band name origins

The Little Known Origin Stories Behind 13 Famous Band Names

Have you ever wondered how a famous band got its name? Stage names have a huge influence on how we perceive an artist or a band. Some names, like the Sex Pistols, perfectly capture the essence of a band. Other names, such as Cage the Elephant, seem completely random and nonsensical and leave you wondering– “Who came up with that band name?”

band name origins

Choosing the right band name is important. You have to capture people’s attention and keep it. You have to create curiosity and leave people wanting to know more. You could have all the talent in the world, but if you have a forgettable name, there’s every chance that your music will go unheard. 

In today’s fast-paced entertainment industry, we’re flooded with attention-grabbing headlines, names, logos and ad campaigns on billboards, social media and tv. You can’t go a day without some brand trying to sell you something. It’s relentless.

So when it comes to band names, you've got to do it right. Sometimes that's pure luck. Some people believe that a band name becomes great only after it has some history behind it. Is that true? Well, let's take a look at how these 13 famous bands came up with their names and see whether their origins are spontaneous or methodically planned out!

Pink Floyd

pink floyd name origin

Who was Pink Floyd named after?

One of the most famous and best-selling bands of all time was running around under the name Tea Set. They scored a pretty nice gig and when they looked at the bill they found they were one of two bands named Tea Set.

Early member Syd Barrett loved the blues, especially two players called Pinkney ‘Pink’ Anderson and Floyd Council. So he came up with a new band name, The Pink Floyd Sound. They eventually dropped the first and last words in the name and went on to dominate the music scene as Pink Floyd.

Led Zeppelin

led zeppelin name origin

What does the band name Led Zeppelin mean?

Have you ever heard of the New Yardbirds? No? Well, that was the original name of this British rock band. When guitarist Jimmy Page was putting his band together, his friends and fellow musicians from The Who were giving him a hard time, saying that this new band would "go down like a lead balloon". It’s a saying that implies a huge failure.

Well, Page turned this insult into an iconic band name. He took the idea of a balloon to the extreme - a zeppelin (also known as a blimp) is an airship, basically a massive balloon. From Lead Zeppelin, their manager suggested they drop the letter A in the word "lead" so there would be no pronunciation issues. Bam, another great name in the bag.

System of a Down

system of a down name origin

Where did the name System of a Down come from?

System of a Down is an awesome alternative metal band of four dudes who grew up on stuff like Slayer. As they were trying to come up with a name, they pondered over a poem written by their guitarist Daron Malakian titled "Victims of a Down."

They liked the sound of the name, but bassist Shavo Odadjian was concerned that the word "Victims" wasn’t quite right, as they wanted a name with wider appeal. He suggested "System" since it sounded similar and started with the same letter as Slayer. Boom, awesome name created!

The Rolling Stones

the rolling stones name origin

How did The Rolling Stones get their name?

In the early days of the band’s inception, the group was on a phone call with Jazz News, presumably to line up a gig, when they were asked what their band name was. They didn’t have one at the time, so guitarist Brian Jones looked around the room and saw a Muddy Waters record lying face down on the floor. 

The track "Rollin' Stone" caught his eye and he spit it out without missing a beat. The rest of the band loved the blues and Muddy Waters so they accepted the serendipitous turn of events. And what about that iconic lips and tongue logo that’s synonymous with rock and roll? Well, that’s a story for another time.

AC/DC

ac-dc name origin

What does AC/DC stand for?

There are two parts to this legendary band name; the meaning and the origin story. If you ask a physicist, they’ll tell you that AC and DC are abbreviations used in the field of electromagnetism that refer to Alternating Current and Direct Current. But what does that have to do with the band?

Well, Angus and Malcolm Young had just started their band when their sister Margaret saw the initials AC/DC on the adapter of her sewing machine. She suggested the name and the two brothers thought it fit their energetic and powerful playing style. They switched out the forward slash for a lightning bolt and the rest is history! 

Green Day

green day name origin

How did Green Day come up with its name?

In the early days of their career, Green Day was performing locally under the stage name Sweet Children. While recording their first EP, they were made to change their name so they wouldn't be confused with another local band called Sweet Baby.

The band put their heads together to think of something that they all loved and that they felt would represent them. And they came up with marijuana… Yes, really. In San Francisco’s Bay Area, where the band came together, the term “Green Day” refers to a day spent doing nothing but smoking weed. They had to make a quick decision so they went with it, and hey, it’s worked out well!

Lynyrd Skynyrd

lynyrd skynyrd name origin

Why is Lynyrd Skynyrd called that?

