The exact origins of the terms 'beat music' and 'Merseybeat' are uncertain. The "beat" in each, however, derived from the driving rhythms which the bands had adopted from their rock and roll, rhythm and blues and soul music influences, rather than the Beat Generation literary movement of the 1950s. As the initial wave of rock and roll declined in the later 1950s, "big beat" music, later shortened to "beat", became a live dance alternative to the balladeers like Tommy Steele, Marty Wilde and Cliff Richard who were dominating the charts. The German anthropologist and music critic Ernest Borneman, who lived in England from 1933 to 1960, claimed to have coined the term in a column in Melody Maker magazine to describe the British imitation of American Rock'n'Roll, Rhythm and Blues and Skiffle bands.
The name Mersey Beat was used for a Liverpool music magazine founded in 1961 by Bill Harry. Harry claims to have coined the term "based on a policeman's beat and not that of the music". The band the Pacifics were renamed the Mersey Beats in February 1962 by Bob Wooler, MC at the Cavern Club, and in April that year they became the Merseybeats. With the rise of the Beatles in 1963, the terms Mersey sound and Merseybeat were applied to bands and singers from Liverpool, the first time in British pop music that a sound and a location were linked together. The equivalent scenes in Birmingham and London were described as Brum beat and the Tottenham Sound respectively.