When famous rock bands are interviewed, at some point they’re asked the question, “How did you come up with your name?” It seems like a pretty standard inquiry, but some time in the past it became cool for rock stars to lie about their beginnings. Whether it was to embellish a piece of their history or to just be a dick to a reporter, bands started making up all sorts of off-the-wall things to keep people guessing.
While that tactic may have helped to keep some bands shrouded in cloak of mystery, it also made the names of most bands a big question mark, and a pain in the ass to research. What we discovered was that a lot of seemingly creative or unique names actually have very little real meaning behind them. Common explanations were “it just sort of stuck” or “we were high and thought it was funny.” Finding very little interest in those answers, we decided to dig deeper and came up with some of the more interesting stories.
Hit next or click the pictures to read on…
My Morning Jacket
There are a few different versions of where this Kentucky-bred band actually got their name. Regardless of which adaptation you’ve heard, the pertinent details generally tend to be the same. As the story goes, some years ago a bar on the University of Kentucky campus mysteriously burned to the ground. This bar was a one-time favorite watering hole of then undergrad student James Edward Olliges Jr., otherwise known as Jim James. The morning following the fire James was said to have been surveying the damage when he discovered a jacket laying in the charred building’s remains. After collecting it he noticed a monogram on the inside lining that displayed the letters “MMJ,” which he took to stand for My Morning Jacket. The interchangeable portion of this story would involve trading out the jacket for a ladies robe, and the bar for a gentlemen’s club.
The late 1970’s UK music scene is credited with initiating a post-punk movement that birthed one of the most gothic and brooding musical acts of all time in Manchester’s Joy Division. Formed in 1976, the original Ian Curtis-led quartet considered coining themselves Stiff Kitten, a name that was reportedly suggested to them by both the manager and lead singer of the Buzzcocks.
Shortly before their debut public performance the group scrapped the moniker and instead chose the name Warsaw, in reference to the David Bowie song “Warszawa.” After a successful performance at the Electric Circus and a demo recording, Warsaw then decided to change their name again to avoid confusion with a local London punk band at the time known as the very similar Warsaw Pakt.
In 1978 the band finally settled on Joy Division, borrowing the name from Ka-Tzetnik 135633’s 1955 novella The House of Dolls, which described “Joy Divisions” as alleged groups of Jewish women in World War II concentration camps who were used as objects of sexual pleasure by the Nazi soldiers.
Those not intimately familiar with the early beginnings of No Doubt can at the very least recognize Gwen Stefani as both the face and voice of the Anaheim, CA ska band. It would be easy to assume that she also concocted their name, but that’s surprisingly not the case. The phrase “no doubt” happened to be the favorite expression of original founding member John Spence. Spence, along with Stefani and her older brother Eric, came up with the idea to form a band while working together at Dairy Queen. Known for his energetic onstage personality, he began as the group’s lead singer and would often do backflips and scream wildly during performances.
Everything changed in 1987 when Spence committed suicide by shooting himself in a nearby Anaheim park. The band learned of his death just days before an important show at The Roxy Theatre in Hollywood. Soon afterwards the remaining members temporarily disbanded, only to reunite again days later with Gwen Stefani eventually replacing Spence behind the mic.
Neon Indian released their debut LP in the form of 2009’s Psychic Chasms. That album gifted us a slew of playful electronic gems like “Deadbeat Summer” and “Should Have Taken Acid With You,” the latter of which played a role in the naming of Alan Palomo’s synthpop project.
When asked about the its origin, Palomo told Pitchfork in an August 2009 interview, “It began with the song ‘Should Have Taken Acid With You.’ During holiday break last year, [Neon Indian visual artist] Alicia [Scardetta] and I were supposed to get together and spend an afternoon on acid, but it fell through. I felt really bad about it so I wrote this song and sent it to her and figured that was that. Then she responded, like, ‘Wow there’s really something to this.'” The two were also an item at the time, and Scardetta actually conceived the name. It was her positive response to Palomo’s acid-trip-missing apology song that encouraged him to continue writing songs under the Neon Indian handle.
Steely Dan sounds like the nickname of some crusty old bastard your dad used to play horseshoes with at the 4H Club. It also happens to be the real name of a crusty old bastard of a band from the late 1970’s. While we can’t actually confirm how crusty core members Donald Fagen and Walter Becker actually are, we sure can commend them on naming their band one of the most unassumingly absurd things of all time. As fans of Beat Generation literature, the duo took their name after “Steely Dan III from Yokohama,” which is a giant steam-powered strap-on dildo referenced in the William S. Burroughs novel Naked Lunch. So, yeah.
