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How Rock's Biggest Bands Got Their Names


How Rock's Biggest Bands Got Their Names

From AC/DC to ZZ Top, we give you all the ammo you need to be the biggest know-it-all in town.


Certain trends emerge as you explore how rock's 100 biggest acts got their names. They are often forced into taking the moniker that stuck, for instance, simply because somebody else had already claimed their earlier attempt at a fame-clinching title.

Far too many of them were also chosen without any real consideration for how long the members might have to live with their decisions. A number of them also evolved out of earlier versions of the same name, while others were sparked by offhanded comments – even, in the case of one legendary group, by a pithy put-down.


More than a few make no sense at all. Like what exactly is a Foghat – and what makes a finger "bad"? So, if you've ever wondered just what the genesis of Genesis was, the following list is for you. Keep scrolling to solve some of rock's greatest labeling mysteries, many of which have long been steeped in urban legends, misinformation and half-truths.

Did Bob Dylan take his mother's maiden name? Were the Who almost called the Hair instead? And did you know Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd were based on real people?


They're all here, as we discover how rock's 100 biggest acts got their names, from AC/DC to ZZ Top. By the end, you'll be able to cut through the legendary lies – and, maybe more importantly, become the most annoying rock know-it-all at any dinner conversation.


Malcolm and Angus Young have their sister Margaret to thank for their famous band's name. She suggested it to the duo after seeing the letters "AC/DC" (meaning that the device could be powered by either alternating or direct current) on a vacuum cleaner or sewing machine, depending on who's telling the story.


Brian Johnson and Angus Young of AC/DC perform live at Power Trip Festival 2023 at Empire Polo Club in Indio, California on October 7, 2023.
Brian Johnson and Angus Young of AC/DC perform at Power Trip Festival 2023 at Empire Polo Club in Indio, California on October 7, 2023.

Joey Kramer has said that he and his girlfriend were listening to Harry Nilsson’s “Aerial Ballet” when the couple began toying with cool band names that had “aero” in them. He liked how “aerosmith” sounded, but the band he was in at the time didn’t. So it was shelved until Kramer joined Joe Perry and Steven Tyler’s group. He still had to convince them, however, that it had nothing to do with the Sinclair Lewis novel “Arrowsmith” from high school.


Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith perform live at Dolby Live at Park MGM in Las Vegas on September 14, 2022
Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith perform at Dolby Live at Park MGM in Las Vegas on September 14, 2022

Alice Cooper was originally a band name, selected as a replacement since the Nazz had already been taken by Todd Rundgren. The fictional Alice was envisioned as a demented, possibly homicidal, elderly woman, and singer Vince Furnier played the part onstage so well that he ultimately became more associated with the name than the band did.


Alice Cooper and Nita Strauss perform live on stage at The O2 Arena in London on October 10, 2019.
Alice Cooper and Nita Strauss perform at The O2 Arena in London on October 10, 2019.

Singer Paul Rodgers says he got the idea for the song ‘Bad Company’ when he saw a poster for a 1972 western starring Jeff Bridges. He said he enjoyed how the name inspired visions of early settlers, the Civil War and the lawless wild west. Bad Company was quickly repurposed as the band’s name.


They started out in the ‘60s as the Iveys, but by the end of the decade that name started to seem a tad too quaint. After signing to the Apple label, the Beatles' right-hand man Neil Aspinall came up with Badfinger – likely based on “Bad Finger Boogie,” the original working title for Ringo Starr's “With a Little Help From My Friends.”


The Beatles

This name was inspired by early-rocker Buddy Holly, whose backing group was called the Crickets. All four Beatles were big fans, their earliest shows often featured his music and Paul McCartney later purchased the publishing rights to Holly's songs. However, they only ever recorded one Buddy Holly tune together: "Words of Love," for 1964's 'Beatles for Sale.'