Definitely one of the stranger band names you’ll come across, it had the potential to flop due to not passing the radio test, which asks “if you hear it, can you spell it?” So how did this unusual name come to be? When the vocalist Ronnie Van Zant and guitarists Allen Collins and Gary Rossington were attending high school, their gym teacher was on a crusade to enforce a new rule that said boys couldn't wear long hair.

That teacher's name was Leonard Skinner. To mock him, they called themselves Leonard Skinnerd (adding a D at the end) and eventually changed the spelling, likely to avoid future legal problems. Apparently, they later became friends with this teacher and would invite him out to local concerts. Happy endings and good names!

Nirvana

nirvana name origin

How did Nirvana decide their band name?

Nobody climbed the charts and launched themselves into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as fast as Nirvana did. They solidified the Grunge scene for the masses but that may not have happened if they’d stuck with one of their original names.

They were tossing around goofy names like Pen Cap Chew and Ted Ed Fred when vocalist and guitarist Kurt Cobain said they should go with something beautiful instead of raunchy or aggressive. They managed to choose one of the most beautiful words ever created and made history with it.

Mötley Crüe

motley crue name origin

What does Mötley Crüe even mean?

This is another funny one where the band name was again chosen on the fly. Mick Mars, the guitarist for Mötley Crüe, was telling the other band members a story from when he was in the band White Horse. One of the White Horse members had commented that their band was "a motley looking crew."

The band saw potential in the name and first jotted down ‘Mottley Cru’ before taking inspiration from the German beer Löwenbräu and adding the umlauts to modify the spelling. Random, but it worked! 

KoRn

korn name origin

Where did the name KoRn come from?

Some might disagree, but we think this is a fantastic band name. It's a short, sweet word made recognizable by the unconventional spelling. While the band was sitting around tossing out one-syllable words, they stopped on Corn for a bit and then scrapped it.

But guitarist James Shaffer couldn’t get it off his mind. He still liked it and kept playing with it. He wrote it down like a little kid would, misspelling it with a K and a backwards R. Vocalist Johnathan Davis whipped up a logo design real fast and they realized they had their band name. Their manager at the time tried to convince them not to use the name, but they committed to it, and now it’s cool.

Limp Bizkit

limp bizkit name origin

What’s the story behind the name Limp Bizkit?

Nu-metal band Limp Bizkit is one of the few instances of a true, premeditated attempt at creating a band name. Vocalist Fred Durst wanted to do the opposite of attracting attention. He wanted to repel anyone who might be so superficial as to judge the band by their name alone. 

He started tossing around absurdities like Gimp Disco, Bitch Piglet, and Split Dickslit before settling on something a little less offensive… Limp Bizkit. They wanted an off-putting name, and that’s exactly what they got. Every record label they encountered suggested a name change, but the band was resolute.

Guns N' Roses

guns-n-roses name origin

How did Guns N’ Roses get their band name?

Sometimes the magic happens for you, as was the case for Guns N' Roses. Axl Rose and Izzy Stradlin bailed on their band Hollywood Rose and teamed up with a couple of members of the L.A. Guns. Put the two together, and you get Guns N’ Roses.

It was a name that jumped out at them immediately and they accepted it, but soon after both L.A. Guns members were fired due to rehearsal and live gig conflicts. The band added a few members to replace them, including guitarist Slash, but kept the name, and got filthy rich while having a rocking good time.

Nickelback

nickelback name origin

Who came up with the name Nickelback?

Like them or not, they’re famous and have a fun story behind their name. Lead vocalist and guitarist Chad Kroeger's brother worked at Starbucks back when Nickelback was refining their style and trying to name themselves. Chad would roll up to the drive-thru for a $1.95 coffee and would hand his brother two $1 bills. His brother would always have to give him a nickel back as change. 

When the idea struck him that this should be the band's name, everything else started to fall in place. Until that point, the band had called themselves the Village Idiots, but armed with their new unique name, they were ready for their big break.

So, What’s the Best way to Name Your Band?

We wish there was a straightforward answer to that. A simple formula to produce the perfect, memorable name, but unfortunately coming up with a great name is a challenge. If you’re lucky, a good name will make itself known to you, but otherwise, you might have to stick with a bad name for long enough that it becomes good, if only for the history behind it.

What we’ve learned from these band name origin stories is that the best method is to pay attention to what’s going on around you. Look around the room or think about what your life might look like to an outsider. Inspiration can be found in the most unlikely places.

Jared H. LedgerNote Author Headshot Jared has surpassed his 20th year in the music industry. He acts as owner, editor, lead author, and web designer of LedgerNote, as well as co-author on all articles. He has released 4 independent albums and merchandise to global sales. He has also mixed, mastered, & recorded for countless independent artists. Learn more about Jared & The LN Team here.