top of page

Interesting Etymologies 22: Band Names

Video version available on youtube, link at the bottom of the page!

"Hello again Word Lovers!" and today some recent etymology as we look at how some famous bands got their name!


Anni-Frid Lyngstad

Björn Ulvaeus

Benny Andersson

Agnetha Fältskog

The first names of the members of the group form the name of the band form the acronym that gives the band their name. This name was originally a play on words as ABBA was also a name of a fish canning company in Sweden. The name was created by their manager Stig Anderson who was tired of unwieldy names and started referring to the band publicly with the palindrome title.

The Beatles

The Beatles are so well known it is almost forgotten that the name is a play on words. The group were originally called The Quarrymen as a band started by John Lennon and some friends from his school, Quarry Bank High School. McCartney and Harrison joined the band in 1957 and by 1960 as his fellow school friends left the band, it was felt a name change was in order.

Members of the band have given different answers when they have been asked about the name but the most popular story comes from John Lennon's first wife, Cynthia who said the band were brainstorming names in a drinking session They wanted a bug related name after being inspired by Buddy Holly's band "The Crickets". Stuart Sutcliffe, who was the original bass player in the band, came up with the pun after Lennon's original idea of "Beatals".

The Monkees

A US production company was formed to create a TV show inspired by the Beatles film success. The pair of Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider considered "The Creeps", "The Turtles" and "The Inevitables". It was Schneider who suggested a misspelt word, like the Beatles. The Monkees were born!

Pink Floyd

The name derives from the names Pink Anderson and Floyd Council, two blues musicians in the record collection of guitarist Syd Barrett.

The Doors

The name comes from the title of Aldous Huxley's book on mescaline, The Doors of Perception (1954), which itself is a line written by William Blake. It was Jim Morrison's idea to name the band "The Doors of Perception" before the name was shortened.

The Velvet Underground

Film maker Tony Conrad found a copy of the book The Velvet Underground in the street. The book an exploration of the 'underground' world of deviant or non traditional sexual activity. The band liked the name and the rest is history.


The band was originally named Rain. When Liam Gallagher was invited to join the band he suggested a name change to Oasis. He had a tour poster of the band Inspiral Carpets in his bedroom. The poster listed Oasis Leisure Centre as a venue on the tour.

Joy Division

The band was originally named Warsaw but changed their name in early 1978 to avoid confusion with a London punk band Warsaw Pakt. The name comes from the 1955 novel House of Dolls and was the title given for the sexual slavery wing of a Nazi concentration camp. The group would then go on to build a career with a different name after the tragic suicide of lead singer Ian Curtis and would re-emerge again as New Order. It was Rob Gretton who suggested "The New Order of the Kampuchean Front" after a newspaper headline.

Lynyrd Skynyrd

The band were working under the name The One Percent in 1969. Ronnie Van Zant wanted to change the name after receiving taunts at concerts that the band had "1% talent". Bob Burns suggested Leonard Skinnerd which was a reference to the character Leonard Skinner in Allan Sherman's novelty song Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh and part mocking tribute to the P.E teacher Leonard Skinner at Robert E. Lee High School. The spelling change to Lynyrd Skynyrd was observed as early as 1970.

Pere Ubu

At the time the band was formed three members of the band lived together and the name emerged from late night conversations inspired by Ubu Roi, an avant garde French play by French writer Alfred Jarry

Steely Dan

Steely Dan is the name of a steam powered dildo in the William Burroughs' novel Naked Lunch. The name was chosen in 1974, but who and why is lost in the mists of time.

The Rolling Stones

According to Keith Richards the name came about during an interview on the phone with Jazz News. Slide guitarists Brian Jones who left the band before they became The Rollin' Stones was asked by a journalist what the band name was during the telephone call. He saw a Muddy Waters LP on the floor and one of the tracks was Rollin' Stone.

