It’s hard to imagine some of your favorite bands or musicians with a different name. But not everyone is born with a perfect stage name, and not every band derives their name from a great epiphany. Some musicians find the inspiration for their names in unlikely places — whether their critics, books, and even lawsuits.
From Fleetwood Mac’s decades-old drama to the real Jane who inspired Jane’s Addicition, take a look at these fascinating stories behind the names of your favorite bands and musicians.
Fleetwood Mac Didn’t Want Their Bandmates To Call It Quits
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Rock band Fleetwood Mac had a rocky start, and their name reflects their attempt to keep two of the band members from leaving. The band began in 1965 when Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood, and Jeremy Spencer joined forces. The three set out to find a permanent bassist and ended up signing John McVie.
The bassist and the drummer of bands are notoriously underappreciated. Green wanted to be sure to keep those two players around if they ever made it big, so they named the group after drummer Fleetwood and their new bassist McVie. The plan worked because Fleetwood and McVie are the only two remaining original members.
Dave Grohl Went Full Conspiracy Theorist With The Foo Fighters
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Nerds and conspiracy theorists love the Foo Fighters because they are named after UFOs. Allied pilots used the term “foo fighters” to describe mysterious aircraft that they couldn’t be sure was the enemy.
Former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl began the band as a solo project in 1994 after Kurt Cobain’s untimely death. Grohl has said he was really into reading about UFOs and that the books had a “treasure trove” of band names. He chose Foo Fighters because he thought the plural might make people think it was more than just him in the band.
The Sex Pistols Were Named After Their Sponsor
Like many other bands, The Sex Pistols name evolved slowly over several years. The original core of the band was formed in 1972 and named The Strand. In between shows, the group spent a lot of time at an “anti-fashion” S&M clothing store owned by Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood called Sex.
In 1974, McLaren became the band’s manager. McLaren renamed the group after the shop’s name and added Pistols to the end because he said he just liked the sound of it. The name stuck and the band embodied the alt-rock punk vibes that it lends itself to.
Keep reading to find out about the real-life Jane and her real-life addiction behind Jane’s Addiction.
30 Seconds To Mars Got Philosophical
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Alternative rock band 30 Seconds To Mars are smarter than they look. The name came after the band members noticed an interesting phrase in a thesis paper where the author said that humanity was moving so fast that they were basically “thirty seconds to Mars.”
Well, the band liked the phrase and used it to represent a bunch of ideas. Over the years the band members have related the name to Mars as the god of war and said in an interview that the name is “lyrical, suggestive, cinematic, and filled with immediacy” just like their songs.
Frankie (Blue Eyes) Goes To Hollywood
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British new wave group, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, began as the Hollycausts but decided they needed to tone down some of the controversies. The band said they practiced in a room where there was a cutting from the front page of The New Yorker hanging up. The headline on it said “Frankie Goes To Hollywood” in reference to Frank Sinatra, and the rest is history.
Well, kind of. The band stuck with that name and that story for many years until recently when a few band members said that “Frankie” was inspired by British singer Frankie Vaughan.
Jane’s Addiction Was Actually About Jane’s Addiction
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In possibly the worst tribute ever, rock band Jane’s Addiction was actually named after a real person named Jane with a real drug addiction. The band’s founder Perry Farrell had a roommate named Jane Bainter. According to Farrell, when something went wrong in the house, the running joke was to blame it on Jane’s addiction.
The band also used her in for a song, “Jane Says.” The song describes Jane’s real-life problems, her heroin addiction, and abusive drug-dealing boyfriend. Jane even lent her handwriting to the band’s album artwork. For all that inspiration, the real Jane never even saw a dime.
This next techno duo had a pretty strange name before being inspired by one critic’s harsh review.
Daft Punk Loves Their Critics
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It’s a little surprising to hear that one of electronic-pop duo Daft Punk’s most significant influences is The Beach Boys. The pair loved them so much that they began their career under the name Darlin’, which was a Beach Boys single in 1967.
