Picking a band name is no easy feat, as it will have an enormous impact on how you are perceived by the world. There are many fantastic band names out there, but of course there are also some pretty terrible ones too. But regardless of whether the name is good or bad, it is always fascinating to hear how they came about. There are some excellent band name origin stories for many of the biggest acts of all time, including these 10 iconic groups.
While they are not the most popular band (anymore) and constantly the butt of jokes, the origin of Nickleback’s name is quite interesting. The name came from bassist Mike Kroeger (brother of frontman Chad), who was working at Starbucks when the band formed. With prices at $2.95 and $3.95, he would constantly be saying “here’s your nickel back” to customers after each transaction. When they were trying to come up with a name, the phrase “nickel back” stuck in his head and he suggested it to his brother. Chad thought it was perfect, and Nickelback were born. Despite the endless abuse that they receive, Nickelback are one of the most successful rock acts of the 2000s, with “How You Remind Me” being the best selling rock song of the decade. They have sold over 50 million albums worldwide, making them one of the most successful Canadian groups ever.
9. Queens of the Stone Age
Originally called Gamma Ray, founder Josh Homme was forced to change the name after a German power metal band of the same name threatened to sue. He settled on the unusual name Queens of the Stone Age, as this is how producer Chris Goss described his previous band Kyuss a few years earlier. On why he chose the name, Homme stated “Kings would be too macho. The Kings of the Stone Age wear armor and have axes and wrestle. The Queens of the Stone Age hang out with the Kings of the Stone Age’s girlfriends when they wrestle, and also it was a name given to us by Chris Goss. He gave us the name Queens of the Stone Age. Rock should be heavy enough for the boys and sweet enough for the girls. That way everyone’s happy and it’s more of a party. Kings of the Stone Age is too lopsided.”
8. Pearl Jam
There are a few suggestions as to the origin of legendary rock band Pearl Jam’s name, but they originally went under the name Mookie Blaylock. As any NBA fan will tell you, Mookie Blaylock is a former all-star who spent 13 years in the league. The band were fans of Blaylock, but they were forced to change their name due to trademark concerns. As a result, they named their hugely popular album Ten after Blaylock’s playing number (he was also a fan of the band). In an early interview, Eddie Veder stated that they settled on Pearl Jam as a reference to his great grandmother, Pearl, who was married to a Native American and they had a special recipe for peyote-laced jam. This has also been dismissed, however, and some claim that “Jam” came from when they attended a Neil Young concert where he extended his songs with lengthy jams.
7. 30 Seconds to Mars
After playing their first concerts under a few different names, Jared Leto and his brother Shannon settled on the name 30 Seconds to Mars, which was taken from a manuscript titled Argus Apocraphex. Written by an ex-professor of Harvard, this was the title of one of the subsections. It discusses the exponential growth of technology that relates to humans and saying that we are literally 30 seconds to Mars. For Leto, he found that the phrase perfectly encapsulated their music and he explained it as a metaphor for the future and how it “works on several different levels, a phrase that is lyrical, suggestive, cinematic, and filled with immediacy.” The band went on to be immensely successful, but in these early days Jared Leto would not allow the use of his Hollywood fame as a promotional tool for the band.
6. Led Zeppelin
Often said to be the greatest and most influential band of all time, hard rocking British act Led Zeppelin first formed in London in 1968. They first formed under the name the New Yardbirds (in reference to Jimmy Page’s previous band, The Yardbirds), but they soon restyled themselves as Led Zeppelin. Now one of the most famous band names ever, the story goes that Keith Moon and John Entwistle were discussing the prospect of starting a supergroup with themselves, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck, and they stated it would “go down like a lead zeppelin” (“lead balloon is a British idiom for an ill-conceived idea, with a zeppelin essentially being a much bigger balloon and therefore a worse idea). The band decided to intentionally change “lead” to “led” so that it would be correctly pronounced. It is now an iconic name for one of the greatest bands of all time.
5. The Velvet Underground
An enormously influential group that formed in 1965, the band name actually comes from an S&M book about a secret sexual subculture during the early ’60s, written by journalist Michael Leigh in 1963. It reports on Paraphilia in the USA, which is the experience of intense sexual arousal to atypical objects, situations and individuals. The New York-based band decided to use the title of the book as their band name after Lou Reed and Sterling Morrison’s friend, a filmmaker called Tony Conrad, found a copy of the book lying in the street in New York. Morrison was a fan of the name as it reminded him of underground cinema, and it stuck. It is somewhat fitting, as the band achieved little success when they were active and could be considered “underground,” but are now deemed immensely important and influential.
4. Steely Dan
Steely Dan may seem like a fairly innocuous band name for the jazz rock act founded by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen who were hugely popular in the late ’70s and early ’80s, but the story behind their band name is cheekier than most people realize. As fans of Beat Generation literature, the band named themselves after “Steely Dan III from Yokohama,” which is a sex toy mentioned in the novel Naked Lunch, written by William S. Burroughs in 1959. Not quite as innocent as most thought, Steely Dan have sold more than 40 million albums worldwide and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March 2001. The band split up but reunited in 1993 and have toured consistently since.
Nudity and rock and roll seem to go hand in hand, and this is exactly how popular American rock act 311 got their name. Formed in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1988 by Nick Hexum, Jim Watson, Aaron Wills and Chad Sexton, the band name came from when Watson was arrested for streaking when he and some friends went skinny dipping in a public pool. He was arrested and handcuffed before being taken home to his parents, all completely naked. He was issued with a citation for a code 311, which is police code for indecent exposure in Omaha. The band found the story so amusing that they settled on 311 as their band name. Watson, the lead guitarist, would later leave the band and was replaced by Tim Mahoney. They are still going strong today, with 2014’s Stereolithic being their most recent studio album.
2. The Who
An excellent band name for one of the all-time great rock acts, The Who were originally called The Detours. Whilst searching for a new name for the group, people would come up to the members with their suggestions. There were a lot of odd suggestions, which frequently saw the likes of Roger Daltrey, Pete Townsend and Keith Moon simply reply “the who?” Townsend and his roommate Richard Barnes also liked the theme of having joke announcements as a band name, such as “No One” or “The Group.” In another version of how the band name came about, Townsend’s grandmother would always refer to bands as “the who?” due to her impaired hearing. Whichever version is true, it turned out to be an excellent choice, as they would go on to become one of the greatest bands of all time and now everybody knows their name.
1. Lynyrd Skynyrd
The act famed for popularizing southern rock through signature songs such as “Free Bird” and “Sweet Home Alabama,” Lynyrd Skynyrd first formed in 1964 in Jacksonville, Florida. They first went under the name My Backyard, and they would not settle on Lynyrd Skynyrd until 1969. They first decided on Leonard Skinnerd, which was a mocking tribute to the physical education teacher that all of the members had when they were in school together. This was a teacher that they disliked due to his strict enforcement of the school’s policy against boys having long hair, which led to Gary Rossington dropping out. The spelling was altered shortly after to avoid a lawsuit. With their success, they became friendly with the teacher in the later years and even invited him to introduce them at a concert in the Jacksonville Memorial Coliseum.