Oct 26, 2012

Marx Brothers Name Origins

The five Marx brothers got their nicknames during a poker game. The Marx family comedy act was made up of Julius, Adolph, Leonard, Milton, and Herbert Marx. The five characters became better known as Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Gummo, and Zeppo. Four of the five were given their new names in 1915.

The boys were involved in a poker game with monologist Art Fisher. It was a popular fad around this time to give everyone a nickname that ended in “o”. Common nicknames were “Jingo” or “Bongo” or “Ringo, etc.

In this poker game, Fisher was dealing out the cards to the four Marx brothers and he gave them each their nicknames as he dealt. “First, here’s a card for ‘Harpo’.” Adolph Marx played the harp.

“Here’s one for ‘Chicko’.” Leonard Marx was a notorious ladies’ man and, in those days, women and girls were often referred to as “chickens”. Later the slang term became “chicks.” Supposedly, a typesetter accidentally left the “k” in “Chico” out in one town the brothers were performing in, and his name became “Chico.”

Next was Julius, “And here’s a card for Groucho.” The name derived from Julius’ not-so-friendly demeanor. Julius denied this for most of his life.

The fourth was Milton, “And here’s a card for Gummo”, Fisher said. This one has two popular theories behind it. The one the family (except Harpo) is because Milton often wore gumshoes (rubber soled shoes), hence “Gummo.” The alternate from Harpo is that Gummo was sneaky and would creep up on people like a gumshoe detective. Gumshoe detectives received their name for the same reason, rubber sole shoes.

A few years later, the youngest of the five brothers entered the act, replacing older brother Gummo. Herbert Marx became “Zeppo.” Harpo said Zeppo was named in honor of a wild monkey who played on the bars and ran around named “Zippo”. Groucho said in 1972 that Zeppo was named after the Zeppelin airships.