‘I Love Lucy’: How the Classic Lucille Ball Comedy Got Its Name

Decades after its premiere on CBS in 1951, I Love Lucy is still considered one of the greatest pioneering comedy series. The fact that it remains a consistent and solid favorite of millions of fans worldwide speaks to its brilliant scripts and ensemble cast of Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, and William Frawley.

It’s easy to assume the show’s name simply happened, but that wasn’t the case at all.

The familiar 'I Love Lucy' opening credits with the show's title in a heart, 1953
‘I Love Lucy’ opening title, 1953 | CBS via Getty Images

‘I Love Lucy’ started as a radio show

In his book I Love Lucy: The Untold Story, one of the show’s creators, Jess Oppenheimer, revealed that the comedy began as the radio series titled “My Favorite Husband.” It pioneered the use of one continuous story in comedy shows. Most radio comedies were one “bit” after another. Not I Love Lucy.

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in a scene from 'I Love Lucy', 1951
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in a scene from ‘I Love Lucy’, 1951 | CBS/Getty Images

“Although the radio show was doing well, [writers] Bob and Madelyn and I were always under criticism from CBS,” the producer and writer said. “We just weren’t writing what was then considered the “in” kind of radio comedy show, where you have a series of comedy characters, each of whom comes in, does his own shtick, and then exits. Instead, we did whole stories – we did situation comedy.”

CBS, Oppenheimer said, was constantly criticizing the format.

“And they kept telling us this would never fly,” he added. “But we persisted, and eventually the popularity of the program just became too much for them to argue with.”

The composer of the ‘I Love Lucy’ theme song didn’t want his name known

“We needed a theme song,” Oppenheimer wrote, explaining that the name came to mind right away of the person he wanted to ask to compose the opening melody.

“I immediately thought of my old friend Eliot Daniel, whose work included the Oscar-nominated song ‘Lavender Blue,'” he said.

Lucille Ball is dressed in artist's garb in an episode of 'I Love Lucy', 1953
Lucille Ball in a scene from ‘I Love Lucy,’ 1953 | CBS via Getty Images

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While Daniel agreed to compose the tune, he had to ask Oppenheimer not to credit it to him because of a conflict of interest.

“‘I’ll do it for you, Jess, but you’ll have to keep my name out of it,'” Oppenheimer quoted Daniel as saying. “‘My exclusive contract with Fox doesn’t run out until next year.'”

And so, Daniel’s name doesn’t appear as composer of the song he said “practically wrote itself.”

How the comedy got its name

When it came to naming the series, Oppenheimer said every day the show planning went on without a name was nerve-wracking for him.

“What we still lacked was a name for the show,” he said. “The script on my desk simply said ‘So and so presents LUCY starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz,’ but ‘Lucy’ was just a working title.”

(L to R): 'I Love Lucy' stars Vivian Vance and Lucille Ball dressed in candy-maker uniforms hiding unwrapped candies in the classic 'Job Switching' episode, 1952
Vivian Vance and Lucille Ball in ‘Job Switching’ episode of ‘I Love Lucy’, 1952 |
CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Recommendations were made by all the writers for the show’s official title, but nothing was sticking, the producer said.

“Because we were doing a live show, the cards bearing the title and credits had to be made up in advance,” he recalled. “All of us had contributed possible names for the program. I had the long list of suggestions in front of me. It was time to choose.”

Finally, the title came to Oppenheimer: “I kept coming back to the same title: I Love Lucy. That’s the one, I decided. That conveys the essential nature of the show – an examination of marriage between two people who truly love each other.”