There are a lot of odd, memorable, and stylish names out there, but where did they come from? Let’s take a look at fifty popular and well-known bands, and dig into where the names came from. Read on and learn the backstories of your favorite musicians.
Practically synonymous with rock, this band has had multiple number one albums. "The Wall" is an immense undertaking personal story. "The Dark Side of the Moon" contributed several hits to the lexicon of music and inspired a famous urban legend connecting it to "The Wizard of Oz". "Wish You Were Here" is eminently listenable. But where did the odd name come from?
Syd Barrett – the founding guitarist who left in 1968 – said he simply combined the names of his two favorite musicians, Pink Anderson (American blues singer and guitarist) and Floyd Council (American blues guitarist, mandolin player, and singer).
A simple, memorable name does wonders for a band, and such is the case for Coldplay. Group founders Chris Martin and Jonny Buckland both attended University College London. While in school, Martin and Buckland first collaborated on a band they named Pectoralz. Thankfully, they realized that name wasn't great, and they switched to...Starfish. Which is better, no doubt, but still doesn't have that certain something.
After that, their friend Tim Crompton came up with the name Coldplay for his own band but decided he didn't like it, gifting it to Martin and Buckland. Decades later, almost everyone has heard of Coldplay, all thanks to Crompton not liking it enough for his own band.
The Grateful Dead mixed psychedelic rock, folk, jazz, country, and even gospel, making a sound that remains unique even to this day. For information about the name, fans – known as “Deadheads” – can turn to biographer Blair Jackson, who wrote "Grateful Dead: The Music Never Stopped". It says that lead guitarist Jerry Garcia discovered the name by accident.
He was at bassist Phil Lesh's house once and opened the dictionary. Flipping through it, he found by happenstance the juxtaposed words “grateful dead.” Jerry described it like this: “Everything else went blank, diffuse, just sort of oozed away, and there was GRATEFUL DEAD in big, black letters edged all around in gold.” Sounds magical.
Their singles “Island in the Sun” and “Beverly Hills” are lauded by the listening public. However, not much this somehow-famous band has produced really sticks around. Still, they're more than a two-hit wonder. Comprising of Rivers Cuomo, Patrick Wilson, Brian Bell, and Scott Shriner, they've been active since 1992.
The origin of the simple name comes from Cuomo's father, who gave him the nickname “Weezer” as a child. When his parents got divorced, Cuomo's father would write letters to him, opening each one with “To Weezer.” Rivers grew so attached to the name that he attached it to his band, which soon shot to almost-stardom.
Think hard enough, and you'll come up with the reasoning behind this name. This punk-rock trio gave their genre a dose of new life even in the new millennium when their brand of music was starting to falter.
The band's front-man, Billie Joe Armstrong, revealed the simple truth of the name when he appeared on "Real Time with Bill Maher" more than ten years ago. Maher asked Armstrong about the urban myth that the name comes from... let's call them green cigarettes. Armstrong immediately replied that it does.
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Anthony Kiedis, “Flea” (real name Michael Peter Balzary), Hillel Slovak, and Jack Irons are four groovy friends from Fairfax High in California. When they came together to make high-energy music, they named themselves Tony Flow and the Miraculously Majestic Masters of Mayhem. Now there's a name that will strike a chord.
However, it was a bit too complicated for their tastes, and so later re-branded to Red Hot Chili Peppers. Kiedis said that this name came from the inspiration he and his friends took from American blues and jazz bands, such as Louis Armstrong's quintet, The Hot Five.
Be honest: you thought that Lynyrd Skynyrd was a one-man band with a goofy name. Not so – it's actually composed of seven members, which allows them to bury the listener in layered guitar sounds that have become their trademark.
None of the members have names that include either Lynyrd or Skynyrd. In fact, the name of the band came from an antagonist in their history. Members Gary Rossington and Johnny Van Zant went to high school together, and they had a gym teacher who sent both of them to the principal's office for the crime of having long hair. That teacher's name? Leonard Skinner. The man is now kind of immortalized thanks to this legendary band.
This group of storied musicians out of Seattle originally included Jack Irons, the founding drummer for Red Hot Chili Peppers. But members Eddie Vedder, Mike McCready, Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, and Matt Cameron are all well-known in their own right.
