There are many important elements required to make a good band. A band usually consists of two or more people, although that’s not always the case. A band needs to have skilled musicians who complement each other’s talents. A band must also have chemistry amongst its members, however it’s not required for them to all get along. Perhaps, most importantly they need to have a really cool, unique or original band name. Sometimes the band name proves to be the last missing piece of the puzzle. A good band name can sum up a band and it unifies the band. Some bands take it a step further and will even come up with a creative and unique individual alias.
Some bands go through a long and strange journey before settling on their most famous name. Others are inspired by their favorite book or movie. Sometimes a band gets its name completely by accident. Then there’s the bands that have ambiguous sounding names and never fully explain them. There are also some bands that came up with their name in the simplest way possible, but still a great myth and legend can surround the name. Regardless, the band name is unifying and memorable. Here is a look at 14 interesting backstories to how bands got their names.
14) Green Day
Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt formed Green Day in 1986. The most famous line up was a trio consisting of Armstrong, Dirnt and Tre Cool. They later added Jason White. They are one of the world’s best selling bands and have won five Grammy Awards. They have released several albums, such as Dookie, Nimrod and American Idiot. The band was originally known as Sweet Children but changed their name to avoid being confused with a band called Sweet Baby. “Green Day” is a slang term for smoking cannabis all day long. Billie Joe Armstrong wrote a song called, “Green Day” about his first time smoking marijuana. When they needed a new name, they settled on Green Day.
13) Duran Duran
Duran Duran first rose to prominence in the 80s. Nick Rhodes and John Taylor formed the band in Birmingham in 1978. They were one of the most dominant bands in the 80s. They were known for their controversial and innovative music videos that would incorporate sexually suggestive scenes and partial nudity. They released several albums, including Duran, Duran, Rio and Seven and the Ragged Tiger. They have won two Grammy Awards, an MTV Video Music Award for Lifetime Achievement and have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. They took their name from the 1968 French-Italian sci-fi cult classic film Barbarella, that starred Jane Fonda. Specifically, they took the name from the character Dr. Duran Duran, who was played by Milo O’Shea.
12) Steely Dan
Walter Becker and Donald Fagen formed Steely Dan in 1972. The band was very successful in the late 70s and early 80s. They have gained a cult following since their first break up in 1981, and reformed in the 90s. The band has released several albums, including Can’t Buy A Thrill, The Royal Scam and Gaucho. Steely Dan gets their name from the 1959 novel Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs. The novel was on Time’s 100 Best English Language Novels from 1925-2005. Specifically, the name comes from a strap-on dildo named Steely Dan III that makes a cameo in the book. In the book, the sexual device is from Yokohama and is the third of the Steely Dan sex toys. Walter and Donald were big fans of the novel and felt it was a fitting name.
KISS is a rock band formed by Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, in 1973. Kiss is widely regarded as one of the most influential and greatest heavy metal rock bands. They were known for wearing make up and for having elaborate live performances. The most well known line up consisted of Gene Simmons (The Demon), Paul Stanley (Starchild), Ace Freshley (Space Ace) and Peter Criss (Catman). They have released several critically acclaimed albums, such as Kiss, Alive and Destroyer. The music they played and their wild stage personas caused some controversy. At the time, some felt that they were a negative influence on teenagers. Many speculated on the true meaning behind the name Kiss. Some believed it stood for: Knight’s In Satan’s Service. There were also rumors that the SS in KISS was stylized in reference to the Nazi SS. However, Gene Simmons denied this. The naming of the band was actually much simpler and less sinister than some assumed. Gene was driving around with Paul and Peter. They were trying to come up with a band name and Paul simply asked, “What about Kiss?” Everyone liked the name and so the band became known as KISS.
10) Pearl Jam
Pearl Jam was formed in Seattle, Washington, in 1990. The founding members are Jeff Ament, Steve Gossard, Mike McCready and Eddie Vedder. They are widely regarded as one of the most influential bands, and were an important part of the grunge movement during the 90s. They released several critically acclaimed albums, such as Ten, Vs. and Pearl Jam. Eddie Vedder claimed that his great grandmother, Pearl, married a Native American and she would make a peyote-laced jam, hence the name Pearl Jam. However, later they admitted that it was a made up story. They also denied that their name is in reference to ejaculation. The way they got their name is actually very simple. They came up with Pearl during a brainstorming session. Later, they attended a Neil Young concert, where he played many extended versions of his songs and essentially turned the concert into a type of jam session. On the way back from the concert, they added the “jam” and became Pearl Jam. Although, one must admit the real story is not nearly as exciting as the fabricated story.
9) The Ramones
The Ramones were formed in 1974 in New York. The Ramones original and most famous line up consisted of iconic frontman Joey Ramone (Jeffery Hyman), guitarist Johnny Ramone (John Cummings), drummer Tommy Ramone (Thomas Erdelyi) and bassist Dee Dee Ramone (Douglas Colvin). The group is considered the most influential punk band. They released several albums, including The Ramones, Rocket To Russia and Road To Ruin. Beatles member Paul McCartney would often use the alias Paul Ramone when checking into hotels. When The Ramones were first getting together, Douglas Colvin decided to start going by the name Dee Dee Ramone inspired by Paul Ramone. Eventually, Dee Dee would convince the rest of the members to use the surname Ramone, as well. None of them were related to each other. All four original members have died.
