Here’s How 40 Iconic Bands Got Their Names
It’s hard to imagine some of your favorite bands or musicians with a different name. But not everyone is born with a perfect stage name, and not every band derives their name from a great epiphany. Some musicians find the inspiration for their names in unlikely places — whether their critics, books, and even lawsuits.
From Fleetwood Mac’s decades-old drama to the real Jane who inspired Jane’s Addiction, take a look at these fascinating stories behind the names of your favorite bands and musicians.
Fleetwood Mac Didn’t Want Their Bandmates To Call It Quits
Rock band Fleetwood Mac had a rocky start, and their name reflects their attempt to keep two of the band members from leaving. The band began in 1965 when Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood, and Jeremy Spencer joined forces. The three set out to find a permanent bassist and ended up signing John McVie.
The bassist and the drummer of bands are notoriously underappreciated. Green wanted to be sure to keep those two players around if they ever made it big, so they named the group after drummer Fleetwood and their new bassist McVie. The plan worked because Fleetwood and McVie are the only two remaining original members.
Dave Grohl Went Full Conspiracy Theorist With The Foo Fighters
Nerds and conspiracy theorists love the Foo Fighters because they are named after UFOs. Allied pilots used the term “foo fighters” to describe mysterious aircraft that they couldn’t be sure was the enemy.
Former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl began the band as a solo project in 1994 after Kurt Cobain’s untimely death. Grohl has said he was really into reading about UFOs and that the books had a “treasure trove” of band names. He chose Foo Fighters because he thought the plural might make people think it was more than just him in the band.
The Sex Pistols Were Named After Their Sponsor
Like many other bands, The Sex Pistols name evolved slowly over several years. The original core of the band was formed in 1972 and named The Strand. In between shows, the group spent a lot of time at an “anti-fashion” S&M clothing store owned by Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood called Sex.
In 1974, McLaren became the band’s manager. McLaren renamed the group after the shop’s name and added Pistols to the end because he said he just liked the sound of it. The name stuck and the band embodied the alt-rock punk vibes that it lends itself to.
30 Seconds To Mars Got Philosophical
Alternative rock band 30 Seconds To Mars are smarter than they look. The name came after the band members noticed an interesting phrase in a thesis paper where the author said that humanity was moving so fast that they were basically “thirty seconds to Mars.”
Well, the band liked the phrase and used it to represent a bunch of ideas. Over the years the band members have related the name to Mars as the god of war and said in an interview that the name is “lyrical, suggestive, cinematic, and filled with immediacy” just like their songs.
Frankie (Blue Eyes) Goes To Hollywood
British new wave group, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, began as the Hollycausts but decided they needed to tone down some of the controversies. The band said they practiced in a room where there was a cutting from the front page of The New Yorker hanging up. The headline on it said “Frankie Goes To Hollywood” in reference to Frank Sinatra, and the rest is history.
Well, kind of. The band stuck with that name and that story for many years until recently when a few band members said that “Frankie” was inspired by British singer Frankie Vaughan.
Jane’s Addiction Was Actually About Jane’s Addiction
In possibly the worst tribute ever, rock band Jane’s Addiction was actually named after a real person named Jane with a real drug addiction. The band’s founder Perry Farrell had a roommate named Jane Bainter. According to Farrell, when something went wrong in the house, the running joke was to blame it on Jane’s addiction.
The band also used her in for a song, “Jane Says.” The song describes Jane’s real-life problems, her heroin addiction, and abusive drug-dealing boyfriend. Jane even lent her handwriting to the band’s album artwork. For all that inspiration, the real Jane never even saw a dime.
Daft Punk Loves Their Critics
It’s a little surprising to hear that one of electronic-pop duo Daft Punk’s most significant influences is The Beach Boys. The pair loved them so much that they began their career under the name Darlin’, which was a Beach Boys single in 1967.
They began releasing their groundbreaking music in the early 1990s, and not everyone liked it. One review in magazine Melody Maker trashed the duo and dubbed their music to be “daft punky thrash.” They thought the commentary was hilarious and chose to run with it and win a bunch of Grammys. Let the haters hate.
Alice Cooper Wanted To Throw Off The Fans
“Godfather of Shock Rock” Alice Cooper chose his stage name wisely. Born Vincent Damon Furnier, the singer originally chose the name to front the band. Stories have claimed that the spooky group was named after a ghostly spirit that they “met” during an Ouija board session.
Cooper himself says that’s an urban legend that people only believed because of the band’s image. Cooper said that they wanted a name that didn’t match with how they sounded. To them, a name like Alice Cooper seemed like a grandmother more than a shock rock band.
