Did You Know “Silver Bells” Almost Had an Embarrassing Name?

“Silver Bells” almost had an entirely different connotation than the jolly Christmas tune we know and love today. The holiday classic was penned by the hit songwriting duo of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans and was originally sung by Bing Crosby and Carol Richards in 1950. It rose to prominence in the 1951 film, The Lemon Drop Kid, starring Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell. But it was written with a different name that would’ve given the song a whole new meaning.

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Livingston and Evans were commissioned by Paramount Pictures to write a song for the Christmas-themed film and they found inspiration in an unlikely source, a small bell on Evans’ desk. They connected this to the Salvation Army volunteers who stand outside stores ringing a bell during the holiday season to raise donations, which led the song to initially being titled “Tinkle Bells.”

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“We had no enthusiasm for writing a Christmas song, cause we figured … that the world had too many Christmas songs already,” Evans explained, according to the Library of Congress. “We shared an office with two desks. And on one of the desks there was a little bell. We said, ‘Oh, there’s our theme for Christmas and the bell makes a tinkling sound when it’s ringing, so we’ll call our song ‘Tinkle Bell.’”

While the writers thought of it as the gentle ringing sound made by a bell, it was Livingston’s wife who saved the song from potential embarrassment, as “tinkle” is also a synonym for urination. “‘Are you out of your mind? Do you know what the word ‘tinkle’ means to most people?'” Evans recalls Livingston’s wife saying when he told her the name of the song in Philip Furia and Michael Lasser’s book America’s Songs: The Stories Behind the Songs of Broadway, Hollywood, and Tin Pan Alley. “We never thought that ‘tinkle’ had a double meaning until Jay went home.”

They changed the title to “Silver Bells” that’s now a Christmas classic. Artists ranging from Kate Smith to country duo The Judds have also recorded it over the decades.

Photo by Keystone/Getty Images

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