William Broad’s stage name was born in the punk era, when he was fronting Generation X. Everyone else was coming up with names like Johnny Rotten and Rat Scabies, but Billy decided to put the “pun” into “punk,” intending Idol to be a play on “idle” as well as being an ironic take on a classic rock-star persona.


Billy Idol and Steve Jones of Generation Sex perform live at Dog Day Afternoon Festival 2023 at Crystal Palace Park in London on July 1, 2023.
Billy Idol and Steve Jones of Generation Sex perform at Dog Day Afternoon Festival 2023 at Crystal Palace Park in London on July 1, 2023.

Originally known as the Earth Blues Company, they later shortened it to Earth – then discarded that name altogether, because another band was already using it. They settled on Black Sabbath after attaching the title – which had earlier been used for a 1963 film starring Boris Karloff – to a spooky new song inspired by an apparition seen by bassist Geezer Butler.


Tony Iommi and Ozzy Osbourne of Black Sabbath perform live at Madison Square Garden in New York City on August 27, 1978.
Tony Iommi and Ozzy Osbourne of Black Sabbath perform at Madison Square Garden in New York City on August 27, 1978.

Featuring Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Ginger Baker and Rick Grech, Blind Faith was rock’s first real supergroup. Their name came from the photographer who shot the controversial cover for the short-lived band’s only album. He apparently titled the photo "Blind Faith." When looking for a name, the band followed suit.


These pioneering hard rockers started out as Soft White Underbelly before getting a new name from music journalist Sandy Pearlman, an early manager and producer. "Blue Oyster Cult" was mentioned in a series of poems by Pearlman, in reference to a secretive group of beings from outer space that clandestinely influenced our common fate.


A last-name switch from his given name of Zimmerman to Dylan began back when the singer-songwriter was in his late teens. According to a biographer, he was a fan of Matt Dillon – the sheriff on the TV western ‘Gunsmoke.’ In 1958, Bob told his high-school squeeze that he planned to devote his life to music and assume the name Bob Dillon. (The spelling would eventually be altered for stylistic reasons.) He also subsequently told new friends that Dillon was his mother's maiden name, even though it wasn’t.


Bob Dylan performs live onstage at Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island on July 24, 1964.
Bob Dylan performs at Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island on July 24, 1964.

Although they were the only performers named on the Epic Records contract, Boston’s Tom Scholz and Brad Delp nixed the idea of calling their band Scholz-Delp. (It’s a decision Scholz must have regretted later when some members challenged his ownership of the group’s name.) Scholz, producer John Boylan and his engineer Warren Dewey suggested “Boston” for the new act, since that's where their musical roots were firmly planted. In fact, even as a high school student in Toledo, Ohio, Scholz carefully tuned into Boston’s WBZ, a high-powered AM radio station.


When Stephen Stills, Neil Young and Richie Furay’s triple-threat singer-songwriter assault hooked up with rhythm section Dewey Martin and Bruce Palmer to make rock ‘n’ roll history, everybody else on the West Coast was coming up with weird, fanciful band names. They instead chose theirs from a random brand of steamroller that Stills and Furay saw outside the place where they were living.


David Robinson was more than a drummer for the Cars. Best known before then for his work with the Modern Lovers, Robinson suggested the Cars as a band name, and also played a key role in their album-cover artwork.


This name was inspired at a Slade concert, where bassist Tom Petersson commented that the band used "every cheap trick in the book" as part of their act.


In 1968, the Big Thing moved to Los Angeles at their manager’s request and signed with Columbia Records. That’s where Jimmy Guercio, who would eventually become Chicago’s producer, changed the name to Chicago Transit Authority in honor of the bus line he used to take to school. It was later shortened to Chicago after the release of their first album.


James Pankow of the rock band Chicago performs live at The Linda Ronstadt Music Hall in Tucson, Arizona on August 15, 2023.
James Pankow of Chicago performs at The Linda Ronstadt Music Hall in Tucson, Arizona on August 15, 2023.

Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker arrived in this new band having already earned a lofty reputation on the U.K. music scene via their work with the Yardbirds and John Mayall. They darn well knew it too. The name was apparently in reference to the lineup itself, which featured the cream of the crop of ‘60s British blues rockers.


These British rockers had been calling themselves Roundabout, before the Yes song of the same name. At guitarist Ritchie Blackmore’s suggestion, they changed it to Deep Purple after a song that went back to the big-band era. It was first cut by the Paul Whiteman band in the '30s.


Ian Gillan of Deep Purple performs live at Sweden Rock Festival 2023 in Norje, Sweden on June 8, 2023.
Ian Gillan of Deep Purple performs at Sweden Rock Festival 2023 in Norje, Sweden on June 8, 2023.

Singer Joe Elliott initially coined the name "Deaf Leopard” while writing reviews for imaginary rock bands in his high-school English class. Tony Kenning, percussionist for the band’s original lineup, suggested modifying the spelling to make the name seem less “punk.”


Joe Elliott of Def Leppard performs live at Tauron Arena in Kraków, Poland on May 31, 2023.
Joe Elliott of Def Leppard performs at Tauron Arena in Kraków, Poland on May 31, 2023.

Formed in the spring of 1970, Derek and the Dominos featured a core lineup of Eric Clapton, Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle and Jim Gordon. The late addition of Duane Allman gave their lone studio album a fiery sense of interplay – and a title that seemed to reference both Eric and Duane's names. Actually, the group had been earlier billed as Del and the Dominos, as Clapton attempted to shift the spotlight away during a more collaborative period. Later, his label sought to make Clapton's presence clear by distributing buttons that said "Derek is Eric."


Brothers David and Mark Knopfler, along with friends John Illsley and Pick Withers, formed Dire Straits – choosing a name believed to originate from a suggestion by a musician flatmate of Withers'. He allegedly plucked it out of thin air while they were rehearsing in the kitchen of a friend, before Dire Straits recorded a five-song demo tape under the name in 1977.


Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits performs live at Hala Pionir in Belgrade, Serbia on May 10, 1985.
Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits performs at Hala Pionir in Belgrade, Serbia on May 10, 1985.

Before they became a ‘70s pop sensation, the Doobies were a bunch of hippies living together in a house in Northern California. When they were in search of a name for their band, a non-musical housemate suggested the Doobie Brothers on account of the members’ penchant for smoking weed. (“Doobie” was slang for a joint at the time.)


Michael McDonald of The Doobie Brothers performs live at Radians Amphitheater in Memphis, Tennessee on August 28, 2023.
Michael McDonald of The Doobie Brothers performs at Radians Amphitheater in Memphis, Tennessee on August 28, 2023.

This one took a winding path into the rock canon. Poet William Blake's 18th century, post-French Revolution book 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell' initially inspired Aldous Huxley to give a mescaline-soaked 1954 tome the title of 'The Doors of Perception,' which in turn led a collection of late-'60s-era rockers to call their group the Doors.


Jim Morrison of the Doors in New York City in 1968.
Jim Morrison of the Doors in New York City in 1968.

Bernie Leadon is typically credited with coining the name "Eagles" during a drug- and alcohol-enhanced group trip to the Mojave Desert. There, Leadon recalled reading about the Native American Hopi tribe's reverence for the eagle. However, J.D. Souther suggested the name stuck after Glenn Frey shouted out "eagles!" when they saw some flying above them in the desert. Comedian Steve Martin, a friend of the band, later said he suggested the group should be referred to as "THE Eagles,” but Frey insisted that the group's name should simply be "Eagles."


When Roy Wood, formerly of the Move, teamed with erstwhile Idle Race member Jeff Lynne to form an orchestral pop and rock outfit in the early ‘70s, they chose their name as a pun on the British phenomenon of “light orchestras” – groups that would play easy-listening music rather than classical compositions.


