The Stories Behind Weird Cocktail Names

Words: Robyn Samuels

From Sex on the Beach to Screwdriver, obscure drinks have graced cocktail menus and been ordered by many around the world. But have you ever wondered about the weird and wonderful stories behind their names? Like, why is it called a Screwdriver or a Moscow Mule and why do we love naming cocktails after Marys?

Let’s learn about the stories behind cocktail names and the people that inspired them.

Bloody Mary

If there was ever a recipe to cure a hangover, it’s a Bloody Mary. The vile tomato juice and Worcestershire sauce-filled drink certainly isn’t for everyone and neither was the Queen it was apparently named after.

The Blood Mary has ties to the first queen of England, Mary I, better known as ‘Mary Tudor’. The reviled royal is historically remembered for wreaking havoc and burning people at the stake for heresy.

During her reign of terror, Mary Tudor ordered the killings of those with Protestant beliefs, resulting in the bloodshed of at least 280 people burned at the stake – labelling her ‘Bloody Mary’.  According to another tale, the drink was named by author, Ernest Hemingway, and entertainer, George Jessel, after their mutual friend, Mary Geraghty.

Mary Pickford

If there’s one thing we have prohibition to thank for, it’s the invention of cocktails. Apparently, America endured prohibition during this cocktail’s inception. Cuba was influenced by American culture and decided to pay homage by naming the cocktail after Hollywood star, Mary Pickford.

The Mary Pickford cocktail was named after the Hollywood actress, who rose to fame during The Roaring Twenties.

The origins of its name are widely rumoured, one tale purports that the signature cocktail was invented during the actress’ trip to Havana, Cuba, as she and her husband, Owen Moore, frequently visited for filming. A Mary Pickford is made with two-thirds pineapple juice, one-third rum and a dash of grenadine – a popular cocktail ingredient during this era.

Moscow Mule

If you’ve never had a Moscow mule, you’re missing out. This vodka-based, ginger and lime-infused cocktail is super refreshing. As for the moniker, apparently, alcoholic drinks that are infused with ginger and citrus are referred to as ‘buck drinks’ because the alcohol has an extra kick, much like a mule.

The ‘Moscow’ part derives from the fact that the drink is vodka-based. As we know, Russians love their vodka, and Moscow is, of course, the capital of Russia. A Moscow Mule is commonly served from a copper mug, as it helps regulate cold temperatures; it’s also believed to keep the drink fizzy and carbonated.

Try this Moscow Mule Poptail for a refreshing summer treat.

Long Island Iced Tea

Despite its name, the Long Island Iced Tea does not contain any tea – but to be fair, who would want tea in their cocktail?


It is a strong cocktail made with a combination of vodka, rum, tequila, gin, triple sec, lemon juice, simple syrup and topped up with cola. The cocktail is believed to have been invented in the 1970s by a bartender named Robert ‘Rosebud’ Butt in Long Island, New York. The name ‘Long Island’ is derived from its place of origin, and the ‘Iced Tea’ part is a nod to the drink’s appearance, as it closely resembles a glass of iced tea.

Harvey Wallbanger

The Harvey Wallbanger is a tall cocktail with vodka, Galliano liqueur and orange juice.


The exact origin of the name is unclear, but it is believed to have been popularised in the 1950s and 1960s. The most common story behind the name is that it was named after a California surfer named “Harvey” who would frequently bang against walls while drinking this cocktail. Be careful of these, they live up to their namesake!

Fuzzy Navel

The Fuzzy Navel is a simple cocktail made with peach schnapps and orange juice.


Its name is a playful reference to its two main ingredients. ‘Fuzzy’ comes from the peach schnapps, as peaches are often described as having a fuzzy or velvety texture, and ‘navel’ comes from the orange element, as navel oranges actually grow a second ‘twin’ fruit opposite its stem, which resembles a human belly button. This one spells hangover to us!

Rusty Nail

The Rusty Nail is a classic cocktail made with Scotch whisky and Drambuie, a honey and herb liqueur.


The name is believed to have originated in the 1960s and may have been inspired by the rusty colour of the Drambuie when mixed with Scotch. The combination of the smoky Scotch flavour and the sweetness of the Drambuie creates a balanced and flavourful drink.


When it comes to cocktail recipes, the Screwdriver is as simple as they come, it requires no more than two basic ingredients – vodka and orange juice – in fact, this is exactly what it’s referred to in the UK. The vodka-based cocktail was created during the First World War.

One story recalls that American workers in China and Turkey apparently drank on the job and made cocktails with orange juice and spirits. Having no utensils to stir their drinks, they resorted to using a grimy screwdriver. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention.

Shirley Temple

This cocktail was naturally named after popular Hollywood child star, Shirley Temple. The young’un started her acting career at the tender age of three and later went on to be a singer before being made Ghana and Czechoslovakia Ambassador of the United States.

Legend has it that Shirley once went out to dinner at Chasen’s Restaurant in California with her grownup entourage who ordered alcoholic drinks. Their bartender apparently fixed young Shirley a drink, so that she wouldn’t feel left out, sans alcohol, of course.

The non-alcoholic drink made using lemon-lime soda, lemon juice and grenadine, has an adult version that definitely contains booze…

Dirty Shirley

The Dirty Shirley is a variation of the Shirley Temple above. The ‘dirty’ version adds vodka to the mix, giving it an adult twist. The name is a playful and suggestive reference to the original Shirley Temple drink, with the addition of alcohol.


The origins of this Cognac-based drink aren’t exactly clear, but its rumoured origins place it at the end of the First World War. Apparently WWI veteran, Henry MacElhone, left the London Royal Navy Air Service after serving to become a bartender in 1919.

sidecar-cocktail After concocting a variety of cocktails, he later move to Paris and eventually bought a bar, which he named Harry’s New York Bar. The Sidecar was one of the many cocktails he created, gaining popularity and shaping the cocktail culture in France.

Henry named the cocktail after his former captain during the war, who frequently rode ‘sidecar’ on a motorcycle.

The combination of Cognac, orange liqueur (typically Cointreau, triple-sec, Grand Marnier or dry curaçao) and lemon juice gives this drink its distinct sour taste.

Sex on the Beach

Based on blockbusters, we know that most spring break ventures never lead to anything good – this delicious cocktail might just be the exception. In the U.S. Spring Break of 1987, a peach schnapps company went around pitching different bars to promote their product. Barmen were asked to create interesting peach schnapps-based drinks.

The bar that created the best drink was based in Florida and mixed peach schnapps with vodka, orange juice, and grenadine. They ended up naming the drink ‘Sex on the Beach’ in honour of the two things Florida was best known for – their beaches and …

Now that you know about the origins of cocktails, get to know these alcohol spirits.

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