They began releasing their groundbreaking music in the early 1990s, and not everyone liked it. One review in magazine Melody Maker trashed the duo and dubbed their music to be “daft punky thrash.” They thought the commentary was hilarious and chose to run with it and win a bunch of Grammys. Let the haters hate.
Alice Cooper Wanted To Throw Off The Fans
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“Godfather of Shock Rock” Alice Cooper chose his stage name wisely. Born Vincent Damon Furnier, the singer originally chose the name to front the band. Stories have claimed that the spooky group was named after a ghostly spirit that they “met” during an Ouija board session.
Cooper himself says that’s an urban legend that people only believed because of the band’s image. Cooper said that they wanted a name that didn’t match with how they sounded. To them, a name like Alice Cooper seemed like a grandmother more than a shock rock band.
Blink-182 Just Needed To Avoid A Lawsuit
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Blink-182 got their name the way a surprising amount of bands do: to avoid a lawsuit. The band recorded their first album under just the name Blink, but unfortunately for them, an Irish band had the same name and had released an album just months before them.
Blink was forced to change and added the “182” to the end. An urban legend says that the 182 stands for the number of times Al Pachino drops the f-bomb in Scarface but it has never been confirmed. By all accounts, the “182” is pretty meaningless.
KISS mega fans have brainstormed for years of what the letters mean. Continue reading to see if the word is even an acronym at all.
The Velvet Underground Were The Original 50 Shades Of Grey
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The Velvet Underground wasn’t very famous during their original run between 1964 and 1973 because, in all honestly, they were way ahead of their time. The band mixed rock with the Avante-Garde which wasn’t surprising since Andy Warhol managed them for a few years.
Their name is as shocking and Avante-Garde for the time too. The band was inspired by a novel called The Velvet Underground that explored free sex, group sex, sadomasochism, and homosexual behavior. In 1967, that was not going to endear the public, but in the 1990’s they would become worshipped as pioneers in alternative music.
Jethro Tull Changed Their Name Each Week
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One-of-a-kind blues-rock band, Jethro Tull, got their name because they couldn’t book a repeat show. The group was struggling to get invites back to a venue and began to think up a new name each week so that bookers wouldn’t know it was the band who played the weekend before.
They ended up hiring an agent to book their shows until one day that agent booked the band under the name Jethro Tull, after the 18th-century British farmer who invented the horse-drawn seed drill. Tull might not exactly be the face of rock music, but under that name the band booked their first repeat gig and saw it as a sign to keep the name.
KISS Isn’t An Acronym
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Anyone that grew up with KISS has a different idea of what it could stand for. The most popular theory is that it’s an acronym for “Knight’s In Satan’s Service.” Others think it could stand for “Keep It Simple, Stupid.”
The band members have denied all guesses that the word is an acronym. The more likely version is that they named the band KISS after meeting a member of a band named Lips. No one is sure why they chose to capitalize the word, but all it has done was open up the band to thousands of hypotheses.
Keep reading to see if this early post-punk band were actually Nazi sympathizers.
Queens Of The Stone Age Want To Rock With The Women Of The World
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The alternative rock group, Queens of the Stone Age, are notable for appealing to a lot of different populations. From the midwest bluegrass to ’70s power rockers, all the band was missing was the female demographic. According to the band’s lead singer Josh Homme, their name was a conscious choice because “Kings would be too macho.”
The band wanted a name that would be “heavy enough for the boys and sweet enough for the girls.” Not exactly the most inclusive, but we can’t blame them for trying. It must have worked though because they were even praised by Rolling Stone for their ability to appeal to the masses.
The Weeknd Left Home Forever On A Weekend
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Chart-topping R&B singer, Abel Makkonen Tesfaye changed his name to The Weeknd for a pretty sentimental reason. The singer told a Reddit Ask Me Anything that he adopted the name when he was 17 and dropped out of school then left home for good on a weekend.