Born Reginald Kenneth Dwight in 1947 at Pinner, Middlesex, Elton John was known as "Reggie" from his first tentative weekend pub performances through to a career-turning meeting with lyricist Bernie Taupin. Not long after that, however, he began going a new name that honored two former bandmates in the group Bluesology: saxophonist Elton Dean and Long John Baldry.


Elton John and Rod Stewart perform live at The MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on September 28, 2002.
Elton John and Rod Stewart perform at The MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on September 28, 2002.

The Faces

The Small Faces came out of the ‘60s mod scene, and were named for their physical stature and the mod term “face,” meaning a person of style and import. When Steve Marriott was replaced by Rod Stewart and Ron Wood, the band shifted styles and shortened its name accordingly.


Striking a blow for the bass player and the drummer, workhorses who always get short shrift in a rock band, Fleetwood Mac were named for Mick Fleetwood and John McVie – basically as a ploy on guitar player Peter Green’s part to keep them in the band. It apparently worked; five decades and many lineups later, the pair is the only remaining members from the ‘60s.


On the eve of completing its first album, this band was still struggling to find the right name. Brandywine Track and Hootch had been considered and rejected before "Foghat" was finally selected. Guitarist Dave Peverett reportedly made up the meaningless word in a childhood game with his brother.


Trigger, this band’s original name, was already being used by someone else, so Mick Jones came up with "Foreigner." The name was inspired by the fact that at least three of them would always be foreigners no matter where they went. Their original lineup included a trio of Brits (Jones, Ian McDonald and Dennis Elliott) as well as three Americans (Lou Gramm, Al Greenwood and Ed Gagliardi).


Lou Gramm of Foreigner performs at the Richfield Coliseum in Ohio on November 15, 1981.
Lou Gramm of Foreigner performs at the Richfield Coliseum in Ohio on November 15, 1981.

The prog-rock pioneers got their name from their first manager. Jonathan King had initially considered calling the band Gabriel’s Angels, in reference to founding frontman Peter Gabriel. Instead, he kept the biblical feeling but went for a name that seemed more appropriate for the beginning of an endeavor.


Grand Funk Railroad is a rather wobbly play on words suggested by manager Terry Knight. The Grand Trunk Western Railroad still runs through the band's hometown of Flint, Mich. They were simply known as Grand Funk for a time, beginning in the early '70s.


Unsurprisingly, the Grateful Dead came up with their name while tripping. Paging through a folklore dictionary, Jerry Garcia stumbled upon the term, which related to the soul of an unburied dead person expressing karmic gratitude to someone who arranged for their eventual burial. Legions of death metal bands would doubtlessly come to resent the fact that the hippies beat them to this one.


Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead performs live at Frost Amphitheater in Stanford, California on October 9, 1982.
Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead performs at Frost Amphitheater in Stanford, California on October 9, 1982.

Hollywood Rose member Izzy Stradlin spent some time in the mid-'80s as roommates with L.A. Guns member Tracii Guns. When L.A. Guns needed a new singer, Hollywood Rose's Axl Rose came aboard. This led to the 1985 formation of Guns N' Roses, a combined lineup that featured Rose, Stradlin and Guns, along with Ole Beich and Rob Gardner. Melding the names of both previous groups proved to be a much better call than rejected suggestions, which included Heads of Amazon and AIDS.


Axl Rose and Slash of Guns N’ Roses perform live at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tennessee on September 12, 2023.
Axl Rose and Slash of Guns N’ Roses perform at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tennessee on September 12, 2023.

In the early '70s, Ann Wilson joined a previously established band by the name of White Heart, which had been formed in 1967 as the Army by bassist Steve Fossen. When Wilson joined, the band changed its name to Hocus Pocus. In 1972, Wilson met Mike Fisher, bandmate Roger Fisher’s brother. Ann and Mike fell in love and came together with Roger and Fossen to regroup as a variation of Hocus Pocus/White Heart. For reasons unknown, “White” was dropped from the title and the first iteration of Heart was born. (Ann's sister Nancy joined in 1974.)


