What Is Dada?: The Name

The source of the name "Dada" is unknown for certain, but many different stories abound regarding its roots.

One of the most commonly told – and likely apocryphal – tales involves a group of artists meeting in Zürich in 1916. One member of the group – often said to be Tristan Tzara – is said to have stabbed a French-German dictionary with a knife. When they opened the book, they found the knife tip pointing to the French word dada, which means "hobby-horse." The group is then said to have decided on the name for their movement – or, more specifically, anti-movement – because the idea of it being a "hobby" and the ambiguous nature of the word when compared to the term children often use for their fathers, made them think it was a suitable choice.

Another story involves the same setting, but with a different path. Tzara is again involved, as is his fellow Romanian Marcel Janco. As the story goes, the two would frequently say "Da, da" in response to the others, which means "Yes, yes" in Romanian and is used sarcastically, like the English "yeah, yeah."

The most commonly held and perhaps plausible belief is that the early Dadaists simply picked some nonsense sounds to describe their movement, which was all about not conforming and disregarding social standards. A nonsense name would be fitting for such a movement, so that is how "Dada" was most likely born.