The Truth Behind The Names Of Some Of Music’s Most Iconic Bands

July 28, 2022
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Listening to a band that you adored may have a mystical quality. Sometimes, the link with the song is so powerful that just seeing the band’s name or emblem might take you back to a simpler time when you were blaring their music in your vehicle or applauding with hundreds of others, demanding an encore.

The names of these renowned bands are now iconic, ingrained in the annals of music history, yet these ensembles did not always go by their current title. While they have clearly become household names, one wonders whether Queen, Black Sabbath, and other bands would have been as famous if they had kept their original names. Examine the origins of the names of some of the most influential musical groups…

The Rolling Stones

the Rolling Stones | Songs, Albums, Members, & Facts | Britannica

In 1981, the band that would become one of the most renowned rock bands in music history crossed paths with legendary guitarist Muddy Waters. They met him in the Checkerboard Lounge, a renowned blues club in Chicago.

After this encounter, the participants had no idea how drastically their lives would alter. As soon as they heard Waters’ 1950 blues song “Rollin Stone,” they knew this would be their moniker forever.

The Doors

The Doors - Wikipedia

Jim Morrison and The Doors chose a name with a deeper meaning than some of the other names on this list for their legendary band. The name “The Doors” was really a tribute to many literary works.

William Blake’s 18th-century post-French Revolution essay The Marriage of Heaven and Hell served as inspiration for Aldous Huxley’s book title The Doors of Perception. Jim Morrison and his associates favored this option because of the allusions’ depth.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers

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What began as a whim of high school pals Anthony Keidis, Flea, Hillel Slovak, and Jack Irons has grown into a successful economic enterprise for all parties involved. They claim it was derived from old-school jazz band names such as Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and other bands with “Red Hot” in their titles.

Originally, the group was known as Tony Flow and the Miraculously Majestic Masters of Mayhem. Comparatively, the Red Hot Chili Peppers moniker is shorter and seemed to be far more marketable.

Heart

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Ann Wilson found herself singing lead with the band White Heart in the early 1970s. After Wilson joined, the group decided to adopt the name Hocus Pocus.

After Ann met and fell in love with Mike Fisher, brother of bandmate Roger Fisher, she and Mike joined Roger and bassist Steve Fossen to reform the band. The “white” was dropped for unknown reasons, resulting in the initial version of Heart.

Motley Crue

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Nikki Sixx, the founder and bassist of Motley Crue, considered naming his new band “Christmas,” but the other band members understandably disapproved. The final name resulted from a session of brainstorming.

When guitarist Mick Mars performed with “White Horse,” he described them as “a motley company.” Then he recorded the name as “Mottley Cru.” Eventually, the name was changed to Motley Crue, with the two umlauts inspired by the German beverage Lowenbrau.

Journey

Journey - IMDb

1973 saw the formation of the Golden Gate Rhythm Section in San Francisco by the original members of Journey. Opting for something more unique, they finally held a radio contest for name suggestions.

Unfortunately, the results of the radio contest were disappointing, and they were empty. However, due to roadie John Villanueva, he came up with the moniker “Journey,” which stuck.

Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam - Seattle Grunge Legends | uDiscover Music

The five members of this Seattle-based rock band are Eddie Vedder, Mike McCready, Stone, Gossard, Jeff Ament, and Matt Cameron. Due to trademark difficulties, they changed the name of their band from “Mookie Blaylock,” which was derived from an NBA player.

Eddie Vedder has said that the name “Pearl Jam” honors his great-grandmother, Pearl Brunner. However, guitarist Mike McCready has said that “Pearl” was written by Jeff Ament and “Jam” was added after seeing a Neil Young and Crazy Horse performance in which they were “jamming.”

Led Zeppelin

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Keith Moon and John Entwistle, members of The Who, collaborated with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones to create music history. In 1966, they collaborated on a song by Jeff Beck titled “Beck’s Bolero” and began discussing the formation of a new group.

When Jones, John Bonham, and Robert Plant agreed to form a band in 1968, Jimmy Page recalled Moon or Entwistle making a joke that it would fail miserably. Consequently, Led Zeppelin was formed.

Metallica

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Metallica was basically simply a moniker that a friend of Lars Ulrich’s came up with for a fanzine (a magazine produced by fans) he was creating. MetalMania was another choice for the magazine’s title.

When Ulrich learned that his buddy would not be using the term Metallica for his magazine, he promptly appropriated it. There is a 1982 compilation CD titled Metal Massacre I that incorrectly spells the name of the band as “Mettalica.”

Starship and Jefferson Airplane

Jefferson Starship - Wikipedia

In the 1960s, the San Francisco music scene was characterized by a number of names that seemed rather exaggerated. Moby Grape and Quicksilver Messenger Service are only two examples of the bands whose names were influenced by the counterculture movement.

A band known as Blind Lemon Jefferson Airplane was not as odd as it may seem now. They first called the group after the blues musician Blind Lemon Jefferson, but subsequently shortened the name to Jefferson Airplane. Due to Paul Kantner’s fascination in science fiction, they abbreviated the name of the reformed ensemble to Jefferson Starship.