Ann Wilson of Heart performs live at Washington State Fair 2015 in Puyallup on September 15, 2015.
Ann Wilson of Heart performs at Washington State Fair 2015 in Puyallup on September 15, 2015.

Peter Frampton has said his new band was batting around names within hours of Steve Marriott's departure from the Small Faces. Each member put forward a suggestion, and Marriott's – "Humble Pie," making clear their rejection of the outsized "supergroup" label that was sure to follow – ended up as the one that stuck. Drummer Jerry Shirley's rejected name? "Evil Cardboard."


Much in the vein of Led Zeppelin (who released their debut the year after these San Diego psychedelic soldiers), Iron Butterfly arrived at their name out of the desire to combine two contrasting elements that would simultaneously represent something heavy and something airborne. The fact that it sounded pretty trippy too probably didn’t hurt at the time either.


Iron Maiden were formed on Christmas Day 1975 by bassist Steve Harris shortly after he left his previous group, Smiler. Harris attributes the band's name to a film adaptation of 'The Man in the Iron Mask' from the novel by Alexandre Dumas. The title reminded him of the iron maiden, a notorious torture device from the Dark Ages.


Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden performs live at Milano Summer Festival 2023 at Ippodromo del Galoppo di San Siro in Milan, Italy on July 15, 2023.
Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden performs at Milano Summer Festival 2023 at Ippodromo del Galoppo di San Siro in Milan, Italy on July 15, 2023.

In ‘60s-era San Francisco, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Moby Grape ruled the day, so it wasn’t unusual for a band to call itself something like Blind Lemon Jefferson Airplane – playing off the name of bluesman Blind Lemon Jefferson. If anything, shortening it to Jefferson Airplane was an impressive display of concision. When naming a later, revamped version of the band, they changed again to reflect the late Paul Kantner’s sci-fi obsession.


Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane performs live onstage in San Francisco on June 13 ,1969.
Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane performs in San Francisco on June 13 ,1969.

When they started out, the band that became Jethro Tull changed their name constantly to keep getting booked by clubs where they had bombed before. The real Jethro Tull was an 18th-century pioneer of agricultural technology in England, before lending his name to a bunch of art rockers. For good or ill, the name stuck with them.


Ian Anderson performing with Jethro Tull at Newport Jazz Festival on July 4, 1969.
Ian Anderson performing with Jethro Tull at Newport Jazz Festival on July 4, 1969.

The original members of Journey came together in San Francisco in 1973 as the Golden Gate Rhythm Section. They’d eventually hold a radio contest to come up with a new name – though it produced disappointing results and the suggestions were disregarded. Lucky for the group, a roadie named John Villanueva suggested the name "Journey,” which was ultimately agreed upon by all.


Early member Bruno Stapenhill pitched this moniker to original frontman Al Atkins after hearing "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest" by Bob Dylan. "I remember telling Al, 'What do you think of that for a name?'" Stapenhill later said. "I mean, he was never really into Bob Dylan and he says, 'Oh, that's a great name.' And that how it came about."


Original lyricist Peter Sinfield was not a fan of the name given to King Crimson's predecessor band – saying "anything" was better than Giles, Giles and Fripp. So, he came up with the name King Crimson – an apparent reference to the fallen angel Beelze­bub in John Milton's 'Par­adise Lost.' "I wanted something like Led Zeppelin, something with a bit of power to it," Sinfield has said. "King Crimson had arrogance to it."


They started out calling themselves Wicked Lester before determining that they needed something that seemed a little more ready for prime time. When Peter Criss brought up the fact that he had previously played in a band called Lips, Paul Stanley chimed in with the name that would accompany him and his compatriots to superstardom.

