Without a doubt, the most important aspect to marketing anything is the name.
Movies, books, magazines, bands, etc... you have to grab someones attention and keep it. You have to create curiosity and make them want to explore your offering. You could have the best art in the world, but if you can't get anyone to give it a fair shake then it will go unheard.
We are flooded by attention-grabbing headlines, names, logos, and stunts all day every day. We can't even drive to work without seeing the golden arches poking up above that gigantic billboard.
When it comes to band names, you've got to do it right. Sometimes that's pure luck. My philosophy has always been that a band name becomes great only after it has history behind it. Is it true? I don't know, but let's look at how these 13 famous bands came up with their names and see if it helped or hurt them...
Was it a name taken on a whim or methodically thought out?
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 called Tea Set. Early member Syd Barrett loved the blues, especially two players called Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. He came up with a new name for the band... The Pink Floyd Sound. They got rid of "the" and "sound" and went on to dominate the music scene as Pink Floyd.
When the guitarist Jimmy Page was putting the Led Zeppelin band together, The Who band members were giving him a hard time saying that this new band would "go down like a lead balloon," a common British phrase. They turned that negative into a positive and replaced "balloon" with "zeppelin," basically a blimp. Their manager suggested they drop the letter A in the word "lead" so there would be no mispronunciation issues. Bam, another great name in the bag.
System of a Down is an awesome alternative metal band of four dudes growing up on stuff like Slayer. As they were trying to come up with a name, they pondered over a poem written by their guitarist Doran Malakian called "Victims of a Down." They liked it, but the bassist Shavo Odadjian realized the word "Victims" was a little off and limiting. He suggested "System" since it sounded similar and started with the same letter as Slayer. Boom, awesome name created!
Turns out that early on the guitarist for The Rolling Stones was on a phone call with Jazz News, presumably to line up a gig, and they asked him the name of the band. They didn't have one so Brian Jones started looking around the room and saw a Muddy Waters record lying face-down on the floor. The song name "Rollin' Stone" popped out at him and he spit it out without missing a beat. The rest of the band loved the blues and Muddy Waters so they accepted the fortuitous event.
It's pretty obvious where this name comes from, but it's the silly circumstances that makes it interesting. Angus & Malcolm Young founded a band in 1973, a band with no name. Their younger sister was working at her sewing machine when she noticed the AC/DC abbreviation for Alternating Current / Direct Current. She had always thought the band was full of energy so she mentioned it and the name stuck. They switched out the forward slash for a lightning bolt and now have the 5th best selling album of all time!
In the early days of their career, Green Day was playing as Sweet Children locally. 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. Billie Joe Armstrong, the vocalist and guitarist, thought back to a song he wrote called "Green Day," referring to the green plant they love to smoke. They had to make a quick decision and went with it. It's worked out well!
With the potentially most catastrophic name over due to not passing the "radio test," Lynyrd Skynyrd still rolled with it. When the vocalist Ronnie Van Zant and guitarists Allen Collins and Gary Rossington were attending high school, their gym teacher was on a crusade backing a new rule that said boys couldn't wear long hair. This 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 became friends with this gym teacher and would invite him out to local concerts. Happy endings and good names!
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 it may not have happened with 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.
This is a funny one where the 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 this new band was "a motley looking crew." They thought that was cool and became Mottley Cru for about 3 minutes before they took the umlauts from Löwenbräu, the German beer they were drinking at the time. The rest is history.
In my mind, this is a fantastic band name. It's a short, sweet word made recognizable by the spelling. While they were sitting around tossing out one-syllable words, they stopped on Corn for a bit and then scrapped it. The guitarist James Shaffer still liked it and kept playing with it. He wrote it down like a little kid would, mispelling 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. They said the same I say, "This name might suck but it'll be cool once we're established." The history makes the name.
Nu-metal band Limp Bizkit is one of the few instances of a true, premeditated attempt at creating a band name on this list. Vocalist Fred Durst wanted to do the opposite of attract attention. He wanted to turn away 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...
Sometimes the magic happens for you, as in the case of 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. The name 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. Slash and the rest of the band joined, they kept the name, and got filthy rich while having a rocking good time.
Like them or not, they are famous and have a cool story behind their name. The lead vocalist and guitarist Chad Kroeger's brother worked at Starbucks while Nickelback were refining their style and trying to name themselves. Chad would roll through the drive-thru fro 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 was the band's name, everything else started to fall in place.
Nickelback used probably the most common method of naming anything, from your pets to your band to your electric guitar... Just look around the room, pay attention to what's happening, and pluck a name out of the air.