Blink-182 Just Needed To Avoid A Lawsuit
Blink-182 got their name the way a surprising amount of bands do: to avoid a lawsuit. The band recorded their first album under just the name Blink, but unfortunately for them, an Irish band had the same name and had released an album just months before them.
Blink was forced to change and added the “182” to the end. An urban legend says that the 182 stands for the number of times Al Pachino drops the f-bomb in Scarface but it has never been confirmed. By all accounts, the “182” is pretty meaningless.
The Velvet Underground Were The Original 50 Shades Of Grey
The Velvet Underground wasn’t very famous during their original run between 1964 and 1973 because, in all honestly, they were way ahead of their time. The band mixed rock with the Avante-Garde, which wasn’t surprising since Andy Warhol managed them for a few years.
Their name is as shocking and Avante-Garde for the time too. The band was inspired by a novel called The Velvet Underground, which explored many adult themes. In 1967, that was not going to endear the public, but in the 1990s, they would become worshipped as pioneers in alternative music.
Jethro Tull Changed Their Name Each Week
One-of-a-kind blues-rock band, Jethro Tull, got their name because they couldn’t book a repeat show. The group was struggling to get invites back to a venue and began to think up a new name each week so that bookers wouldn’t know it was the band who played the weekend before.
They ended up hiring an agent to book their shows until one day that agent booked the band under the name Jethro Tull, after the 18th-century British farmer who invented the horse-drawn seed drill. Tull might not exactly be the face of rock music, but under that name the band booked their first repeat gig and saw it as a sign to keep the name.
KISS Isn’t An Acronym
Anyone that grew up with KISS has a different idea of what it could stand for. The most popular theory is that it’s an acronym for “Knight’s In Satan’s Service.” Others think it could stand for “Keep It Simple, Stupid.”
The band members have denied all guesses that the word is an acronym. The more likely version is that they named the band KISS after meeting a member of a band named Lips. No one is sure why they chose to capitalize the word, but all it has done was open up the band to thousands of hypotheses.
Queens Of The Stone Age Want To Rock With The Women Of The World
The alternative rock group, Queens of the Stone Age, are notable for appealing to a lot of different populations. From the midwest bluegrass to ’70s power rockers, all the band was missing was the female demographic. According to the band’s lead singer Josh Homme, their name was a conscious choice because “Kings would be too macho.”
The band wanted a name that would be “heavy enough for the boys and sweet enough for the girls.” Not exactly the most inclusive, but we can’t blame them for trying. It must have worked though because they were even praised by Rolling Stone for their ability to appeal to the masses.
The Weeknd Left Home Forever On A Weekend
Chart-topping R&B singer, Abel Makkonen Tesfaye changed his name to The Weeknd for a pretty sentimental reason. The singer told a Reddit Ask Me Anything that he adopted the name when he was 17 and dropped out of school then left home for good on a weekend.
What about the missing E though? As usual with singers, it was dropped because of a copyright issue. A Canadian band already existed called The Weekend, so instead of having to brainstorm a new name he just dropped the E. Without the E the name looks way cooler, so it worked out in his favor.
People Thought Joy Division Were Nazi Sympathizers
It’s a shock to many when they hear that Joy Division named themselves after a part of Nazi concentration camps. In WW2, the “joy division” of a camp was what Nazi’s called the area of concentration camps where all the younger women were held in. This is because many of the officers would go to the area to assault the young women.
The band said they wanted a name that related to WW2 because a lot of their parents fought during it, and they wanted to pay homage to the conflict, but choosing Joy Division really doesn’t seem like it was the best option.
Bob Dylan Just Knew His Real Name Would Never Take Off
Only the die-hard Dylan fans will know that his last name isn’t actually Dylan. Born Robert Zimmerman, the singer-songwriter began performing in his late teens under his original name. His biographer wrote that the singer was a big fan actor Matt Dillon and chose to adopt his last name. The name was changed from Dillon to Dylan after the singer read the works of poet Dylan Thomas.
Dylan has always been honest that he knew the name given to him was not suited for him. And, let’s be honest, Robert Zimmerman doesn’t have the same ring to it so it was a good call to adopt the name change.
The Barenaked Ladies Can Thank Bob Dylan For Their Name
Even if you don’t know about the treasure of Canadian alt-rock, everyone looks twice when they read this band’s strange name. Steven Page and Ed Robertson, the two founders of the Barenaked Ladies, were attending a Bob Dylan concert in Toronto in 1988. The two got bored and began brainstorming some band names to pass the time.
