The True Stories Behind 65 Classic Rock Band Names

October 2, 2018
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AC/DC

Angus and Malcolm Young can thank their sister Margaret for their band's simple title. After noticing "AC/DC" (alternating current or direct current) on the outlet of a sewing machine, she pitched it to her brothers, and that was that.

Aerosmith

After he and his girlfriend were listening to "Aerial Ballet" by Harry Nilsson, Joey Kramer started workshopping band names with "aero" in them. After the band he was in at the time wasn't feeling it, Joey held on to it before joining Steven Tyler and Joe Perry's band. After a little convincing, everyone agreed on naming their group "Aerosmith."

Alice Cooper

Rather than his stage name, Alice Cooper was the name of the whole band. Picturing Alice of Alice In Wonderland as an elderly, twisted, possibly murderous maniac, vocalist Vince Furnier embodied the character so well that he became more recognized as Alice Cooper than the band itself.

Bad Company

After seeing a western starring Jeff Bridges in 1972, vocalist Paul Rodgers said how he liked how "Bad Company" was a suitible name for the early settlers, the Civil War, and the wild west. So he attached the same name to his band.

The Beatles

Originally the Silver Beatles, the band got their name based off of Buddy Holly's backing band "the Crickets." All four members were such big Buddy Holly fans that Paul McCartney bought the publishing rights to his songs. The only song they ever actually got to record with Holly was "Words of Love."

Billy Idol

Aka "William Broad," there were many other punk stage names being created like Rat Scabies and Johnny Rotten. So Billy went in a different directon and named himself Billy Idol, with the intention of "idol" to be more of a twist on "idle."

Black Sabbath

First they were Earth Blues Company. Then they were Earth. But because there was another band named Earth, Ozzy, Geezer and Tony went with Black Sabbath based on a 1963 film which starred Boris Karloff as well as attaching it to a song about an apparition Geezer Butler once encountered.

Blind Faith

The first ever supergroup, Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Rich Grech and Steve Winwood named themselves Blind Faith after their photographer titled their album's cover photo as the same name.

Blue Öyster Cult

Originally Soft White Underbelly, the band changed their name after being inspired by music journalist, manager and producer Sandy Pearlman. Pearlman wrote many sci-fi poems that included "Blue Oyster Cult," which were a mysterious group of otherworldly beings determining mankind's destiny.

Bob Dylan

A big fan of the classic tv western "Gunsmoke", Bob Zimmerman named himself "Bob Dillon" (later spelled as Dylan) based on the character Sherrif Matt Dillon.

Boston

Simply the hometown of their band's beginnings, Tom Scholz went with the idea of naming themselves Boston after being suggested by producer John Boylan and engineer Warren Dewey. It was that, or their other band name, Scholz-Delp.

The Cars

Drummer David Robinson first played with the Modern Lovers. Then, he suggested they name their new band the Cars. He also helped decide on the artwork for the band's famous album cover featuring a female driver wearing bright cherry lipstick.

Cheap Trick

During a Slade concert, bassist Tom Petersson mentioned that they used "every cheap trick in the book" for their show.

Chicago

First they were the Big Thing. Then when they moved to Los Angeles after being signed to Columbia Records, producer Jimmy Guercio renamed them to Chicago Transit Authority, inspired by the bus line he used to take to school. Then they cut it down to Chicago for the release of their first album.

Cream

Considered the cream of the crop of British blues rock bands of the '60s after their work with the Yardbirds and John Mayall, Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker simply went with Cream.

Deep Purple

First they were Roundabout. Then guitarist Ritchie Blackmoore chose the name Deep Purple after a Paul Whiteman song from the 1930's big band era.

Def Leppard

Vocalist Joe Elliot came up with "Deaf Leopard" while writing music reviews for imaginary bands in high school. Percussionist Tony Kenning had the idea of modifying the spelling to avoid making themselves come off as too punk.

Dire Straits

Inspired by Pick Withers' former musician roommate, the name came out of nowhere during the band's rehersal in a kitchen before they recorded their 1977 demo.

The Doobie Brothers

First, they were just a bunch of hippies living in a house in Northern California. One of the brothers' roommates jokingly called them the Doobie Brothers on account of their affinity for smoking marijuana.

The Doors

Talk about a deep pull. The Doors got their name from Aldous Huxley's 1954 mescaline tale "The Doors of Perception", which in turn was inspired by William Blake's post-French Revolution book "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell."

