Inspired by What is this idiom: "I'm going to start taking names and..."?, but that question doesn't actually ask for where the expression originated. I Googled around, but couldn't find any reliable source. Surely the expression originates in a major or cult movie or literary work of some kind or another?

  • Without answering the question, the image it generates for me is of the victor sufficiently secure to wander about the room inquiring of his victims how he should list them. It's represents a pretty definitive level of success. Commented Mar 25, 2011 at 0:13

2 Answers 2


Looks like it might originate from a 1970 novel by Chuck Stone called King Strut:

People ain't buying that shit no more. We're checking Whitey out, telling him his system is corrupt, it stinks. Black people are ready to kick ass and take names .

Edit: Sorry. I spoke too soon. Here's a citation from five years earlier from The Green Berets by Robin Moore (1965):

He's out kicking ass and taking names everywhere. He found Ling for me and that stud is a tiger. Harvey eyed the bulge in my pack. 'Now, you piker, how about a little of that celebration?'

It appears ass kicking itself dates back to the early '40s and the phrase having as much chance as a one-legged man in a mule/butt/ass-kicking contest. The similar expression kick in the pants dates to the late 1800s.

Edit 4/15/11:

I just antedated the 1965 reference by 11 years. This is from John Oliver Killens' 1954 novel Youngblood:

Man ain't you heard? After Joe Louis whupped that cracker, some crackers came down here wanted to turn Harlem Avenue out. Boy, some young Negroes started kicking asses and taking names. Some Negroes tried to get on the bus to Pleasant Grove and the bus driver wouldn't let them on, and they turned the damn bus over and upside down.


This is a military term, specifically Navy, and the exact unit is the Navy military police, or Shore Patrol.

Origin was based on shore-leave: it is the job of the SP to patrol and manage crimes and other behavioral problems of Naval personnel, preferably before they happen-- but to deal with them effectively when they do happen.

After a fight, the SP will sequester the "ringleaders" and confiscate their ID cards long enough to make official note of who they are.

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    Reference please. This sort of story is very common in response to requests for origins of words and phrases, and they very commonly turn out to have made up by people who just assume them. Callithumpian's quote from 1965 suggests that it is other than naval.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Mar 24, 2011 at 15:14
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    Agreed. "Military slang" is often the hallmark of the false etymology. Same with "part of sailing ship." But sometimes it is. Partridge has many terms coming to us from military use. Here, "taking names" is strongly suggestive of some kind of hierarchical authority structure. A citation would be extremely helpful.
    – The Raven
    Commented Apr 16, 2011 at 1:42
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    "Taking name" of inefficient sailors is certainly something done by petty officers in the Hornblower books (I assume for future punishment). Whether it was actually done in navies then or now I don't know but I heard Marines saying "kicking ass and taking names" back in the '70s. Commented Apr 16, 2011 at 2:58

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