Fast-forward a few months later, Robertson entered into a battle of the bands and had to come up with a name for his makeshift name on the fly, and “Barenaked Ladies” stood out in his memory from the Dylan concert. Page couldn’t believe Robertson actually used that name, but it has served them well. I mean, what other bands regularly feature an electric double bass and can pull it off?
Stone Temple Pilots Reverse-Engineered An Acronym
Sometimes it’s not the name that comes first, but an acronym. The grunge-rock band signed to their first record deal under the name Mighty Joe Young but the record label wanted them to change it. According to the band members, they were inspired by STP Motor Oil and loved the initials, but needed to attach some words to it.
They played around with a bunch of options including “Shirley Temple’s [expletive]” and “Stereo Temple Pirates” and Stinky Toilet Paper” until they finally landed on Stone Temple Pilots. To add some more fun, STP is also a slang term for a psychedelic drug.
Guns N’ Roses Were Just Plain Lazy
The legendary rockers may have had some pretty creative and masterful songs, but their band name was pretty uncreative. Lead singer Axl Rose and guitarist Izzy Stradlin were in the band Hollywood Rose. Stradlin had a roommate in a band called L.A. Guns who needed a new lead singer.
The two bands joined forces and combined the names in Guns and Roses. They eventually decided the “and” was too wordy and changed it to Guns N’ Roses. Combining the two names might seem lazy but their other ideas weren’t very good. Some rejected names were “AIDS” and “Heads of Amazon.”
Duran Duran Was Named After A Sexy Sci-Fi Film
Duran Duran formed in 1978 and began performing small gigs around England. One club that they played at often was called Barbarella’s, which was named after a 1968 sci-fi film. In the film, Jane Fonda (yes, Jane Fonda) plays Barbarella, a sexy space adventurer who is tasked with finding the mad scientist who invented a superweapon laser.
That scientist was Mr. Durand Durand. He wasn’t the nicest guy and at one point even tried to kill Barbarella by placing her in a machine that kills the person with “fatal sexual pleasure.” Maybe Duran Duran was just trying to give the world excessive pleasure in their music.
Linkin Park’s Name Was A Matter Of Practicality
Linkin Park’s iconic name actually finds its origins in California. The platinum-selling artists named their band after Lincoln Park in Santa Monica. The name was created by Chester Bennington, the beloved lead singer who sadly passed away in July 2017.
Chester would drive past Lincoln Park on his way to the studio but found out that the web domain for Lincoln Park was already taken. Instead, they altered the spelling. It was simply a matter of practicality.
Arcade Fire Got Their Name From A Literal Arcade Fire…Maybe
Arcade Fire’s name is almost as impossibly hip as the band’s live shows. Remember when they wanted to set a dress code for a rock performance? Why not? Frontman Win Butler admitted that he named his stadium indie rock project after a literal fire in an arcade. Butler isn’t sure whether or not the story is a true one, but in his mind, this arcade definitely lit up.
“It’s based on a story that someone told me. It’s not an actual event, but one that I took to be real. I would say that it’s probably something that the kid made up, but at the time I believed him,” he told Pitchfork.
What The Heck Does Chumbawamba Mean?
Chumbawamba dominated airwaves with their 1997 hit “Tubthumping.” It was enough to raise a band built on punk ideals to mainstream success – if only for a moment. Tubthumper hit number three on the Billboard 200 and sold over 3.2 million records, but the band left many ’90s children wondering, “what the heck does that name mean?”
Chumbawamba’s name may be one of the biggest mysteries of the ’90s, but it’s actually quite simple. It’s pure nonsense that was used to label bathrooms in a club. The women’s room was “wamba” and the men’s was “chumba.” Chumbawamba featured vocals from men and women, so it makes sense.
Vampire Weekend Was Originally The Name Of A Film Project
The indie rock band that basically defined Pitchfork’s sound preference for the better part of the early 2000s formed at Columbia University. It also took that Ivy League sense of determination to come up with a name. While in college, frontman Ezra Koenig was working on a film project titled Vampire Weekend (this was back when Twilight was super trendy and vampires were the “it” monster).
The film followed a man named Walcot who had to save Cape Cod from a vampire invasion. Koenig never finished his film, but he did borrow the name for his brand new band. Walcot even got his own song.
Daft Punk Inspired Phoenix
If you like Phoenix, you should be kissing the ground Daft Punk walks on. Though the bands sound nothing alike, Phoenix couldn’t have existed without the French electronic duo – at least not the name. Before Phoenix released their first album, guitarist Lauren Brancowitz was in a band with Daft Punkers Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo called Darlin’.