Gene Simmons of KISS performs at the 2023 AFL Grand Final match at Melbourne Cricket Ground in Melbourne, Australia on September 30, 2023.
Gene Simmons of KISS performs at the 2023 AFL Grand Final match at Melbourne Cricket Ground in Melbourne, Australia on September 30, 2023.

Led Zeppelin

The Who's Keith Moon and John Entwistle joined Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones on the Jeff Beck single "Beck's Bolero" in the summer of 1966 – leading to studio chatter about the prospect of forming a new group. Moon – or perhaps Entwistle – joked that it would go over like a lead balloon. While trying to come up with a name for a new group featuring Jones, John Bonham and Robert Plant two years later, Page remembered the quip – and they became Led Zeppelin.


These Southern rock heroes chose their name in the spirit of rebellion. It was a tongue-in-cheek swipe at Leonard Skinner, the high-school gym teacher who had clashed with them in their younger days for having long hair, which was against school policy.


After receiving an inheritance following his mother’s death, Marvin Lee Aday isolated himself in an apartment in Dallas for more than three years before finally moving to Los Angeles, where he formed his first band, "Meat Loaf Soul.” "Meatloaf" was the cruel nickname given to the heavy-set rocker by his high-school football coach.


Lars Ulrich’s friend Ron Quintana was brainstorming titles for a new metal music fanzine, and had proposed 'MetalMania' and 'Metallica.' When Metallica was abandoned as a possible title, Ulrich snapped it up for the band he’d just formed. 'Metal Massacre I,' a 1982 compilation album, featured Metallica’s first recorded track – but early pressings listed the band incorrectly as "Mettallica.”


James Hetfield of Metallica performs live at Stade de France in Saint-Denis, Paris, France on May 19, 2023.
James Hetfield of Metallica performs at Stade de France in Saint-Denis, Paris, France on May 19, 2023.

These heady psych-popsters’ name had a surprisingly boozy beginning. They started out as the M&B 5, in tribute to a local pub named Mitchells & Butlers. The switch to Moody Blues was said to have been at least partly an ode to the famous '30s Duke Ellington composition “Mood Indigo.”


Mötley Crüe bassist and founder Nikki Sixx considered naming the band Christmas, but the other members hated it. While brainstorming, guitarist Mick Mars remembered that while playing with a band called White Horse, a bandmate referred to his group as "a motley looking crew." Mars scribbled the name down as Mottley Cru. After tweaking the spelling for full rock potential, "Mötley Crüe" was eventually selected. The two metal umlauts were allegedly added by singer Vince Neil, who had been inspired by the German beer Löwenbräu.


Vince Neil of Mötley Crüe performs live at Tauron Arena in Kraków, Poland on May 31, 2023.
Vince Neil of Mötley Crüe performs at Tauron Arena in Kraków, Poland on May 31, 2023.

"Motorhead" is actually used in reference to amphetamine users. The band's name is usually printed in a lowercase with an umlaut character ö, which is possibly derived from the similar "heavy metal umlaut" in the name of their 1975 acquaintances Blue Öyster Cult. It should be noted, the umlaut is not grammatically necessary and does not alter the pronunciation of Motorhead's name.


You'd think these guys were rootsy pickers. After all, Pink Floyd were hastily named by Syd Barrett – who'd just found out there was another group already using their old moniker, the Tea Set – by combining the names of two Piedmont bluesmen from his record collection: Pink Anderson and Floyd Council.


While attending Ealing Art College, Farrokh Bulsara became friends with Tim Staffell of the local band Smile. Bulsara, who'd later call himself Freddie Mercury, shared a common taste in music with Tim and became a fan of Smile. In 1970, Bulsara joined the group after Staffell left for another gig. He then encouraged the remaining Smile members to change their name to Queen. They performed their first gig that July.


Freddie Mercury performs live with Queen at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena in Oakland, California on December 16, 1978.
Freddie Mercury performs with Queen at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena in Oakland, California on December 16, 1978.

