Goo Goo Dolls lead singer John Rzeznik
wrote this about his childhood. He sings it to his sisters who raised him; both his parents died when he was young and his father was an alcoholic. The line, "We're grown up orphans who never knew their names" reflects his past.
The title, though, and the line "And I won't tell no one your name," have a different inspiration that wasn't revealed until much later: Rzeznik's almost-romance with MTV VJ Kennedy, who tried to keep her real name secret. In her book The Kennedy Chronicles
, she recalls how she and the singer shared a brief kiss and a series of flirtatious phone calls but didn't pursue anything more because he was married. In her interview with Rzeznik, included in the book, he admits, "It was pretty interesting to have a song inspired by a moment. And I thought it was a very sweet song."
Rzeznik thanks Kennedy in the song credits, using her real name, Lisa Montgomery.
This was the Goo Goo Dolls' first hit. They had released four albums by then and had a large following in upstate New York, but this brought them national fame.
For The Goo Goo Dolls, this ballad was not typical of their sound. Considered an "alternative" group, "Name" crossed over to Pop and Adult Contemporary radio, greatly increasing their fan base, but alienating some core listeners who were used to their harder sound. "It's one component of what we do, but usually we're a lot harder," Rzeznik conceded in a 1995 interview with The Morning Call. "I wouldn't start writing songs like 'Name' all the time just because I thought that's what people wanted to hear. I'll write a song in the same vein because it's what I want to write."
The album title is a play on the Johnny Cash song "A Boy Named Sue
." The cover shows a young boy smeared with blackberries, which caused a problem when Wal-Mart refused to stock the album because they thought it depicted a child abuse victim. When this story broke in the media, Wal-Mart backed off, convinced the cover was simply a boy and his goo.
The Geoff Moore-directed music video follows a bus full of passengers on a journey to nowhere (in reality a six-hour trip around Los Angeles) and incorporates black-and-white scenes of Rzeznik singing.
While the band was putting the album together, Rzeznik had no idea this would be a single - or even get noticed. "I put it in the middle of the record where I thought no one would find it," he explained. "Usually albums are frontloaded with singles."
The unusual D-A-E-A-E-E guitar tuning came about by accident. Rzeznik recalled in a radio interview with San Francisco's KFOG: "It was weird, I was just sitting on my couch randomly twisting the tuning pegs, and I couldn't figure out what notes the guitar was tuned to, so I had to grab my tuner to find out, and then I jotted them down on a Post-it." He added: "I just sat there and let my fingers play the fretboard openly, and that is what became the progression of 'Name.'"
The album's cover art features a little boy with blackberry juice smeared on his face. The image caused a kerfuffle with Walmart customers who mistook the juice for blood and accused the band of glorifying child abuse. The retail chain responded by pulling the CD from its shelves. Rzeznik commented on the controversy, saying, "The name of the album is A Boy Named Goo. The picture is of a boy covered with goo. What part of this concept are they unclear on?"
When the Goo Goo Dolls didn't receive any royalties from the album, which sold two million copies, they sued their record label, Metal Blade, over their "grossly unfair, one-sided and unenforceable contract." They reached a settlement that allowed the band to sign with Metal Blade's distributing label, Warner Bros. Records, who issued their next album, Dizzy Up The Girl.
This was used on the TV series Being Erica in the 2009 episode "Papa Can You Hear Me?"
In 1996, Rzeznik told Guitar World magazine the song "is about having the inevitable regrets that come with growing up. With every decision you make in your life, you're going to have some regrets about which way it goes. You just have to choose which set of regrets you can live with the best, and try to minimize the amount of regrets you have."
Rzeznik recorded this using a "magic" Taylor guitar that's brought luck to several other acts. "Our producer at the time, Rob Cavallo, has this guitar that's been used by me, Green Day and so many other artists who have had hits with hit," he told American Songwriter. "I didn't have any great guitars back when I wrote 'Name.' I thought Rob was going to have a heart attack when I first started winding the strings up and down!"