"The Name Game", or "The Banana Song", is a rhyming game that creates variations on a person's name. It was written by U.S. singer Shirley Ellis with Lincoln Chase, and Ellis's recording, produced by Charles Calello, was released in late 1964 as "The Name Game." That record went to number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, and number 4 on the magazine's R&B charts in 1965. The record was re-released in 1966 and again in 1973. While Ellis' stock in trade was novelty hits, she was not a one-hit wonder. A serious R&B singer for 10 years before that hit, Ellis also charted 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 "The Name Game" on major television programs of the day, including Hullabaloo, American Bandstand and The Merv Griffin Show. The song later became a popular children's singalong.
"The Name Game" has been recorded by dozens of recording artists in the years since, notably Laura Branigan, whose version produced by Jeff Lorber, appearing on her 1987 album Touch, features a classroom of third-grade schoolchildren singing along to the tongue-twisting game. The Brazilian singer Xuxa recorded a song using the same play and same sample in the song "Jogo da Rima". Often covered by relative unknowns on collections of songs for children, other cover versions have been recorded by artists as diverse (and campy) as Dean Ford and the Gaylords (1965), Divine (1980), and Soupy Sales (2002). In 1982, Stacy Lattisaw took her "rap" recording of "Attack of the Name Game" to #79 on the Hot 100. In 1993, this song was used on television as an advertisement for Little Caesar's Pizza. Stacy's version was sampled by Mariah Carey on her 1998 single "Heartbreaker", off her album Rainbow.
Ellis told Melody Maker magazine that the song was based on a game she played as a child.
Using the name Katie as an example, the song follows this pattern:
- Katie, Katie, bo-batie,
- Banana-fana fo-fatie
A verse can be created for any name, 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)
- Banana-fana fo-f (Y)
- Fee-Fi-mo-m (Y)
If the name starts with a vowel or vowel sound, the "b" "f" or "m" is inserted in front of the name.
And 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 "banana fana fo-red"; Marsha becomes "fee fi mo-arsha".)
Playing the game with names such as Alice, Dallas, Tucker, Chuck, Buck, Huck, Bart, Art, Marty, Mitch, Rich, Richie, Maggie, Ruby, Cletus or, in British English, Danny or Annie, results in profanity, or rude or improper language.
"The Name Game" can also refer to any of several variations on a word game also known in the United States as "States", in Croatia as "Kalodont", in Russia as "Goroda", and in Japan as "Shiritori", in which the players in turn name words in a given category beginning with the final letter of the previous word. For example, a game in which the category was "states of the United States of America" might proceed: Arkansas, South Dakota, Alaska... A game in which the category was "modern musical genres" might proceed: Reggaeton, new age, electronica, alt-rock...
"The Name Game" can also refer to an ongoing game in which one person calls out the name of their victim and then turns away. The victim loses if they look to see who it is. The initiator usually calls out the name in a demanding way, such as "Excuse me, Joe!". Some play that the initiator loses if they are quickly discovered. In a variant, the initiator follows with "sucks!" when the victim looks.