Was the Band Toto Really Named After Dorothy’s Dog, Toto?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about music and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the movie urban legends featured so far.

MUSIC URBAN LEGEND: The band Toto was named after Dorothy’s dog, Toto, from The Wizard of Oz.

Toto was a tremendously successful band during the late 1970s and early 1980s that had an interesting pedigree, as the bands members were all popular sessions musicians for other groups before forming their own band, with classic hits like “Africa,” “Rosanna” and “Hold the Line.”

toto

They have a bit of an unusual name for a band. My buddy Eric P. Gjovaag, who runs the awesomely informative The Wonderful Wizard of Oz website, wrote in to ask me:

Your legend about Toto and “Rosanna” [which you can read here -BC] got me thinking that you might be able to help with a nagging question I’ve had for years: Where did Toto get their name? As a “Wizard of Oz” fan, I want to think that they’re named for Dorothy’s dog, and I’ve heard and read many reports that say that, but none that I can confirm. I’ve also heard that it comes from the Latin word for all, or total. As this is a question I’ve wanted to answer on my website’s FAQ for some time now, but I can’t find a definitive answer to, maybe you can provide something more definitive.

So what’s the truth? Read on to find out!

Eric’s correct that the information out there has been quite murky over the years, sometimes the Latin explanation was given (as the group was made up of a bunch of sessions musicians who were proficient at so many different types of music that the Latin word “toto,” meaning “total” or “all-encompassing” made sense to them) and sometimes the Wizard of Oz explanation was given.

However, as it turns out, I believe the truth was actually sort of a combination between the two.

On the band’s official website, here is the origin given for the name:

After the band’s formation, David Paich set about writing what became the eponymous debut album. Once written, the new band came together in the studio to cut its first demos. Having just recently watched The Wizard of Oz, Jeff Porcaro began to write the word “toto” on the demo tapes so that they would be easily identifiable. When the time came to choose a name for the band, the band explored the roots of the word “toto” more thoroughly. David Hungate explained to them that, in Latin, the word “toto” means “total” or “all-encompassing,” and given this group’s long list of studio accolades and their collective ability to play in any given situation, the name TOTO was chosen as the official title of the new record and the band name. “It’s representative of our music,” said Jeff Porcaro. “Mishmash. A goulash.”

This jibes well with other stories I’ve read about those early sessions, namely that the band needed to put something on their demo tapes to make sure they knew that they were theirs, so the wrote “toto” on them and then ended up deciding to keep that as the name of the group.

So if we accept this “official” version, it nicely ties in the whole Wizard of Oz connection (watching the film inspired them to write “Toto” on the tapes in the first place, as a placeholder) as well as the Latin connection (that once they had the name on the tapes, they thought about it and figured out that it worked pretty well as a name with the whole Latin angle).

In the past, they’ve also said that they were looking for a simple name for the group, and Toto is certainly that.

So I’m willing to buy the band’s official explanation, in which case the legend would be…

STATUS: Close Enough to True for a True

Thanks for the suggestion, Eric!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is [email protected]

One Response to “Was the Band Toto Really Named After Dorothy’s Dog, Toto?”

  1. Oh, many many thanks for this! This is exactly the answer “in toto” (sorry, couldn’t resist) that I’d hoped for. And I’ve just added this question to my FAQ, which you can read right here.

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