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The Best Band Name Origin Stories

Updated July 8, 2020 11.3k votes 1.8k voters 124.7k views23 items

List RulesVote up the bands who have the best stories about how they got their names

List of best band name origin stories, crowd-sourced and ranked by a community of music-lovers. Bands are known to find inspiration for their names from all sorts of places: negative reviews, real people like old teachers that they hated, lost loves, real places and fictional sex toys.

A good band name origins story is always entertaining--it can inspire you if you are searching for your own perfect rock group name or arm you with a good anecdote to tell at cocktail parties. How many people do you know who are aware that Steely Dan named their outfit after a steam-powered dildo mentioned in a William S. Burroughs novel?

The best band names origin stories are about a band that you know and love, but never thought to look into how they got their name. For example, there are probably many Muse fans out there that never knew that Matthew Bellamy, the lead vocalist, is really into Ouija boards and supernatural beings, aka "muses." Read up on some of the best origins of band names and add your own favorites to the list!
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  • Photo: Augusto Conter Filho / Flickr

    Brothers Malcolm, Angus, and George Young were born in Glasgow, Scotland, and moved to Sydney with most of their family in 1963. George was the first to learn to play the guitar. He became a member of the Easybeats, one of Australia's most successful bands of the 1960s. In 1966, they became the first local rock act to have an international hit, with the song "Friday on My Mind". Malcolm followed in George's footsteps by playing with a Newcastle, New South Wales band called the Velvet Underground (not to be confused with the New York-based Velvet Underground). Their oldest brother Alex Young chose to remain in Britain to pursue musical interests. In 1967, Alexander formed and played bass in the London-based band Grapefruit—initially called "The Grapefruit"—with three former members of Tony Rivers and the Castaways, John Perry, Geoff Swettenham, and Pete Swettenham. The band's logo was designed in 1977 by Gerard Huerta, commissioned by Bob Defrin, the art director at Atlantic Records during the 1970s. It first appeared on the international version of "Let There Be Rock."

    Malcolm and Angus Young developed the idea for the band's name after their sister, Margaret Young, saw the initials "AC/DC" on a sewing machine. "AC/DC" is an abbreviation meaning "alternating current/direct current" electricity. The brothers felt that this name symbolised the band's raw energy, power-driven performances of their music. "AC/DC" is pronounced one letter at a time, though the band are colloquially known as "Acca Dacca" in Australia.

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  • Photo: David Erickson / Flickr

    Steely Dan is an American jazz rock duo consisting of members Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. Fagen and Becker named the band after "Steely Dan III from Yokohama," a steam-powered, strap-on dildo referred to in the William S. Burroughs novel Naked Lunch. Apparently, in the novel, there were a series of other Steely Dans that were both torn apart by some sort of crazy, famished "bull dyke" vagina.

    Those are William S. Burroughs words, not ours. Rock and roll, man.

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  • Photo: Paul Kane/Stringer / Getty Images Entertainment

    This seminal group Halloween costume totally-radical Heavy Metal band from New York have consistently denied rumors that KISS stands for "Knights in Satan's Service," rightly pointing out that the members of the band are not so much in this business of doing the devil's work as they are in face paintin' and rock n' rollin'. Other rumors about what KISS may stand for, like "Kids in Satans Service" or "Kinder SS" have also been denied by the band. 

    The true story, according to band co-founder Paul Stanley is that they chose KISS after hearing that drummer Peter Criss had once been in a band called Lips. They agreed that Kiss "just sounded dangerous and sexy at the same time."

    While, to a layperson, kissing may not actually sound that "dangerous," navigating the length of Gene Simmons tongue sounds downright terrifying.   
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  • In an attempt to create a mystery around the groups first hit record in 1965, "Shakin' All Over", Quality Records credited the single only to "Guess Who?"

    It was hoped that the public might assume the "Guess Who?" identity was deliberately masking several famous artists that were collaborating under a pseudonym.  The name stuck.

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