name from a friend and a Beatle? The story in the movie is half true. In a 1991 interview with Rowan Atkinson, John said of choosing "Elton," "I used to be in a band, and I wanted to become a singer in my own right, and I wanted to choose a name. And the saxophone player in the band was called Elton, so I chose that name." This is Elton Dean, whose 2006 obituary in The Guardian even opens with an anecdote about it.
Being a jazz musician — and thus inclined to the wry world view — Elton Dean appreciated the irony that he was better known for giving Elton John half his name than for his own superlative saxophone playing.
Another Guardian obituary explains where "John" came from. John took his new surname from singer Long John Baldry, for whom Bluesology became the backing band. According to the obituary, John's song, "Someone Changed My Life Tonight" is about Baldry.
As for why Rocketman throws in the joke about Lennon rather than telling the truth about Baldry, it's unclear — and also confusing, as John is an executive producer on the film. There isn't any publicly known evidence of a falling out between John and Baldry, who is not even featured as a character in the film.
It could be that including Lennon as the name inspiration was a way to recognize the relationship that Lennon and John did have, without making Lennon a character in the movie. Some John fans on Twitter talked about the change in a long thread, and one claimed to have heard that Lennon was included because he's more recognizable. Either way, given that the story with Baldry is commonly known, it's an odd choice.
Aside from the "Eltons" and "Johns" of it all, there's also the musician's chosen middle name: Hercules. According to Smooth Radio, John took that name from a horse on the TV show Steptoe and Son. Reginald Kenneth Dwight legally changed his name to Elton Hercules John in 1972, explains Smooth Radio.
"When I became Elton John, it was like a new lease on life," John said in a 1987 interview. "I didn't particularly like being Reg Dwight. It had too many unhappy memories. I hated the word 'Reg', anyway. It was just a horrible name. As soon as I was Elton, it was just great. It was like a new personality."