This group originally called themselves Mookie Blaylock, after an NBA All-Star. They switched to Pearl Jam after attending a Neil Young and Crazy Horse concert. Jeff Ament has said that while the word Pearl was picked at more-or-less random, the Jam piece came from the same reason Rolling Stone chose their name: “Every song was like a 15- or 20-minute jam, so that's how 'jam' got added on to the name.”
For the better part of two decades, this Canadian indie rock band has thrived. The bandleaders are husband and wife Win Butler and Regine Chassagne. Four other members round out the group. Arcade Fire has produced five well-regarded albums and had plenty of success since they began in 2004.
Butler was tasked with coming up with a good name for the band and went back to the kid he came across while growing up. According to an interview, the kid had told Win about an arcade going up in flames – Win still doesn't think the story is true, but at least it made for a good band name.
There are two ways to think about The Beatles: the greatest band of all time, or the most overrated. However you see them and their individual members, there's no way to deny they made music magic every time they played together. Nothing says “powerhouse” like changing the musical landscape forevermore. But where did their world-famous name come from?
They first called themselves the Blackjacks, and then switched to the Quarrymen. In the end, they decided to follow in the footsteps of a band they all liked — The Crickets — and chose their own bug-themed name. The Beatles were here, baby, and they've never really gone away.
The answer to where early rockers Steely Dan got their name is sure to come as a surprise. The band began in 1972 with Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. Both of these founding members were avid readers and fans – Fagen even studied English Literature in college – and they found the kind of name they wanted in a novel by author William S. Burroughs, the 1959 “Naked Lunch.”
What does “Steely Dan” refer to? None other than a steam-powered bedroom toy called “Steely Dan III from Yokohama.” Yes, that's right, it was an adults-only toy the whole time. The entire band thought it was the perfect name.
Twenty One Pilots frontman Tyler Joseph (the man so nice they named him twice) got the name of his band from a piece of literature. He and his bandmate Josh Dun hail from Columbus, Ohio, and despite the band dwindled down to two members after starting with five, they continue to create great music.
Joseph took inspiration from the 1947 Arthur Miller play “All My Sons.” In the play, the main character is part of the reason why twenty-one pilots perish. Coming across the play while at school, Joseph couldn't shake the image of twenty-one pilots, and so the name came to mean something to everyone in the music world.
Though only active for seven years, any fan of grunge rock or Seattle music is familiar with this band. The original members include Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic in 1987, and it went through a few drummers before landing on current music legend Dave Grohl. Their intense style garnered them immense fame quickly, though the band had a legendarily sad end.
They went through a few names, such as Fecal Matter, Skid Row, and Ted Ed Fred, but Cobain shook his head at all of them. “[I] wanted a name that was kind of beautiful or nice and pretty instead of a mean, raunchy punk name.”
With strong imagery and memorable spelling, the name Led Zeppelin helped propel this band to the heights of fame and music. The name also has a cool beginning: Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham formed the band in 1968, but two years earlier Page had an opportunity to play with Keith Moon – the legendary drummer for The Who.
The results were incredible, and someone in the studio mentioned the idea of forming a band together. Moon had no intention of leaving The Who, and said the idea would “go over like a lead balloon.” A few years later, Page formed his own band, taking inspiration from the musical great.
It was only because of Kurt Cobain's shocking death, and Nirvana's breakup, that the Foo Fighters exist. The drummer for Nirvana, Dave Grohl, left the band and formed his own outfit.
While attempting to get the band off the ground, he spent time reading about UFOs. Hey, everybody needs a hobby. At one point, he came across the term “foo fighters.” Apparently, during World War II, pilots used the term to describe unidentified flying objects and rogue aircraft, and Grohl liked the name. When his new band started to get some traction, he brought up the name, and the rest was history.
Guns N’ Roses
If you call yourself a rock music fan, no doubt Axl Rose and Slash have taken their time in your ears. This hard rock band is made of seven people, and have been blessing listeners off and on for thirty years.
