Behind the Meaning of the Traditional Nursery Rhyme, “Bingo Was His Name-O”

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

In the history of nursery rhymes, hand claps and farms seem to be some of the most resonant aspects of the popular folky ditties. Here, in “Bingo Was His Name-O,” we have both.

Indeed, the rhyme is very popular and very well-known. It’s one of the first games we learn as children, for the enjoyment we receive when we play along, clapping in place for the letters of the puppy’s name.

But where did this rhyme come from and what’s the meaning behind it? Let’s investigate.

Meaning Origin

“Bingo Was His Name-O” is an English language children’s song without a clear origin.

The song is sung and includes the omission of certain letters in the lyrics, replaced by hand claps or barking.

The earliest known reference to any aspect of the song comes from the title of a piece of sheet music published way back in 1780. That attributed the song to William Swords, an actor a the Haymarket Theatre of London.

[RELATED: Behind the Meaning and History of the Nursery Rhyme “Three Blind Mice”]

Early versions of the tune were called “The Farmer’s Dog Leapt o’er the Stile” “A Franklyn’s Dogge” or even “Little Bingo.”

An early transcript of the song, sans title, dates back to 1785, and the songbook The Humming Bird, which reads:

The farmer’s dog leapt over the stile,
his name was little Bingo,
the farmer’s dog leapt over the stile,
his name was little Bingo.
B with an I — I with an N,
N with a G — G with an O;
his name was little Bingo:
B—I—N—G—O;
His name was little Bingo.


The farmer loved a cup of good ale,
he called it rare good stingo,
the farmer loved a cup of good ale,
he called it rare good stingo.
S—T with an I — I with an N,
N with a G — G with an O;
He called it rare good stingo:
S—T—I—N—G—O;
He called it rare good stingo


And is this not a sweet little song?
I think it is —— by jingo.
And is this not a sweet little song?
I think it is —— by jingo.
J with an I — I with an N,
N with a G — G with an O;
I think it is —— by jingo:
J—I—N—G—O;
I think it is —— by jingo.

Later Versions of Bingo

A similar transcription to the above dates back to 1840 as part of The Ingoldsby Legends.

The transcribing for that is credited in part to Mr. Simpkinson from Bath. That version drops several of the repeated lines found in the above 1785 version and the newer ones used more archaic spelling.

The first line reads, “A franklyn’s dogge” rather than “The farmer’s dog.”

Another version, similar to the Ingoldsby offering, is also known from 1888, though it has some different spelling variations.

The song’s presence was known in the United States, noted by Robert M. Charlton in 1842.

English folklorist Alice Bertha Gomme recorded eight different forms of the song in 1894.

Highly-differing versions were recorded in Monton, Shropshire, Liphook and Wakefield, Staffordshire, Nottinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Derbyshire, and Endborne. All of these were associated with children’s games, with slightly different rules, depending on the locale.

Early versions of the song were also said to be adult drinking game songs.

Variations of the tune’s lyrics include the dog belonging to a miller or a shepherd. Sometimes the dog is named Bingo, other times Pinto.

In some versions, a variation of the third stanza is added to read:

The farmer loved a pretty young lass,
and gave her a wedding-ring-o.
R with an I — I with an N,
N with a G — G with an O;
(etc.)

[RELATED: Behind the Meaning of the Classic Nursery Rhyme “Jack and Jill”]

Versions that are variations on the early version of “Bingo” have been recorded in classical arrangements by Frederick Ranalow in 1925, John Langstaff in 1952, and Richard Lewis in 1960. Under the title “Little Bingo”, a variation on the early version was recorded twice by folk singer Alan Mills, on Animals, Vol. 1 (1956) and on 14 Numbers, Letters, and Animal Songs (1972).

The Contemporary Bing Version

The songs as it’s known today goes most often like this:

There was a farmer had a dog,
and Bingo was his name-o.
B-I-N-G-O
B-I-N-G-O
B-I-N-G-O
And Bingo was his name-o.


There was a farmer had a dog,
and Bingo was his name-o.
(clap)-I-N-G-O
(clap)-I-N-G-O
(clap)-I-N-G-O
And Bingo was his name-o.


There was a farmer had a dog,
and Bingo was his name-o.
(clap)-(clap)-N-G-O
(clap)-(clap)-N-G-O
(clap)-(clap)-N-G-O
And Bingo was his name-o.


There was a farmer had a dog,
and Bingo was his name-o.
(clap)-(clap)-(clap)-G-O
(clap)-(clap)-(clap)-G-O
(clap)-(clap)-(clap)-G-O
And Bingo was his name-o.


There was a farmer had a dog,
and Bingo was his name-o.
(clap)-(clap)-(clap)-(clap)-O
(clap)-(clap)-(clap)-(clap)-O
(clap)-(clap)-(clap)-(clap)-O
And Bingo was his name-o.


There was a farmer had a dog,
and Bingo was his name-o.
(clap)-(clap)-(clap)-(clap)-(clap)
(clap)-(clap)-(clap)-(clap)-(clap)
(clap)-(clap)-(clap)-(clap)-(clap)
And Bingo was his name-o.

Final Thoughts

With the classic nursery rhyme, “Bingo Was his Name-O,” it would seem that many things are going on.

First and foremost, the song is fun to sing. Who doesn’t like farmers and dogs in their tunes? The song is also social, with an entire class of children able to sing along together, clapping together as they replace the letters of the dog’s name.

Similarly, the song teaches imagination. Kids realize they don’t have to communicate with a letter to get something across. Instead, a clap can remain in place, and even still, the idea is communicated. Furthermore, kids learn the power of sounds, rhythm, and music.

On the face of it, the song is a simple nursery rhyme. But as usual, it’s also an important teaching tool. Tea-ea-ea-ching tool!

Photo by Gettyimages.com

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