B-I-N-G-O: The Real Story Behind the Beloved Tune

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I was taught to love Bingo since infancy, although I did not discover the actual game until I was 8 or 9. Regardless, from the time that I could speak, Bingo has always been one of my favorite words. My granddaddy, who is an eager bingo player, use to sing that song to me all the time to make me giggle when I was in one of those nasty baby moods. Hey, at least I was a cute baby, I promise.

Up until this day, I find the power of oral storytelling truly remarkable. The fact that these songs, which are more than 200 years old, are still such an active part of our culture blows my mind. So, thinking of the Bingo song, I thought it would be a fun idea to actually go back to where all started and unearth the origins of this popular sing-along.

Overly popular in many countries and languages, this song has been known for many names: “There Was a Farmer Who Had a Dog”, “Bingo”, or “Bingo Was His Name-O”, to name a few. To pinpoint a precise beginning of the song is very difficult since there is not any type of copyright claim over it; however, the first documented variation appeared on a sheet of music on 1780, listing actor William Swords, from the Haymarket Theater in London, as the author. Just like in the present, this predecessor of the BINGO song was popularized with a variety of names like “The Farmer’s Dog Leapt o’er the Stile”, “A Franklyn’s Dogge”, or “Little Bingo”.

The lyrics to the song first appeared in a 1785 songbook called “The Humming Bird” and are as it follows:

The farmer’s dog leapt over the style,
His name was little Bingo,
The farmer’s dog leapt over the style,
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 lov’d a cup of good ale,
He call’d it rare good stingo,
The farmer lov’d a cup of good ale,
He call’d it rare good stingo.
S—T with an I — I with an N,
N with a G — G with an O;
He call’d it rare good stingo:
S—T—I—N—G—O!
He call’d 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.

The similarities between both songs are so many that it would be very difficult to deny that the version we now know and love did not derived from it. The first references of its American crossover were in 1842, when Robert M. Charlton mentioned it in a piece for the New Yorker. By 1894, folklorist Alice Bertha has already documented 8 different versions of the songs making the rounds.

A fun detail is that the song actually did not become popular at first for being a children’s song but as a drinking game song. Little by little, it evolved into the nursery rhyme we clap and dance to with the little ones of the family. So, next time you sing the song with your family or friends, you will have an interesting little fact to wow them with and, why not, convince them to play bingo together at 123Bingo!