Darlin’ eventually broke up and lead Bangalter and Guy-Manuel to fool around with electronic music. Brancowitz went on to form an unnamed indie rock project. When Daft Punk released Homework, the song “Phoenix” inspired Brancowitz and he adopted the name. Pheonix began releasing singles in 1999 and dropped their debut album United in 2000.
Eddie Vedder’s Grandma’s Jam Inspired The Name Pearl Jam
1990s rock legends Pearl Jam haven’t been completely upfront over the way they landed on their iconic name. Sometimes it’s reported that the band was named after the peyote jam Eddie Vedder’s great-grandmother used to make. It’s also reported that they’re named after NBA star Mookie Blaylock’s nickname. It’s also slang for male ejaculation, but Vedder totally denies that one. Vedder claimed they named themselves Pearl Jam simply because of how pearls are made.
“The name is in reference to the pearl itself … and the natural process from which a pearl comes from. Basically, taking excrement or waste and turning it into something beautiful,” he said. This isn’t really accurate considering natural pearls are formed when an irritant (like a parasite) finds its way inside of an oyster, but who’s going to tell him? He’s a musician, not a marine biologist!
Aerosmith’s Name Was Rejected By Bandmates
Joey Kramer actually came up with the name Aerosmith before he ever played with Stephen Tyler or Joe Perry. He was listening to Harry Nilsson’s “Aerial Ballet” with his girlfriend when the couple decided to ring off cool, fictional band names that had the word “aero” in them.
He stumbled upon Aerosmith but the band he was in at the time rejected his idea. As soon as Kramer joined up with the toxic twins, he convinced them to use the band name, but he first had to assure them that it didn’t have anything to do with Arrowsmith, the Sinclair Lewis novel they read in high school.
The Name Def Leppard Happened Before The Band Even Formed
Def Leppard rose to fame with their 1981 album High n’ Dry and quickly became one of the bands to define 1980s hair metal. Hysteria, the band’s fourth album, has been certified platinum 12 times and sold over 25 million copies worldwide. Like Aerosmith, the name Def Leppard happened before the band Def Leppard happened.
During English class, singer Joe Elliot wrote reviews of imaginary bands. One of these imaginary bands was called “Deaf Leopard.” The name sounds pretty darn heavy, so Tony Kenning, the percussionist in the band’s original lineup, suggested changing the spelling to make it sound less punk.
Chvrches Was Tired Of Competing With Jesus In Internet Searches
Scottish indie pop band Chvrches is a name born in the Internet age where search power is practically currency. The band picked the name “Churches” for the very unglamorous reason many bands choose their names – it just sounds cool. Lauren Mayberry, the project’s high-energy frontwoman, said their name “has no religious connotation, [they] just thought it sounded cool.” So where did the “V” come about?
The band was “tired” of competing with Jesus on Internet searches, and in Amy Burrows’ single artwork for the band, the U already looked like a V. One swap and they were instantly searchable on Google. Problem solved.
The Rolling Stones Were Inspired By Muddy Waters
Mick Jagger and Keith Richards first met at primary school in Dartford, England. Together, the pair went on to revolutionize rock music, but they didn’t start out that way. Before the Rolling Stones ever existed, the band was called Blues, Inc. They cut a demo that was mercilessly rejected by EMI and drummer Tony Chapman left to go to art school.
It was around this time that the band decided to change their name. Muddy Waters was a gigantic influence on the band’s blues-tinged rock ‘n’ roll. They decided to name their band after his song “Rollin’ Stone” — and the rest is history.
P!ATD Took Their Name From A Band Called Name Taken
Panic! At The Disco had one of those names that epitomized Myspace-era emo – the random punctuation and the fact that it was almost an entire sentence on its own. Some people believe the name was taken from “Panic” by the ’80s British pop band The Smiths. This isn’t the case.
According to singer Brendon Urie (who now stars in Kinky Boots on Broadway), the name comes from “Panic,” a song by the U.S. indie band Name Taken. The lyrics go “Panic at the disco/Sat back and took it slow/Are you nervous?/Are you shaking?” Rest assured, there’s no way an artist as well-versed as Urie doesn’t see the irony in the fact that he took his band name from a band called Name Taken.
Fall Out Boy Got Their Name From The Simpsons
Before Fall Out Boy ever thanked you for the mmrs, the band were young musicians without a name. They had the drive, they had the songs, and they even played the shows, but the name was an afterthought. It wasn’t until they played their second gig that a fan would rechristen them “Fall Out Boy” after a character in The Simpsons.
The incident occurred when singer Pete Wentz had changed their name to something more intellectual for their second gig. As soon as the new name rolled off his tongue, a fan screamed, “[expletive] that! No, you’re Fall Out Boy!” It was what it was. Some things are meant to be.
