Many legends about how the name 'Alice Cooper' came about have been told through the years. The truth is likely that they just made it up, based on the Lizzy Borden, a legendary teenage murderess who supposedly (it was never proven) killed her parents with an axe in 1892.
While there are elements of truth to the most famous Ouija board story, much of it can be taken with a grain of salt. There was almost certainly a crazy night playing with a Ouija board at a party, however how much of the rest of it is true is open to speculation, as each person who tells the story recalls it all slightly differently, and of course it's impossible for a Ouija board to contact the dead! The witch part was completely fabricated for publicity, as Alice admits in 'Me Alice'. However, this story did serve the band very well and is still regularly quoted to this day.
Here is the version given by Alice in 'Me Alice':
"The Nazz, it turned out, was already taken. This time we wanted a distinctive name, something that would draw attention to us but not a rock cliché. One boring January evening I said, "How about Alice Cooper?" and everybody said, "No, that's ridiculous." About half an hour later Dick Christian said, "What about that name, Alice Cooper?" But nobody even wanted to discuss it. I thought it was perfect. It was so American and so eerie at the same time. It had the same ring to it that Lizzy Borden did. I knew that if there was really an Alice Cooper somewhere chances were she was an ax murderer.
We forgot about it for a few days until Dick Christain dragged us all over to Alice Paxton's house. Both Charlie Carnal and Dick were friendly with Mrs. Paxton's daughter, who claimed her mother was a clairvoyant and could help us solve our problems. Alice Paxton also had her Ouija board, which she hadn't used in a few years, and we started asking it questions. I wasn't even working the board when we asked if there was a spirit in the room. There was.
The board spelled out the name "Alice Cooper".
For three hours everyone drilled the board on Alice Cooper, and we came up with the following story (with a few additional details added by me over the course of some five thousand interviews):
"In the early sixteen hundreds scientists and occultists became aware of a celestial disturbance which seemed to have a strange concentrated effect on the British Isles. There was an odd feeling of unrest and suspicion in the countryside. In the midst of this general feeling of alarm, on February 4 (my birthday), 1623 (not my birthday), in Sussex, England, Alice Cooper was born.
She was the daughter of well-to-do parents and a very strange child. She seemed always to be listening to voices that no one else could hear, often smiling secretly as if she knew the answer to some cosmic joke.
Much of Alice's time was taken up with her sister Christine, who was three years older than she. Christine taught her magic, including the use of strange plants that grew in abundance in the forest, and the techniques of speaking ancient words of old that could make thunder roll and fire burn. On Alice's twelfth birthday her parents died in a mysterious fire, their charred bodies never recovered from the blazing house. One year later little Alice was to witness the death of her sister, Christine, who was accused of being a witch and burned at the stake by the villagers.
A week later little Alice herself was dead, poisoned perhaps by her own hand so she could join her sister Christine in the other world. She was only thirteen years old".
Pretty good, huh? Well, it really worked at the time.
I was thrilled with the name, but Neal Smith was disgusted. He finally thought he had gotten into a group that was going to go somewhere, do something important, get him a Rolls-Royce and a mansion in the country and now we were changing our name to something stupid like Alice Cooper!
Michael Bruce commented on the story in 2005:
"We went down a couple of times when they [The Doors] were recording and watched them record. I was at another recording session for this band called The Clear Light, some guys that we knew from Arizona, and they were being produced by Paul Rothchild. Dallas Taylor, who later joined Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, and Taylor played with them, we grew up in the same neighborhood, the same block. So, they came up to our house in Topanga Canyon one time, it was Bruce Botnick, the engineer for Paul Rothchild, Arthur Lee, David Crosby and Jim Morrison. What a lineup. We sat in a circle and held hands, and chanted trying to bring some spirits or something, and Morrison leans over to me and says, "You guys do this often?" I said "No, we're just doing it because you're here." (Laughs) And he laughed."
And Dennis Dunaway in 2012:
"We had a seance during our Halloween party at our house in Topanga Canyon. The girls who used to bring us groceries and help us out included The Doors girlfriends Pam and Peggy, who were great friends of ours and they decided they were going to have a party. We were like "Well, hopefully you're going to get groceries because we can't have a party with no food" and they were like "Oh yeah, and we'll invite The Doors" and we were like "Yeah, o.k." (laughs). Low and behold people started showing up for our party, first it was Arthur Lee from LOVE, David Crosby, Paul Rothchild, The Doors and all of a sudden our house was full of these cool musicians and music people, and we had a seance that night downstairs and it was pretty heavy actually. I was one of the skeptics and so was David Crosby and Arthur Lee so we were standing on the outside of the circle and there was a candle in the middle and creepy shadows dancing on the walls. Jim Morrison was DEEP into it with Michael Bruce, our guitarist, holding one of his hands and Alice holding the other as they were in the circle. The girl who was performing it was someone who we knew ,but we had no idea she did seances or anything like that. She started freaking out and started REALLY freaking ME out and talking in this almost demonic, Linda Blair voice. We had this hole cut in the ceiling where someone who was upstairs could just hand a beer down to someone who was downstairs (laughs). It all ended during this girl's freakout with Glen Buxton, who had too much to drink that night, falling through the hole and crashing in the middle of the circle. It wasn't planned it was just the craziest thing ever but the timing couldn't have been more creepy to those of us who saw it."
So what we basically have is someone, possibly Alice himself, coming up with this seemingly silly name, probably based on the Lizzy Borden legend and the fact it was such an innocent sounding name for such an outragous band. We have a pretty much unconnected drunken party with the band and friends playing with a Ouija board, and lastly we have a fabricated story of a 17th century witch (often stated as 16th century, but 1623 is in the 17th century!) to flush out the story for the press.
The Ouija board story was a great tale and is retold endlessly to this day. It added a huge amount to the notoriaty of Alice Cooper in the early days, and as time went on it really fitted the direction the band were going with the gallows etc. Alice Cooper, the innocent young girl - with an axe behind her back.
Not everyone was happy with the name though. In 1969 Frank Zappa's wanted to change the name from 'Alice Cooper' to 'Alice Cookies', as he wanted to make them more of a comedy/freak act. He intened to release there first album in a tim can with the vinyl as the cookies. Lucily it was too expensive to produce so the remained 'Alice Cooper'.
The date of the name change can possibly be dated pretty acurately. From a letter from Michael Bruce in March 1968:
"We are going to play at Cheetah Wed. and then leave after that and go to Phx. A promoter in Phx, has given us charge of his club. I don't know if I told you that we changed the name of the group, 'Alice Cooper' is the name. Vince has changed his name to Alice Cooper and rotted his hair up. The club in Phx, is called 'Alice Cooper', after us, we run the club and give orders."
It's also known that the first show they played under the name 'Alice Cooper' was at the Earl Warren Fairgrounds in Santa Barbara, CA on March 16th 1968. On posters (see right) for the show they are advertised as 'The Nazz' but on the night they were introduced as 'Alice Cooper', and flyers exist stating "The Nazz - Now Alice Cooper".