Before coming together, they were two different bands, “L.A. Guns” and “Hollywood Rose.” When neither band made much of a splash, the two groups decided to combine their efforts and try again. They also combined their names, creating the perfect hard rock name that would soon go on to sell millions of albums, plenty of merch, and give us the hilarious antics of Axl Rose, as well.
What kind of self-respecting metal band would name themselves after a plant? Founding member Jonathan Davis grew up in Bakersfield, California, which is surrounded by cornfields. His band helped popularize the nu-metal genre. Mostly, though it's a big joke.
Davis spoke to "Kerrang" Magazine about the name: “I laugh my [expletive] off that my band is named Korn. That's the whole reason why we named it that [...] Your band name doesn't have to be mysterious.” As this article clearly proves, he's right on the money about that. Most of these names are just phrases the members thought sounded cool.
This iconic Los Angeles rock group is one of the most influential bands of all time, and Jim Morrison led the way the entire time. When the band came together for the first time in 1965, Morrison had already come up with a killer title.
He had been reading Aldous Huxley's "The Doors of Perception", which was about Huxley's experiences with hallucinogenics. The other members of the band accepted the name The Doors, and the rest is history. A short history, unfortunately, since Morrison died at the young age of twenty-seven. The band tried to keep going, but it never had much success without his driving force behind them.
It's been fifty years since Aerosmith began playing music, and we're still hoping to get another chance to see them play. Three of the founding members – Steven Tyler, Tom Hamilton, and Joey Kramer – are still playing, and it was Kramer who came up with the name.
According to the drummer, it came to him while he was in high school after listening to a Harry Nilson album titled "Aerial Ballet". Somehow, this turned into “Aerosmith,” and was what Kramer wrote on all his schoolwork. He was convinced that he would be in a band with the name, and he turned out to be correct – but he had no idea just how successful they would be.
Goo Goo Dolls
When the Goo Goo Dolls released their song “Iris,” it hit the Billboard charts and stayed there for nearly a year. They could have stopped making music right there, content with what they had accomplished, but they didn't rest on their laurels.
They used to go by The Sex Maggots, and when one club outright refused to put such a name on their marquee, they had to come up with a new name, and quick. They went through a magazine, saw the words “goo-goo dolls” in an ad, and made the change. Thankfully.
Sometimes it's the small things that become important. Just ask Matchbox Twenty's Paul Douchette. He co-founded the band with Rob Thomas and Brian Yale, and his imagination was sparked when he saw a random t-shirt.
They started the band as Tabitha's Secret but split off with some of the other members. Douchette was working at a restaurant when he saw a customer's t-shirt – the shirt had patches all over, as well as a giant number twenty. Douchette only remembered one patch, but that's all he needed: the patch said “matchbox.”
This classic rock band was comprised of Mick Fleetwood, Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer, Stevie Nicks, John and the late Christine McVie, Neil Finn, and Mike Campbel. That's quite a crew, but their output is huge. This band took a two-year break in the nineties, returned to work in 1997, and is still touring to this day.
Thanks to a recent Tik Tok trend, their song “Dreams” has made it back into the public ear. Their name is simpler than a lot of others – it's the combination of Mick Fleetwood's last name and John McVie's (Mac) name. Sometimes simplicity is best.
For more than half a decade, we moved and grooved to the three brothers (Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb). They were called the Kings of Disco, and even though disco may be dead, this band still rocks.
Many believe that the band's name stands for “Brothers Gibb,” but it turns out not to be the case. Instead, the name comes from Barry and the brothers' friend Bill Goode, a speedway promoter and racecar driver in Brisbane, Australia. Why did they pick such a name? We may never know. Robin and Maurice have both passed away, heading to the big disco joint in the sky.
The Rolling Stones
Originally composed of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts, and Ian Stewart, these stones have been rocking the world for more than sixty years. Three of the founding members still remain. Where did the name come from though – the name that millions around the world connect with classic British rock?
Richards has claimed that the group got put on the spot by a reporter during a call with Jazz News, and when asked for a name, they had to come up with one fast. On the ground rested a Muddy Water LP, and the name of the single was “Rollin' Stone.”
Few bands have reached the international heights of U2, despite the band not having a bassist. The Irish band has been part of study playlists, weddings, and funerals, but the name came from somewhere rather random.