What about the missing E though? As usual with singers, it was dropped because of a copyright issue. A Canadian band already existed called The Weekend, so instead of having to brainstorm a new name he just dropped the E. Without the E the name looks way cooler, so it worked out in his favor.
People Thought Joy Division Were Nazi Sympathizers
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It’s a shock to many when they hear that Joy Division named themselves after a part of Nazi concentration camps. In WW2, the “joy division” of a camp was what Nazi’s called the area of concentration camps where all the younger women were held in. This is because many of the officers would go to the area to rape the young women.
The band said they wanted a name that related to WW2 because a lot of their parents fought during it and they wanted to pay homage to the conflict, but choosing Joy Division really doesn’t seem like it was the best option.
Next, Bob Dylan had to really search for inspiration for his own stage name and then ended up inspiring another band’s name.
Bob Dylan Just Knew His Real Name Would Never Take Off
Only the die-hard Dylan fans will know that his last name isn’t actually Dylan. Born Robert Zimmerman, the singer-songwriter began performing in his late teens under his original name. His biographer wrote that the singer was a big fan actor Matt Dillon and chose to adopt his last name. The name was changed from Dillon to Dylan after the singer read the works of poet Dylan Thomas.
Dylan has always been honest that he knew the name given to him was not suited for him. And, let’s be honest, Robert Zimmerman doesn’t have the same ring to it so it was a good call to adopt the name change.
The Barenaked Ladies Can Thank Bob Dylan For Their Name
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Even if you don’t know about the treasure of Canadian alt-rock, everyone looks twice when they read this band’s strange name. Steven Page and Ed Robertson, the two founders of the Barenaked Ladies, were attending a Bob Dylan concert in Toronto in 1988. The two got bored and began brainstorming some band names to pass the time.
Fast-forward a few months later, Robertson entered into a battle of the bands and had to come up with a name for his makeshift name on the fly, and “Barenaked Ladies” stood out in his memory from the Dylan concert. Page couldn’t believe Robertson actually used that name, but it has served them well. I mean, what other bands regularly feature an electric double bass and can pull it off?
Stone Temple Pilots Reverse-Engineered An Acronym
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Sometimes it’s not the name that comes first, but an acronym. The grunge-rock band signed to their first record deal under the name Mighty Joe Young but the record label wanted them to change it. According to the band members, they were inspired by STP Motor Oil and loved the initials, but needed to attach some words to it.
They played around with a bunch of options including “Shirley Temple’s [expletive]” and “Stereo Temple Pirates” and Stinky Toilet Paper” until they finally landed on Stone Temple Pilots. To add some more fun, STP is also a slang term for a psychedelic drug.
Guns N’ Roses Were Just Plain Lazy
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The legendary rockers may have had some pretty creative and masterful songs, but their band name was pretty uncreative. Lead singer Axl Rose and guitarist Izzy Stradlin were in the band Hollywood Rose. Stradlin had a roommate in a band called L.A. Guns who needed a new lead singer.
The two bands joined forces and combined the names in Guns and Roses. They eventually decided the “and” was too wordy and changed it to Guns N’ Roses. Combining the two names might seem lazy but their other ideas weren’t very good. Some rejected names were “AIDS” and “Heads of Amazon.”
Duran Duran Was Named After A Sexy Sci-Fi Film
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Duran Duran formed in 1978 and began performing small gigs around England. One club that they played at often was called Barbarella’s, which was named after a 1968 sci-fi film. In the film, Jane Fonda (yes, Jane Fonda) plays Barbarella, a sexy space adventurer who is tasked with finding the mad scientist who invented a superweapon laser.
That scientist was Mr. Durand Durand. He wasn’t the nicest guy and at one point even tried to kill Barbarella by placing her in a machine that kills the person with “fatal sexual pleasure.” Maybe Duran Duran was just trying to give the world excessive pleasure in their music.
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