Eagles

During a drug and alcohol-fueled venture into the Mojave Desert, Bernie Leadon got the idea for the Eagles based on the Hopi tribe's reverence for the bird of prey. However, J.D. Souther says the idea arrived after Glenn Frey shouted "eagles" when they all saw a few of them flying above them during their desert trip.

Electric Light Orchestra

In the early '70s, there were groups of British easy-listening bands known as "light orchestras." From there Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne called their rock/pop/orchestral group the Electric Light Orchestra.

Elton John

Merging the names of Elton Dean and Long John Baldry of Bluesology, Reginald Kenneth Dwight gave himself the stage name Elton John.

Fleetwood Mac

Named after drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie, guitarist Peter Green named themselves Fleetwood Mac partly as a ploy to keep both members in the band.

Foghat

After struggling to land a name that would stick, guitarist Dave Peverett is said to have chosen the name Foghat based on a childhood game he used to play with his brother.

Foreigner

First, they were known as Trigger. But since there was already another band with the same name, Mick Jones went with Foreigner since half the band were Brits (Mick Jones, Ian McDonald, Dennis Elliott) and the other half were Americans (Lou Gramm, Al Greenwood, Ed Gagliardi).

Genesis

Named from their first manager, Johnathan King almost named the band Gabriel's Angels after vocalist Peter Gabriel. But they stuck with the name of the first book of the bible for their band's new beginning.

Grateful Dead

Named after the soul of an unburied corpse that expressed their thanks to their eventual burial, Jerry Garcia stumbled upon the phrase while flipping through a folklore dictionary while tripping.

Guns N' Roses

While Izzy Stradlin of Hollywood Rose became roomates with Tracii Guns of L.A. Guns, the L.A. Guns needed a new singer. That's when Axl Rose of Hollywood Rose stepped in. From there the two bands merged their names together to form Guns N' Roses.

Heart

Ann Wilson first joined the band White Heart in the early '70s, which then changed their name to Hocus Pocus. Ann then met Mike Fisher, the brother of her bandmate Roger Fisher. After the two fell in love, the band formed into a regrouped version of Hocus Pocus and White Heart. Eventally, they dropped "White" from White Heart and just stuck with Heart going forward. 

Iron Maiden

Formed on Christmas Day in 1975 by bassist Steve Harris after leaving his former group, Smiler. Inspired by the film The Man in the Iron Mask, Harris said that the title reminded him of the medieval torture device, the iron maiden.

Journey

Originally the Golden Gate Rhythm Section, the band wanted to get a new name after holding a radio contest. Unsatisfied with the results, their roadie John Villanueva came up with Journey, which everyone agreed on.

Judas Priest

Former member Bruno Stapenhill got the idea from the Bob Dylan song "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest." After pitching it original frontman Al Atkins, the name stuck, despite them never being fans of Bob Dylan in the first place.

Kansas

Despite starting off as a prog rock band, inspiration for their name simply came from the state they were living in.

KISS

Their first name was Wicked Lester, but they needed something a little more family-friendly and prime time ready. When drummer Peter Criss brought up how he used to play in a band named Lips, Paul Stanley played off of it and came up with the name, KISS.

Led Zeppelin

While Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones were joined by Keith Moon and John Entwistle of The Who for Jeff Beck's "Beck Bolero" in 1966, Page recalled hearing one of them comment on the idea of them forming a band would go over like a lead balloon. Two years later as Jones, John Bonham, Robert Plant and Page were trying to think of a name, Page remembered the comment, thus leading to Led Zeppelin.

Lynyrd Skynyrd

Based on their high school gym teacher/nemesis Leonard Skinner, the southern rockers added a few "y's" to his name and that was that.

Meat Loaf

Named after the nickname his high school football coach gave him for being heavyset, Marvin Lee Aday ventured to Los Angeles to start his first band, "Meat Loaf Soul."

Metallica

Drummer Lars Ulrich's friend Ron Quintana was trying to think up some good names for a local metal fanzine, like 'MetalMania' and 'Metallica.' After Metallica was tossed out, Ulrich took it on for a new band he formed. However, early pressings for their 1982 compilation album Metal Massacre | was misspelled as "Mettallica."

The Moody Blues

First they were the M&B 5, named after a local pub Metchells & Butlers. But part of their name change came in part from the famous Duke Ellington song "Mood Indigo."

Mötley Crüe

Nikki Sixx wanted to name the band Christmas, but his bandmates hugely opposed it. Guitarist Mick Mars recalled that his former White Horse bandmate described them as "a motley looking crew." A few spelling changes later, they called themselves Mötley Crüe.