They performed a few times under names like The Larry Mullen Band, Feedback, and The Hype. But the name they eventually adopted — and is now known around the world — came from an American U-2 spy plane that crashed in Russia in 1960. It resulted in the American pilot, Francis Gary Powers, being held prisoner on charges of espionage. Why exactly Bono and the rest chose this name, though, remains to be seen.
Creedence Clearwater Revival
The memorable name of this rock band came from three different sources, one for each of the unrelated words. The first word, chosen by Tom Fogerty, came from his friend Credence Nuball. The middle word was part of an advertisement for Olympia beer, a brewing company based in Washington, which boasted its use of crystal clear water in its beer.
The final word came from the simple fact that the band members were all reuniting after being apart. Their friendship was part of the revival after a three-year hiatus because of military duties, and music fans everywhere are glad that they came together again.
System of a Down
Another musical group that is almost as unique as its name, System of a Down have brought heavy metal to the masses. The name was put together from several things, the primary source being a poem written by band member Daron Malakian.
He wrote a poem with the line “Victims of a Down,” and the band was ready to go with that name and call it good, until bassist Shavo Odadjian convinced them to change the first word to “System” in order to be filed closer to their favorite band, Slayer, in music stores. We're not sure if this change helped, but it's still a nice name.
Fall Out Boy
Many people know the Simpsons, of course, but it still might be difficult to get where this band got its name. Fallout Boy was the name of the sidekick for Radioactive Man, a comic book hero popular within the "Simpsons" universe.
The character's name debuted in a 1991 episode, and the band took it, adding a break in the first word to differentiate it from the character. The band paid tribute to the show that inspired their name by recording a cover of the show's theme song. It's the perfect kind of name for a pop-punk band, and they rode the name to great success.
The Velvet Underground
Just like The Doors, The Velvet Underground took their name from the title of a book. Michael Leigh penned "The Velvet Underground" about the sexual revolution that was taking place in the 1960s.
The book was published in 1963, and the band came about in 1965. They liked the name because it seemed to evoke the image of an underground cinema. It was just the kind of thing that a psychedelic band in the sixties wanted for their image.
Death Cab for Cutie
Unsurprisingly, music is big in the lives of musicians, which ends up in band names inspired by other bands. Such is the case with Death Cab for Cutie, who got their name from the fab four themselves: The Beatles.
The band's front-man Ben Gibbard said that the band's moniker came from The Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour". During the movie, a band named the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band played a tune called “Death Cab for Cutie.” The name stuck with Gibbard. But, he's since said he would have picked a more obvious reference if he could go back in time.
Some band name meanings have a meaning that is a little bit more mundane. For this band, it's Lincoln Park in Santa Monica, California. Founding band member Chester Bennington used to drive past the part on his way to the studio. With a little bit of spelling creativity, this band was ready to start producing.
Linkin Park combined rap and rock to help forge the nu-metal genre. Before they found this name from such an unassuming place, they were known as both Xero and Hybrid Theory. The band has been on hiatus for several years, due to the unfortunate death of Bennington.
Before he created a band and got big, singer Ezra Koenig had the idea of making his own vampire movie, inspired by cult classic "The Lost Boys". While the movie project never materialized (making a movie is really hard), the name he came up with stuck around.
The movie would have been set in Cape Cod (which was a location that comes up a few times on the band's first album, "Vampire Weekend") and would have had a character named Walcott, a name that appeared on another song on the album. The band is known for its world-music influences and is one of the current frontrunners in the alternative rock scene.
There was once a band named Darlin'. All the way back in 1993, they released a song called “Cindy So Loud,” and in the Melody Maker column that was about singles, writer Dave Jennings described the song as “daft punky thrash.” Two of the members of Darlin' (which got its own name from a Beach Boys song), Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, thought the phrase was killer enough to become the name of the new project they were working on.
Multiple decades, multiple albums, and multiple Grammys later, Daft Punk is a huge name in the international music scene, and the listening public has all but forgotten Darlin'.
30 Seconds to Mars
Jared Leto, who got picked out of a hat to play the Joker on "Suicide Squad", had his first brush with fame when he founded the band 30 Seconds to Mars (He was also in "Fight Club").
