The Best Band Name Origin Stories

Voting Rules
Vote 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!
Photo: flickr / CC0

  • Lynyrd Skynyrd
    Photo: Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY
    1,401 VOTES

    Lynyrd Skynyrd is a mocking tribute to Leonard Skinner, a gym teacher at Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville, FL who was notorious for strictly enforcing the school's policy against boys having long hair.

    Skinner rousted the boys so much that Gary Rossington ended up dropping out of high school because he was "tired of being hassled about his hair."

    Years later, realizing that the long-haired boys he tormented were richer and more successful than he, Leonard Skinner got over being an asshole and made nice with the band, introducing them at a concert in the Jacksonville Memorial Coliseum and allowing them to use a photo of his Leonard Skinner Realty sign for the inside of their third album.
  • Led Zeppelin
    Photo: flickr / CC0
    1,131 VOTES

    Led Zeppelin was a legendary British rock band who dominated the music scene in the '70s with heavy, guitar-driven sounds.

    The phrase "lead balloon" is a commonly used idiom to describe an ill-conceived idea, or one whose failure is both predictable and inevitable. The name then allegedly arose when Keith Moon, after being invited to drum for the band, suggested that the idea would go over like a "lead zeppelin" - Moon evidently modifying the common phrase to exaggerate its humor. Jimmy Page liked the phrase so much, he took it for the band's name.

    The decision to misspell it was made because they thought Americans who were not as familiar with the original phrase would mispronounce the word as "leed."

  • 3
    920 VOTES

    While playing shows in England in 1969, the band discovered they were being mistaken for another English group named Earth, and decided to again change their name. A cinema across the street from the band's rehearsal room was showing the 1963 Boris Karloff horror film Black Sabbath directed by Mario Brava. While watching people line up to see the film, Butler noted that it was "strange that people spend so much money to see scary movies.". Following that, Osbourne and Butler wrote the lyrics for a song called "Black Sabbath", which was inspired by the work of occult writer Dennis Wheatley, along with a vision that Butler had of a black silhouetted figure standing at the foot of his bed.

    Making use of the musical tritone, also known as "The Devil's Interval," the song's ominous sound and dark lyrics pushed the band in a darker direction, a stark contrast to the popular music of the late 1960s, which was dominated by flower power, folk music, and hippie culture. Inspired by the new sound, the band changed their name to Black Sabbath in August 1969.

  • Creedence Clearwater Revival
    Photo: user uploaded image

    In 1967, Saul Zaentz purchased Fantasy Records from Weiss and offered the Golliwogs a chance to record a full-length album, but only if the group changed its name. Never having liked the Golliwogs, the foursome readily agreed. Zaentz and the band agreed to come up with ten suggestions each, but he enthusiastically agreed to their first:

    Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR). The band took the three elements from the following sources:

    1.Tom Fogerty's friend Credence Newball, to whose first name Credence they added an extra "e", making it resemble a faith or creed.

    2. "clear water" from a television commercial for Olympia beer.

    3. "revival", which spoke to the four members' renewed commitment to their band.

    Rejected contenders for the band's name included Muddy Rabbit, Gossamer Wump, and Creedence Nuball and the Ruby, but the last was the start that led to their finalized name.

  • AC/DC
    Photo: Augusto Conter Filho / Flickr
    878 VOTES

    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.

  • Steely Dan
    Photo: David Erickson / Flickr
    808 VOTES

    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.