Deep Purple veteran Ritchie Blackmore began recording with Ronnie James Dio in 1973, using Dio's band Elf as additional musicians – but still in search of their own name. They ultimately turned to the Rainbow Bar and Grill in Hollywood for inspiration. Using a rotating group of musicians, Rainbow remained active through 1984, and reformed between 1993-97 before Blackmore resurrected the band again in 2015.


In 1974, John Cummings and Douglas Colvin invited Jeffrey Hyman to join them in a band. Colvin was the first to adopt the name "Ramone,” calling himself Dee Dee Ramone. He was allegedly inspired by Paul McCartney's use of the pseudonym Paul Ramon during his early Beatles days. Dee Dee convinced the other members to take on the name and came up with the idea of calling the band the Ramones. Hyman became Joey Ramone and Cummings became Johnny Ramone, beginning a tradition that lasted through the tenure of Christopher Joseph Ward (known as C.J. Ramone) in the band's final incarnation.


It's easy to picture the Rolling Stones offering a very hearty thank you to Muddy Waters when they sat in with the legendary bluesman at Buddy Guy's Chicago-based Checkerboard Lounge in November 1981. After all, they took their now-iconic band name from Waters' 1950 song "Rollin' Stone."


Lady Gaga and Mick Jagger perform at The Rolling Stones surprise set in celebration of their new album "Hackney Diamonds" at Racket NYC in New York City on October 19, 2023.
Lady Gaga and Mick Jagger perform at The Rolling Stones surprise set in celebration of their new album "Hackney Diamonds" at Racket NYC in New York City on October 19, 2023.

Rush's original bassist and lead vocalist was replaced shortly after they formed in 1968 by Geddy Lee, a schoolmate of Alex Lifeson's. Their first official incarnation – featuring Lee, Lifeson and John Rutsey – wouldn't lock into place until May 1971. "Rush" was suggested by Rutsey's brother, Bill.


It’s widely believed that the band initially chose the name Scorpions because it sounded particularly tough and dangerous. Still, they almost ended up being known as Dawn Road. In the mid-'70s, members from Dawn Road and an earlier incarnation of Scorpions combined and briefly considered using one name or the other. They ultimately decided to use the Scorpions because it was already well known in the German hard-rock scene. Unknowing fans often use "the" in conjunction with this band’s name (e.g. “The Scorpions”), but it’s simply Scorpions.


Scorpions perform at Centre Bell in Montreal, Canada on August 27, 2022.
Scorpions perform at Centre Bell in Montreal, Canada on August 27, 2022.

It should come as no surprise that offbeat, endlessly literate rockers like Donald Fagen and Walter Becker were reading some pretty twisted stuff in their college days. They got their name from William S. Burroughs' legendary 1959 novel 'Naked Lunch,' in which a steam-powered, strap-on dildo is referred to as the "Steely Dan III from Yokohama."


Producer Gabriel Mekler reportedly suggested that the Sparrows change their name to the title of Herman Hesse’s 1927 novel, and the archetypal biker-rock band was born. The German author's book details a struggle within the protagonist between his human and animal (specifically wolf-like) dual natures, making "Born to be Wild" a perfect soundtrack.


The pop-loving British art rockers got their name from W. H. Davies’ 1908 memoir 'The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp,' in which the Welsh writer (who coincidentally shares a surname with Supertramp's Rick Davies) details his wandering, hardscrabble early days.


When Marc Bolan’s ‘60s psychedelic-folk duo Tyrannosaurus Rex evolved into glam-rock gods, Bolan chopped the name down to T. Rex. What made them name themselves after a dinosaur to begin with? Maybe the same thing that moved guitarist Steve Peregrine Took to name himself after a Tolkien character.


The punk pioneers picked this name with tongue twisted in cheek, having noticed that the British 'Evening Standard' tabloid employed the word “clash” again and again in its sensationalistic headlines.