Leto and his crew were trying to come up with the right kind of punchy, energetic name for an in-your-face rock band when they found a thesis from a former Harvard professor. It suggested that the human race is, thanks to an exponential technology curve, only thirty seconds to Mars compared to the length of history. That's the story according to bassist Matt Wachter.
With so many bands out there, you now have to head to Google to make sure you aren't stepping on anyone's toes – and to make sure that your chosen name is someone that would actually appear for fans who want to learn more. Such is the reason why Scottish electropop trio Chvrches decided to give their band a bit of a unique spelling.
Initially, they were content to just go by “Churches” until Amy Burrows produced the artwork for one of their early singles, manipulating the font used for the band's name so that the “U” looked like a “V.” The band nodded their heads at each other and made the change.
Yes, apparently there's a band that is just !!!. Just go ahead and try to guess this one, but good luck. This band is described as post-punk funkers, and they took their name from the 1980 South African comedy movie "The Gods Must Be Crazy". The Khoisan language in the film was subtitled as a bunch of exclamation marks. The Khoisan language uses clicks as part of their speech, which is why this band's moniker is pronounced (and googled) “Chk Chk Chk.”
It's been a hot minute, but "The Gods Must Be Crazy" is still pretty good. It has to do with a small African tribe finding a glass Coke bottle. It's weird but memorable.
This famous rock band has always been tight-lipped about where their name came from. Mark Hoppus, Tom De Longe, and Travis Barker have long been in the music game, but theirs isn't the 182nd Blink to come about – it's only the second.
What we know is that, supposedly, De Longe came up with the name “Blink” on a whim. They went with that for a while, but they soon found themselves staring down the barrel of a loaded lawsuit from a pre-established Irish band named the same. Hoppus, De Longe, and Barker tacked on the “-182” to avoid litigation, and the rest is rock history.
Panic! At The Disco
Ah, Panic! At The Disco. Everyone's favorite pop band. It began as a four-person outfit but was reduced to a solo project when everyone but Brendon Urie departed. The prevailing theory is that it comes from the lyrics of The Smiths' “Panic,” but Urie knows the true answer.
He lifted the name wholesale from “Panic,” a song by US indie band Name Taken: “Panic at the disco / Sat back and took it so slow / Are you nervous? / Are you shaking?” It's unknown why Urie liked the lyric, or why he chose something that makes the band sound like it's fifty years old, but it's at least memorable.
Lana Del Rey
As it turns out, this solo act songstress doesn't perform under her given name. Her real name is Elizabeth Woolridge Grant but decided she needed a stage name that reflected the kind of music she was hoping to create.
“I was going to Miami quite a lot at the time, speaking a lot of Spanish with my friends from Cuba.” She went with Lana Del Rey because, as she said, it reminded her of the glamour of the seaside. It's a bright, sunny name, which is interesting since a lot of the Del Ray music has a somewhat somber bend.
Every child wants to grow up to be a superhero. Steven Ellison – you may know him better as Flying Lotus – told "Hearty Magazine" in 2010. “I would always bother people about superheroes and I was like, 'Ok if you could have any superpower in the creation of comic books what would you have [...] what would you do?' I wanted to fly. That's it. That's all.”
Thus, when Ellison found his rap career taking off, he chose a moniker that got him into the stratosphere and turned him into a superhero, just like he always wanted.
The Human League
Synth music has always had a futuristic, science-fiction feeling. So, when the Sheffield synth pioneers were trying to find the right name for their outfit, they first went with The Future, aptly. However, this pair of gals added singer Phil Oakey and decided that their name needed an upgrade.
They went with The Human League, which was the name of a futuristic society from a 1970s science-fiction board game called Starforce: Alpha Centauri. There's nothing like a soundtrack for when you're gaming with friends, and this outfit now seems like the prime candidate for futuristic and sci-fi games.
Foster the People
This name is unique, even among band names. The original name for this outfit was Foster & The People – Mark Foster is the band's front-man and creative force. However, when they started playing at clubs and other gigs, the fans who were dancing to the music kept mishearing the name, thinking that they were called “Foster the People.”