Rivers Cuomo Has Asthma, Starts Weezer
Weezer’s name came out swinging from the trenches of an elementary school playground. It was one of those endearing insults children so carelessly throw around before they learn that you shouldn’t make fun of people (at least to their faces!).
Growing up, singer Rivers Cuomo suffered from asthma, and as a result, his friends (and likely a few playground bullies) would call him “Weezer.” It was a nickname he was unable to shake and the perfect name for a band so heavily rooted in nerd culture and college radio rock. Weezer proves that a bully’s insult could easily transform into a platinum-selling artist with a decades-long career as long as you have the right spin.
The 1975 Had Nearly 10 Other Names
The 1975 went through several different incarnations since frontman Matty Healy assembled the band in 2002. Their most recognized former name is Drive Like I Do (and a couple music videos of previously released, pre-1975 tracks are still floating around YouTube). They also went by Me And You Versus Them, Forever Enjoying Sex, Talkhouse, The Slowdown, and Bigsleep. As Drive Like I Do, the band regularly performed Fall Out Boy covers and wrote some of the 1975’s biggest hits (that sounded slightly less like hits without the label’s recording budget). The 1975 stumbled upon their eventual name in a book of beat poetry Healy got from an artist.
“On the back page there were loads of suicidal messages and it was dated ‘1st June, The 1975’,” he told Fame Magazine. “The use of the word ‘The’ preceding the date really stuck with me.”
Pink Floyd Combines The Names Of Two Blues Musicians
Pink Floyd is another artist who’s gone through a litany of names. One of the most regrettable was “Tea Set” (yup, it can always be worse). Back when Pink Floyd was called Tea Set, they found themselves on a bill with a band that had the same name – what are the odds?
In a pinch, one of the members came up with an alternative: The Pink Floyd Sound. The name came from two blues musicians – Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. The band flip-flopped between Tea Set and The Pink Floyd Sound until they finally settled on The Pink Floyd. “The” wasn’t dropped until the ’70s.
System Of A Down Is Poetic
You don’t ever expect real, genuine poetry to be flowing from a rap-rock band like System of a Down, but the band’s guitarist Daron Malakian is actually a poet. He wrote the very poem that led to the band’s iconic name. The poem was called “Victims of a Down.”
“It comes from a poem our guitarist, Daron [Malakian], had written called ‘Victims Of A Down’. He brought it to us and ‘System’ was chosen as a better, stronger word because it makes it into the ‘whole’ instead of the people in particular. It’s the society,” said singer Serj Tankian in an interview.
Chubby Checker Wanted To Rival Fats Domino
Chubby Checker invented the twist, a dance move that’s kept alive on the dance floors of weddings and bar mitzvahs. The 1950s rocker’s dance moves were once a legitimate craze back in the days when Fats Domino dominated the airwaves.
Ernest Evans thought of his name to rival his contemporary Fats Domino, who had eleven top 10 hits between 1955 and 1960. Evans already had the nickname “Chubby” and decided to give himself the surname “Checker.” It was a brilliant move which helped launch the artist into massive success and pave the way for modern rock ‘n’ roll.
Lana Del Rey Isn’t Her Real Name
Before she was Lana Del Rey, she was Elizabeth Grant. But for Grant, she wanted her music to evoke specific feelings, and her name had to evoke those feelings too. So, the “Summertime Sadness” singer envisioned a name to shape her music around.
“I wanted a name I could shape the music towards,” Grant told Vogue magazine. “I was going to Miami quite a lot at the time, speaking a lot of Spanish with my friends from Cuba – Lana Del Rey reminded us of the glamour of the seaside.”
Coldplay Was Almost Called Starfish
Coldplay is already an obscure name, but frontman Chris Martin wanted the group to be called Starfish. But when Martin’s fellow friend and musician who was in a band named Coldplay ditched the name, Martin asked if his group could use it.
The original Coldplay too their name from an anthology of children’s poem called Child’s Reflections: Cold Play. Today, the second Coldplay has sold more than 72 million albums worldwide.
Movie Subtitles Inspired !!! (Chk Chk Chk)
!!! is already one of the weirder band names out there, prompting nearly everyone to wonder how their name is even pronounced. Unsurprisingly, the origin of the band’s name is just as obscure as the name itself.
The post-punk group got their name from the ’80s South African movie called
The Gods Must Be Crazy. In the fil, the Khoisan language was subtitled using only a series of exclamation points. The band thought it was interesting and chose ‘!!!’ as a result. For those wondering, it’s pronounced “chk, chk, chk.”