Like so many historic and influential bands, the creation of the Sex Pistol’s name is one that has many different versions, all of which are as obscure and ridiculous as the English punk rockers themselves. According to reports, the UK punk movement was initiated by a manifesto (and t-shirt) titled “You’re Gonna Wake Up One Morning and Know Which Side of the Bed You’ve Been Lying On!”
Purportedly conceived by future Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, legendary designer Vivienne Westwood, and future Clash manager Bernie Rhodes, the proclamation consisted of “Love” and “Hate” lists and featured the first known mention of the “Sex Pistols.” In full, it read on the t-shirt as QT Jones and the Sex Pistols, which became the working moniker under which the band would initially perform. Eventually after John “Johnny Rotten” Lydon joined as the lead signer, the name was then shorted simply to the Sex Pistols, and the rest would go down in punk rock history.
The Black Keys
Every block in America has that odd neighbor or slightly crazy local who most folks tend to know for one reason or another. They make people feel uncomfortable, but are then ultimately accepted and generally dismissed as harmless. In the early 2000’s artist Alfred McMoore was one such individual who used to tool around Akron, OH in the neighborhood where Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney lived.
As told by Pat’s father, Jim Carney, to the Akron Beacon Journal shortly after Alfred’s passing in 2009, “Mr. McMoore traveled around town on the bus or on his bike and loved to call people on the telephone. Often, there would be 20, 40 or more messages from him on our home phone. “This is Alfred McMoore,” he would say into the machine. “Your black key is taking too long.” The term ”black key” was something he used often.” Pat himself explained in a separate 2006 interview with Modern Primitives, “Alfred McMoore has this weird sort of Tourette’s thing going on where he calls people he doesn’t like D Flats and black keys.” It was from this saying that the pair took their name and even called their publishing company McMoore McLesst Publishing as a further tribute.
This man has been around a long time. Dating back to the World War II era, Bob Dylan’s life and career span many decades and as such there are countless stories associated with his legend. One in particular is tied to who he really is and how his name morphed to Bob Dylan from the one given at his birth, Robert Allen Zimmerman.
The most common myth is that the singer/songwriter became so obsessed with poet Dylan Thomas during his time as a freshman at the University of Minnesota, that decided to assume Dylan as his new last name. While not entirely false (he is quite the poetry aficionado), biographer Daniel Mark Epstein wrote in The Ballad of Bob Dylan that the name was initially taken from Matt Dillion, who was the sheriff in the television series Gunsmoke, a favorite program of Zimmerman’s as a teenager. It was then during his collegiate years that Dillion evolved into Dylan, presumably because of Dylan Thomas’ work.
So why change names in the first place? To better suit the persona and identity that Bob Dylan had worked so hard to craft as a young musician. From the start he was fixated on creating the right image and in his mind felt that people would have much more interest in a man who came from mysterious hobo-like beginnings as a rambler rather than someone raised in a middle class Jewish family in Duluth, MN.
There’s really nothing crazy behind the origin of this name. Just a bunch of hilarity and some potential disgustingness, depending on which story you choose to believe. When Eddie Vedder and the boys were starting out in the early 1990’s, the Seattle-based grunge band initially went by the name Mookie Blaylock, who was a then current all-star NBA player. Upon signing a major label deal with Epic Records, it was advised that they consider a different title lest they be sued for copyright infringement. This is where the stories begin to wander.
It was originally said that the name Pearl Jam was taken from Vedder’s great-grandmother Pearl, who was known for making an especially delicious style of peyote-laced jam. Some years later Eddie dismissed that version of the story as “total bullshit,” going on to state that the name was actually inspired from the natural process of how pearls are created. “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.” Eh, the first explanation is certainly better, but not as good as the one that claims Pearl Jam is actually in reference to a gentleman’s baby batter.
Death Cab For Cutie
“The name was never supposed to be something that someone was going to reference 15 years on. So yeah, I would absolutely go back and give it a more obvious name.” Stated lead singer Ben Gibbard when asked about the origin of his band’s moniker during a 2011 interview. So where did it come from?
“Death Cab For Cutie” was a song performed by The Bozno Dog Doo-Dah Band in The Beatles 1967 film, Magical Mystery Tour. It was written by Neil Innes of Monty Python fame, and Vivian Stanshall. Innes found inspiration for the title from an old American pulp fiction crime magazine he’d seen. In a 2009 interview with CNN, fellow band member Chris Walla recalled, “[Ben] was in a Magical Mystery Tour all-the-time kind of phase. He made a grand proclamation from the couch at one point that if he ever had another band, he was going to call it Death Cab for Cutie.”