Foster later spoke to USA Today and said that since they performed for charity organizations in the beginning, the changed name just clicked. While the new name might be a bit strange syntax-wise, it still led to plenty of great music.
Were all the band members born in the year? Maybe just one? Didn't something important to them happen then? No, no, and no, as it turns out. The 1975 singer Matt Healy got the name of his band from a scribble in a book of beat poetry he's acquired from an artist.
The back page of the book has some rough messages and it was literally dated "1st June, The 1975", as he told Fame Magazine. The use of the word “The” before the year stuck out to Healy, and the band he began later got the name thanks to the dark and depressing messages.
With the sad passing of Neil Peart, eyes have been back on Rush. The Holy Trinity started out back in 1965 with original drummer John Rutsey and guitarist Alex Lifeson. They added one bassist, then traded him in for an upgrade with Geddy Lee, and christened themselves...The Projection. Not bad, but it wasn't Rush.
While working together to build their music, this famous group met with John Rutsey's brother, Bill, joined them for a brainstorming session to come up with a better name. It was Bill who suggested the name Rush. Rush it was, and music fans have been thanking the man for more than fifty years.
This group from Las Vegas loved them some New Order. When it came to coming up with a name for their own group, they went to their inspirations to come up with something flashy.
The New Order video for their 2001 single “Crystal” featured a fake band called “The Killers,” and so Brandon Flowers, Dave Keuning, Mark Stoermer, and Ronnie Vannucci Jr. grabbed the name as their own. It's evocative and has a good punch, which is what you want to get people from reading the name to listening to the music. And it certainly worked – The Killers are considered one of the biggest rock bands of the twenty-first century.
Wild Beasts used to have a much more intense name: Fauve, which is French for "wild beast", based on the early twentieth-century modern art movement Fauvism, led by French artist Henri Matisse. Fauvism excelled at painterly qualities and strong color instead of the representational or realist values retained by Impressionism.
While Wild Beasts can't exactly portray themselves as painters with their rock music, they still built a solid art-rock following. And though the band has been disbanded since 2018, there's always a chance another acclaimed album will make it through. Several of the members have gone on to create solo projects.
While bands like Rush, Genesis, and Pink Floyd got the prog-rock train started, it faltered big time in the eighties and was dead by the nineties. Enter Spock's Beard, fronted by Neal Morse, and the scene was suddenly revitalized big time.
The band's name comes from a famous "Star Trek" original series episode with an alternate dimension, showing us alternate versions of the characters viewers loved. The most famous way to show the difference, on one famous occasion, was that the alternate Spock had a small, neat goatee. The band loved the name, and it's still going today. The name also inspired a Bubbatunes song: “Spock With A Beard.”
As rock and roll got its start in the fifties, the start of people taking wild band names also began. Fats Domino led the way for star and dance machine Ernest Evans. Evans was already called “Chubby” as a nickname by his friends. Then, the rocker put a twist on Fats Domino by picking his own parlor game to tack on to the end of his moniker.
Chubby Checker was born, and because of him we have famous songs like “The Twist,” which was named the biggest chart hit of all time by Billboard in 2008, “Pony Time,” and even the limbo. He's done so much for us.
Matt Sanders, James Sullivan, and Matt Wendt might not be religious, but they still went to the Good Book to find a band name they liked. They came across Genesis 4:24 (“If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, Truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold”) and grabbed it for their band.
One look at the album covers or investigation of the lyrics will tell you that this outfit isn't exactly keeping to Biblical roots. They took stage names and started to rock the world, helping to pioneer the metalcore genre, though they eventually went away from the sound toward more hard-rock songs.
At the top of the prog metal world stands Dream Theater, but they didn't always have that name to work with. Their first name was Majesty, based on founding drummer Mike Portnoy's description of the song “Bastille Day” by Rush. But before long, another band — also named Majesty, oh-so-politely asked the five-man band to try out some other names.
Mike Portnoy's father suggested the name Dream Theater, after a real theater, now demolished, in Monterrey, California. It brings to mind the incredible sights and sounds that the band loves to produce. Every single album contains at least one instance of the word “dream” in the lyrics.