Nirvana

Nirvana > Loudwire

Despite a brief time in the spotlight, Nirvana helped define the early 1990s punk rock music scene. Kurt Cobain, the main singer and frontman of Nirvana, was a musical genius until his sad death in 1994.

Prior to adopting the name Nirvana, the band performed under a variety of monikers, including “Throat Oyster,” “Skid Row,” and “Ted, Ed, and Fred.” Cobain selected the Buddhist phrase “nirvana,” which signifies liberation from the cycle of reincarnation and sorrow, and explained to his bandmates that it implies “attaining perfection.”

Bee Gees

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The Bee Gees are one of the longest-running groups in music history, having formed in 1958 and continuing to perform until their formal retirement in 2012. Similar to Fleetwood Mac and a few other bands, their name is not particularly obscure.

In spite of widespread belief that the B and G stand for the Brothers Gibb, this is a mistake. The true explanation is that it is a homage to three individuals with those initials: the eldest brother Barry Gibb, the radio DJ Bill Gates, and their buddy, speedway promoter and driver Bill Goode. The reference to “Brothers Gibb” is completely accidental.

Eagles

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Fans of the group will insist that you refer to them as “Eagles” and not “The Eagles.” Glen Frey insisted on removing the article against the recommendation of his friend and comic Steve Martin.

Typically, the term is attributed to Bernie Leadon when he was under the influence in the Mojave Desert. He recalled having read about the Hopi tribe’s reverence for the animal. J.D. Souther said that the band’s name was chosen when Frey yelled “eagles” upon seeing eagles in the desert.

Guns N’ Roses

Priča o mladim danima članova benda "Guns N' Roses": Loš momak iz Lafajeta  i družina

Izzy Stradlin was a member of Hollywood Rose and housemates with Tracii Guns, a member of the band L.A. Guns. When L.A. Guns found themselves without a lead vocalist, Axl Rose, Ole Beich, and Bob Gardner stepped in.

The amalgamated group determined that the name indicating the merging of the two distinct bands was a suitable concept. Guns N’ Roses proven to be a far more successful moniker than Heads Of Amazon or AIDS.

Alice Cooper

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Alice Cooper, the vocalist, was born Vincent Damon Furnier, and in 1964 he started a band with his high school cross-country colleagues. They were originally known as The Earwigs and performed numerous Beatles parodies.

They eventually changed the name of their band to The Spiders, and then to Nazz in 1967. Todd Rundgren had acquired the name Nazz the following year. They chose “Alice Cooper” because it was a sharp contrast to the band’s image and music, sounding innocent and pure.

Aerosmith

Steven Tyler back with Aerosmith - ABC News

The three did not begin playing with combinations and designing killer logos until Joey Kramer joined forces with Joe Perry and Steven Tyler. Steven Tyler was a drummer in his last band, Chain Reaction, and was keen about becoming the lead singer and frontman if he were to rejoin.

Apparently, the band had spent hours watching Three Stooges repeats. When hearing Harry Nilsson’s album Aerial Ballet, Joey Kramer jotted down “aerosmith” in one of his notebooks after the word sprung into his brain during one of these sessions. Kramer persuaded the others to accept the moniker after discarding Spike Jones as a potential alternative.

The band Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath on Sixties Origins: 'We Were Rejected Again and Again' -  Rolling Stone

The members of Black Sabbath, Tony Iommi, Bill Ward, Geezer Butler, and leader Ozzy Osbourne, experimented with many names, including Earth, which Ozzy Osbourne detested. If they had used one of the initial band names, which was the Polka Tulk Blues Band, they may not have achieved much success.

In 1969, Rob Halford, the lead vocalist of Judas Priest, described one of their songs as “perhaps the most diabolical song ever composed.” The moniker Black Sabbath was chosen because band members were captivated by the 1963 Boris Karloff film of the same name and wanted to create “the musical equivalent of horror flicks.”

U2

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U2 is a renowned band due in part to its enduring relevance. Most people are undoubtedly familiar with the Irish rock band U2 and its lead singer and leader Bono, who debuted in the post-punk genre but have since grown and redefined themselves beginning in the 1990s.

The band was established by adolescents who attended the same high school and had minimal musical experience. They were once known as “Larry Mullen Band” and “Feedback” prior to adopting U-2, the name of a renowned espionage aircraft. According to Bono, the band’s moniker was inspired by their interactions with audience members, as in “you too.”

Kiss

KISS: A Definitive Timeline of the Rock Band - Biography

There’s a good chance that the moniker “Wicked Lester” wouldn’t connect well with a band that aspired to be popular. The group whose members were recognized for painting their faces and donning eccentric clothing correctly chose the name Kiss.

Peter Criss acknowledged being a member of a previous band named Lips while deciding on a moniker for the group. Paul Stanley, the band’s vocalist and guitarist, riffed on this and chose the moniker “Kiss,” which served them well.

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan: 10 Greatest Songs - Rolling Stone

Minnesota-born Bob Dylan was given the name Robert Zimmerman at birth. Even in high school, he informed a girlfriend that he intended to pursue a career in music under the name Bob Dillon, which he later altered for artistic reasons.

Apparently, he was a fan of Matt Dillon, the sheriff from the iconic western television series Gunsmoke. He then falsely claimed that the name was chosen to commemorate his mother’s maiden name, Dillon.

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