Beyond simply experimenting with their sound, the neo-psychedelia group Animal Collective also like to experiment with their names. The four ever-rotating band members go by Avey Tare (David Portner), Panda Bear (Noah Lennox), Deakin (Josh Dibb), and Geologist (Brian Weitz). What started in 1997 with Lennox’s debut album Panda Bear, released on the newly established Soccer Star Records, eventually grew as the four childhood friends began to occasionally record and perform together.
In 1999 came Avey Tare and Panda Bear on the new Animal label that eventually replaced Soccer Star. This was then followed by Avey Tare, Panda Bear and Geologist. Adding Deakin to the formula would make it too laborious, so as a solution the group decided to settle on a catch-all moniker that would encapsulate each of the aliases. Thus the term Animal Collective was born.
Legendary jam band the Grateful Dead have one of the most recognizable brand identities in the history of music. Their extensive catalogue is responsible for capturing the hearts and melting the minds of countless “Deadheads” around the world. With such a massive reputation and aura surrounding the band’s 30+ year existence, one would assume that the genesis of their name would be one rooted in creativity and mystique. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
Of all places to find a band name, Jerry Garcia discovered his in the fucking dictionary. In Blair Jackson’s biography on the Dead, Garcia is quoted as saying: “One day we were over at Phil’s house… he had a big dictionary. I opened it and there was ‘Grateful Dead’, those words juxtaposed. It was one of those moments, you know, like everything else went blank, diffuse, just sort of oozed away, and there was GRATEFUL DEAD in big, black letters edged all around in gold, man, blasting out at me, such a stunning combination. So I said, ‘How about Grateful Dead?’ And that was it.” Drugs, man.
It’s been said that scientists sometimes refer to erect whale penises as a “pink floyd.” We’ll never be able to confirm this rumor, but regardless of it’s alleged truth, that possible fact had no bearing on Syd Barrett’s choice to name his band Pink Floyd back in 1965. In fact the group from London originally began as Sigma 6. From there they worked their they worked through each The Meggadeaths, The (Screaming) Abdabs, Leonard’s Lodgers, and The Sprectrum Five before settling on an especially hardcore name, The Tea Set.
Why not keep that name? Because as unbelievable as this might seem, there was already another local band using that exact same shitty name. Thankfully fate stepped in forcing the group to reconsider their moniker for the seventh time. As a result Barrett ultimately chose the combination of Pink and Floyd from a few popular Georgia blues players, Pink Anderson and Floyd “Dipper Boy” Council.
Ever read the Variety Slanguage Dictionary? For those that don’t know, it’s a glossary of Variety’s frequently-used slang terms. The Hollywood Insider began publishing it to help normal people comprehend what the shit Variety writers were trying to say in their pieces. At one point the magazine used the term “passion pit” to refer to drive-in movie theaters because they were a popular place for teenagers to canoodle and get into some heavy petting back in the day.
“It’s a slang term for in the ’50’s when kids would go to the drive in, and when they were necking or making out, that was the term for it. It was called “passion pit,” stated lead singer Michael Angelakos, whose affinity for the term eventually led to it’s permeant placement as the band’s name. Turns out Passion Pit is also a Traci Lords porno flick from the 1980s. The band is constantly asked if that was the true inspiration behind their name, which they’ve publicly denied, declaring that they didn’t even know the film existed until a year after they selected the moniker.
“Many people ask what are Beatles? Why Beatles? Ugh, Beatles, how did the name arrive? So we will tell you. It came in a vision–a man appeared in a flaming pie and said unto them ‘From this day on you are Beatles with an A.’ ‘Thank you, Mister Man,’ they said, thanking him.” This was the version of origin that John Lennon shared jokingly in the July 1961 issue of Bill Harry’s “Mersey Beat.” While it has often times been taken as bible, even allegedly being clarified further by Yoko Ono who insists that John himself alone saw the vision and came up with the name, it is the most far fetched of all the explanations.
More accurate accounts tell the legend of a name that arrived as an evolved adaptation of the Silver Beetles, or simply the Beatals, selected as a tribute to Buddy Holly and The Crickets. Confirmation on who ultimately revised its spelling to “Beatles,” is equally mixed with some crediting Lennon and others insisting Paul McCartney or George Harrison suggested the change. One final tale of origin actually states that inspiration for the name was found in Malron Brando’s 1953 outlaw biker film The Wild One, which featured a rival biker gang called The Beetles.