In the 2008 book The DC Vault, a curious story is recounted. In 1973, Bill Finger said the character Bob Kane showed him on that fateful day in early 1939 was named not “Bat-Man” but rather “Bird-Man.” That had been reported before, notably in Gerard Jones’s Men of Tomorrow.
However, it is what The DC Vault said next that gets the vote for “Most Startling”: the book states that it was Bill who then suggested the bat motif, and, by implication/extension, the name “Bat-Man.”
This is significant because The DC Vault was sanctioned by DC Comics. In other words, DC is crediting Bill, not Bob, with a key component of a character for which only Bob is officially credited. I love this, and it’s risky for DC, even if it’s true.
That said, in Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, the name “Bat-Man” is the only creative element for which I give Bob credit. I did that because Bill himself did (in The Steranko History of Comics, Volume 1). As I’ve written multiple times on this blog, memory is unreliable, but sometimes it’s all we’ve got, and even when it pains me (as in a case like this), I will go with the primary subject’s take over anyone else’s.
But there are other possibilities: Bill’s decades of credit suppression might have led to simple surrender—or brainwashing. Perhaps Bill did suggest “Bat-Man” but later felt he had to go along with Bob’s claim to it since it would be his word against Bob’s. Or perhaps in a complete collapse of self-esteem, Bill actually came to believe the name was Bob’s idea.
It is widely agreed upon that the character Bob initially sketched was indeed named Bird-Man; yet lacking firm evidence in Bill’s favor, I stand by the belief that it was Bob who changed the name to Bat-Man. But did he do so before he showed Bill? I don’t—and we may never—know.
Either way, I’m comforted by two larger points:
A bat-themed character was hardly unique in those days (which only lends more weight to Bob—hardly an innovator—choosing the name). Other varieties of Batmen had graced pulps and films before 1939.
Even if Bill was right and the name did come from Bob, most everything else—including the aspects of Batman that made him an enduring icon—came from Bill.