Motörhead

After he was kicked out of Hawkwind, Lemmy Kilmister named his band after the term used to describe amphetamine users.

Ozzy Osbourne

Born John Michael Osbourne, he had been called "Ozzy" since childhood. "Ozzy" was meant to pick on him as a child, but he embraced it as a stage name in his adult years.

Pink Floyd

Named by Syd Barrett, he merged the names for two Piedmont blues artists Pink Anderson and Floyd Council.

Poison

First Bret Michaels joined Rikki Rockett in the Spectres. Then the two joined up with Matty SMith and Bobby Dall to form Paris. Then, after moving to Los Angeles, they renamed themselves from Paris to Poison.

Queen

Farrokh Bulsara (Freddie Mercury) became a fan of the local band Smile. After vocalist Tim Staffell left the band, Bulsara joined the band and encouraged them to change their name to Queen.

Rainbow

Deep Purple's Ritchie Blackmore began recording with Ronnie James Dio in 1973. Though the members of Dio's band Elf, were part of the group, they needed a new name. That's when they looked to the famous Rainbow Bar and Grill for ideas. From there, Rainbow was born.

The Ramones

Douglas Colvin was a fan of Paul McCartney's use of his former stage name Paul Ramon. From there he named himself Dee Dee Ramone. He then convinced John Cummings (Johnny Ramone) and Jeffrey Hyman (Joey Ramone) to follow suit and take on the Ramone name, thus naming themselves the Ramones.

REO Speedwagon

Named after the manufacturer Ranson Eli Olds, the REO Speed Wagon was an early version of the pickup truck that was created in 1915. Keyboardist Neal Doughty recalled entering his history of transportation class in college and seeing REO Speed Wagon on the chalkboard.

Rolling Stones

Thanks to Muddy Waters, the Brits were inspired to name their band from the famous blues artist's 1950 song, "Rollin' Stone."

Rush

Before Geddy Lee, there was John Rutsey. In 1968, Rutsey's brother Bill suggested they name themselves Rush. Even after being replaced by Lee in 1971, the name stuck.

Scorpions

It's hard to believe that they nearly named themselves Dawn Road. But in the mid-70's, members of Dawn Road and an early formation of Scorpions teamed up and couldn't decide using one band's name or the other's. Since Scorpions had already made a name for themselves in the German rock scene, that's what they went with.

Steppenwolf

First, they were the Sparrows. But producer Gabriel Mekler suggested they rename themselves Steppenwolf after the 1927 novel by Herman Hesse.

Stryper

Inspired by the bible verse Isaiah 53:5, "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed." After respelling their name to Stryper, drummer Robert Sweet turned it into an acronym. Salvation Through Redemption, Yielding Peace, Encouragement and Righteousness.

Styx

Named after the boiling river that leads to hell from Greek mythology.

The Clash

When the British tabloid Evening Standard would often make use of the world "clash" in its publications, the punk rockers found their band's name.

The Cult

Based on the name of vocalist Ian Astbury's previous band, Southern Death Cult, the band shortened it to just The Cult.

The Kinks

After toying with names like the Bo-Weevils, the Peter Quaife Band, and the Ravens, the band eventually went with the quick and punchy name, the Kinks. Ray Davies later admitted that he never really like the name in the first place.

The Police

Pre-Sting, drummer Steward Copeland got the idea for simply seeing it on the side of a police car.

The Who

After tossing out names like No One, the Group, the Hair, the Detours and the High Numbers, Roger Daltrey is said to have chosen "The Who" on a whim.

Thin Lizzy

Based on Tin Lizzie from the British comic "The Dandy," the band adapted "Thin" into the name based on how the Irish accent replaces "th" with a hard "t."

Twisted Sister

Beginning as Silver Star, it is believed that an audience member called the band "twisted queens" for their heavy-metal drag queen ensamble.

White Zombie

Rob Zombie was inspired by the 1932 Bela Lugosi horror film and named their band White Zombie.

Yes

Moving from psych-pop to prog-rock, Mabel Greer's Toy Shop was in need of a new name. Founder Peter Banks decided that naming themselves "Yes" was simple enough punchy enough to be memorable, and short enough to be printed large on gig posters.

ZZ Top

Inspired by Billy Gibbons' blues rock heroes, he originally wanted to combine the names of Z.Z. Hill and B.B. King. But after ZZ King didn't sound right, ZZ Top made the cut.