Led Zeppelin

The name emerged from a conversation about the chances of the band going down like a lead balloon. It is widely recognised that the joke was made by Keith Moon

Jethro Tull

It is credited to the band's agent who had studied history. Jethro Tull was an 18th century English agriculturalist who invented the seed drill. The band had used multiple names prior to that and it was commented once that the band once only knew what their name was on a line up poster when they identified the name they did not recognise. Under the guise of Jethro Tull they were offered a Thursday night residency in London's famous Marquee Club and the name stuck!


Freddie Bulsara suggested the change of the name from Smile to Queen in 1970. The name change happened at the same time the lead singer changed his stage name to Mercury inspired by the line "Mother Mercury, look what they've done to me" in his song My Fairy King. The group were sceptical but he enthused "it's wonderful, dear, people will love it"

The Residents

The band had not included a name on their return address when they submitted a demo tape. The rejection slip was addressed to "The Residents" and the name was adopted.

Sham 69

A piece of graffiti seen on a wall by band co founder Jimmy Pursey. It had originally read Walton and Hersham '69 but it had partly faded away. It was a reference to the year the football team Walton and Hersham had won the local league. The name sounded good for the members of the band, and had a better ring to it than the name they were using, Jimmy and the Ferrets.

The Who

Originally called The Detours, the group were made aware of the group Johnny Devlin and the Detours in February 1964. Pete Townshend and his roommate Richard Barnes spent a night brainstorming names, joke names were considered including "No One" and "the Group". Townshend opted for "the Hair" and Barnes "the Who". Daltry chose "the Who" the next morning. The wonderful tale about Townshend's deaf Grandmother responding "who?" when told band names is delightful, but probably one of those rock and roll myths.

Chubby Checker

Born in South Carolina and raised in Philadelphia, Ernest Evans met Bandstand host Dick Clark in 1958 when he was 16. He had the chance to record in a private session for the TV host. Ernest was doing a very good impression of Fats Domino and Clark's then-wife Barbara Mallery asked Evans what name he wanted to use. Evans replied "Chubby" - a childhood nickname. It was Mallery that suggested "Checker" essentially meaning his stage name was a homage to Fats Domino.

Green Day

Originally named Sweet Children formed by 15 year old Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt, the name Green Day was chosen to avoid confusion with another local band Sweet Baby. The band were fond of cannabis and that was the secret behind the name. Armstrong confessed in 2001 that he thought it was "the worst band name in the world".

The Doobie Brothers

According to an interview a fellow musician, Keith "Dyno" Rosen suggested the band called themselves the Doobie Brothers as they enjoyed smoking cannabis on a frequent basis. The band all felt it was a "dumb" name and they only intended to use it for a few performances until they found something better, but they never did!

Sigur Ros

Named after the younger sister of the vocalist in the group. She was born a few days before the band was formed. Sigur Ros means Victory Rose in Icelandic.

Explore the full Interesting Etymologies series archive here

As well as being the host of our Interesting Etymologies series, Charly Taylor is a stand up comedian and author. His latest offering is available now:

SkipDeLirio's Worst Ever Gig : A novel by Charly Taylor

Caesar’s army has returned from the long campaign in Gaul and the enemy has been all but defeated. Some of Pompey’s army, however, remains in Africa. Together with straggling Roman rebels and the local king Juba, they are gathering forces to prepare one last attack on what is now Caesar’s Rome. But there is one problem – a descendant of Scipio Africanus is fighting on the side of the Africans. And without a Scipio of their own, the superstitious Romans refuse to go to Africa to fight.

So Caesar sends out soldiers to find himself a Scipio. Luckily, there is a man of such name right there in Rome – a local drunkard and tavern entertainer distantly descended from the legendary warrior. Kidnapped solely on account of his ‘heritage’, the lowly clown is forced to lead out the troops in the battle of Thapsus. There, ‘history’ tells us, Scipio ‘disappears from the historical record’.

Until now.

This is the story of how ‘Nobody’ Skip DeLirio, with the cards finally all dealt in his favour, still managed to fuck it up. History will only take you so far. The rest is make-believe.

Order your copy here


Obtuvo 0 de 5 estrellas.
Aún no hay calificaciones

Agrega una calificación
bottom of page