After earlier going by such forgotten titles as the Pete Quaife Band, the Bo-Weevils, the Ramrods and the Ravens, Ray Davies and company finally settled on a suggestion (perhaps from a friend of first manager Robert Wace or from their subsequent manager Larry Page) that was both mildly perverse and appropriately punchy: the Kinks. Oh, and we do mean "settled." Davies later said, "I've never really liked the name."


Since the Monkees were created to be an American answer to the Beatles, they needed a moniker similar to that of the Fab Four. Accordingly, they corrupted the name of a creature from the natural world just as the Beatles had done before them.


Drummer Stewart Copeland named the band before Sting even came on board. Some have suggested that it was an oblique reference to the CIA career of Miles Copeland Jr., father of Stewart and Police manager Miles III. But reports that Stewart simply saw it on the side of a cop car and adopted it as his band’s name seem more likely, if less intriguing.


Sting performs at the Starlite Music Festival in Marbella, Spain on July 23, 2019.
Sting performs at the Starlite Music Festival in Marbella, Spain on July 23, 2019.

Desperate times lead to goofy suggestions, and that's reportedly how this band – which had already considered then discarded winking candidates like No One, the Group and the Hair – finally decided on a successor title to the Detours and then the High Numbers. Roger Daltrey is said to have chosen "the Who" on a lark.


Roger Daltrey of The Who performs at Madison Square Garden in New York City on May 26, 2022.
Roger Daltrey of The Who performs at Madison Square Garden in New York City on May 26, 2022.

The Irish hard rockers took their name from a character called Tin Lizzie in a long-running British comic called 'The Dandy.' The change to “Thin” was a pun on the way Irish accents replace a “th” sound with just a “t.”


Supposedly, it was June Fairchild, then girlfriend of Three Dog Night’s Danny Hutton, who came up with the name. She'd apparently heard a story about Australians sleeping outdoors who would lie down in a ditch, using dingoes for warmth on the coldest nights.


The story goes that drummer Jeff Porcaro randomly scribbled the name on the then-unnamed band’s earliest demos just to have some kind of identifying mark. Seeing the name on the tapes, bassist David Hungate remarked that “in toto” was Latin for “as a whole” or “all encompassing,” and the band was sold on it.


Sometimes the truest tales are the least inspiring. Traffic cooked up a heady mix of psychedelia, fusion, prog and more, but the origin of their name is pretty unspectacular. Drummer Jim Capaldi simply came up with it while crossing the street one day.


In 1969, when everyone in England was mining old books for band names, hard rockers Uriah Heep got theirs from a character in Charles Dickens’ 'David Copperfield.' Uriah Heep was a man untrustworthy and unlikable in the extreme. So how did he end up as their band name? "We were formed on the 100th anniversary of Charles Dickens," guitarist Mick Box once said. "There was publicity all over London to celebrate his birthday."


This group began their journey as the Metropolitan Blues Quartet, which was appropriate enough considering they helped put blues rock on the map in Britain, but then ended up with something much better. Depending on which account you prefer, the Yardbirds name was either inspired by the slang for hobos loitering in train stations or the nickname for jazz giant Charlie Parker.


When making the shift from psych-pop to proto-prog, the band with the unfortunate moniker Mabel Greer’s Toy Shop understandably decided a change was needed. Founding guitarist Peter Banks reportedly determined that "Yes" was punchy, memorable and short enough to be printed very large on gig posters.


The Texas trio’s name is rooted in guitar man Billy Gibbons’ blues obsession. He originally considered combining the names of two bluesmen: Z.Z. Hill and B.B. King. But when ZZ King didn’t seem quite right, Gibbons made the slight shift to ZZ Top.



Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top performs at Stagecoach Festival 2023 in Indio, California on April 28, 2023.
Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top performs at Stagecoach Festival 2023 in Indio, California on April 28, 2023.

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