U2 is a band that consists of Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. The band was formed in 1976 in Dublin, when they were teenagers. The band is one of the world’s best selling bands, and they have won 22 Grammy Awards. They have released several albums, such as Boy, War and Joshua Tree. There are many stories and rumors to why the band is named U2. Some say that the band, which had been known as Feedback and The Hype, were given a list of potential names and chose U2 because it was the one they least hated. Others say that it’s in reference to the U2 fighter plane or in reference to the unemployment form in Ireland, which is called a U2. Bono has stated in interviews that he never cared for the name.
Brothers Malcolm and Angus Young formed AC/DC in 1973. AC/DC is the tenth best selling band of all time and one of the world’s best selling bands. They’re widely regarded as one of the greatest rock bands of all time. They have released several critically and commercially acclaimed albums, such as Highway To Hell, Back In Black and For Those About To Rock We Salute You. In 1980, original lead singer Bon Scott died and was replaced by Brian Johnson. The idea for the name came from Malcolm and Angus’ sister, Margaret Young. She saw the initials “AC/DC’ on a sewing machine. The band liked that it stood for “alternating current/direct current” and felt the name fit perfectly.
6) Backstreet Boys
The Backstreet Boys are a boy band consisting of A.J Maclean, Nick Carter, Kevin Richardson, Brian Littrel and Howie Dorough. Lou Pearlman was looking to put together a boy band and advertised it in the newspaper in 1992. The band was officially formed in 1993, in Orlando (although some of the band members already knew each other). The group is the best selling boy band of all time. They released several successful albums, such as Backstreet’s Back, Millennium and Black & Blue. Lou Pearlman named the band The Backstreet Boys after a very popular hangout for teens in the Orlando area. The group is named after Orlando’s Backstreet Flea Market. Wisely, they went with Backstreet Boys instead of Backstreet Fleas.
UB40 was formed in England in 1978. The original and most famous line up was Ali Campbell, Mickey Virtue, Astro, Brian Travers, Robin Campbell, Norman Hassan and Earl Falconer. The members were friends prior to forming the band. The band was known for its diverse line up that included musicians with Yemini, Scottish, Irish, English and Jamaican backgrounds. They are best known for the singles, “Red Red Wine”, “Food For Thought” and “Can’t Help Falling In Love”. They are very successful in the UK but have also gained worldwide exposure. The band took their name from an unemployment form issued by the Department of Employment in England. The form was known as Unemployment Benefit, Form 40, which inspired the name UB40.
4) Wu-Tang Clan
Wu-Tang Clan is an iconic and highly influential hip-hop group formed in the early 90s. The original group consisted of RZA, GZA, Raekwon, Method Man, U-God, Inspectah Deck, Ghostface Killah, Cappadonna, Masta Killa and the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard. The group released several critically and commercially acclaimed albums, such as Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Wu-Tang Forever and The W. The members of the group also released their own solo albums as well. Members of the Wu-Tang were fans of martial arts films, which is reflective in many of their songs and names. They got the name of the group from the martial arts film, Shaolin and Wu Tang. Shaolin and Wu Tang are two styles of martial arts. The group stated that the name has other meanings as well, such as, “Witty Unpredictable Talent and Natural Game”.
3) The Lumineers
Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites formed The Lumineers in 2002. The current lineup of the band consists of Schultz, Fraites, Neyla Pekarek, Stelth Ulvang and Ben Wahamaki. In 2012, they released their debut album The Lumineers, which included the hit singles, “Stubborn Love” and “Ho Hey”. Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Friates began writing together following the death of Schultz’s best friend and Fraites older brother, Josh Fraites. Writing the music together helped them deal with the tragedy. They were primarily known as Wesley Jeremiah and later as Free Beer. They got the name Lumineers completely by accident. During a performance, the host simply made a mistake and called them The Lumineers. It would eventually become the permanent band name.
2) No Doubt
John Spence, Eric Stefani and Gwen Stefani formed No Doubt in 1986, in California. They came up with the idea while working at a Diary Queen. The most famous line up consisted of Gwen Stefani, Tony Kanal, Adrian Young and Tom Dumont. The band has released several albums, such as Tragic Kingdom, Return of Saturn and Rock Steady. John Spence was the original frontman and lead vocalist of the band. One of John’s favorite expressions was to say “No Doubt”, which is where the band name comes from. In 1987, several days before a performance, John committed suicide in an abandoned parking lot. The group briefly broke up before deciding to get back together. They also decided to keep the band name No Doubt. Eventually, Gwen Stefani would become the lead vocalist of the band.
1) Lynyrd Skynyrd
Lynyrd Skynyrd is considered by many to be the greatest southern rock band of all time. They are best known for the critically and commercially acclaimed songs, “Free Bird” and “Sweet Home Alabama”. In 1977, three of the members, including lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, died in a plane crash that brought an end to their most famous line up. Ronnie Van Zant, Allen Collins and Gary Rossington formed the band in 1964, as My Backyard. In 1969, they changed their name to Leonard Skinnerd as a tribute/mocking of their old “foe” and high school gym teacher Leonard Skinner. Leonard was known for being a strict, no-nonsense gym teacher. He enforced the strict rules and hassled the boys over their long hair. He hassled Gary Rossington so much that he dropped out of school. The spelling for the name would eventually morph into Lynyrd Skynyrd. Later, the band and Leonard would become friends. He introduced the band at a concert and even let them use his “Leonard Skinner Reality” sign on the inside of one of their albums. After his death in 2010, many considered Leonard Skinner as the most influential gym teacher of all time.