The Origin of the Name Steely Dan

By Todd Whitesel ; Updated September 15, 2017

Steely Dan was one of the most successful music acts of the 1970s. Spearheaded by keyboardist/vocalist Donald Fagen and guitarist Walter Becker, the duo assembled many of the best studio musicians to bring their musical ideas to life. The songs were so good that the origin of the name Steely Dan mattered little.

What Is a Steely Dan?

Although Steely Dan's music was rooted in jazz and blues, the band's name came from a literary source--Edgar Burroughs' novel "Naked Lunch," which made mention of a "steely dan," a steam-powered adult toy. This playful reference fit perfectly within the framework of Steely Dan's angular arrangements and Fagen's often bitingly cynical and sarcastic lyrics.

Fun Fact

Steely Dan's music could be heard frequently across FM airwaves during the 1970s but not in concert halls. The band existed essentially as a studio-only outfit, as Becker and Fagen refused to tour after 1974, much to the chagrin of their fans.

Steely Dan's Start

Fagen and Becker first met while attending Bard College in Annandale-On-Hudson, New York.

Famous Ties

Fagen and Becker were part of the Bad Rock Group, an early ensemble that included future "Saturday Night Live" star Chevy Chase, who played drums.

Other Members

Two former Steely Dan members--guitarist Jeff Baxter Mand vocalist Michael McDonald--both joined The Doobie Brothers in the mid-'70s.

About the Author

Todd Whitesel has more than 10 years experience as an editor and writer across a broad range of consumer print and web publications, including "Goldmine Magazine," AVRev.com and GORP.com. His primary areas of expertise are: music, the outdoors, natural history, computers, audio technology, travel, cooking and geography. Todd holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and creative writing from Winona State University.