How Famous Bands Got Their Names

By Tiara

Some musicians choose really weird, obscure band names to emphasize how unique they are. Others use familiar words or phrases that have grown on popularity in their music or as a style. What is important about these band names though is that they represent who you want to associate with your music!

Many of the best bands were known for having great lyrics, incredible vocals, and interesting musical styles. They are not only listened to because of what sounds good at the time, but also due to what people perceive the artist to be like.

With that being said, let’s take a look at five famous band names and the stories behind them.

Pink Floyd

how famous bands got their names

The story of how British band Pink Floyd got its name is quite interesting! When they first formed in 1965, their moniker was simply that — the Pink Floyd. They did not have a middle or last name at this stage.

It wasn’t until 1967 when they decided to give themselves a proper first (middle) name. This was an anagram of “Floyd” which means “foolish”. So instead of being called just “The Pink Floyd”, they now had a full identity as both musician and business entity!

Their second album released that year was titled A New Morning. And so, their new name stuck! Since then, the members of the band have used only the initial letters for their professional and personal identities.

There are many theories about why the group chose this name. One theory says it comes from lyrics on one of their songs entitled Money. It goes like this:

"You keep asking me for some type of money / You want to make a deal, I'll meet your terms."

Another idea is that the song has references to flowers and colors. These combine together to form the word pink, which is what most people associate with bands named after color schemes.

But none of these explanations really seem definitive.

The Doors

how famous bands got their names

As mentioned earlier, Morrison was an author who wrote some pretty famous books such as A Death in the Family and The Soft Voice of Tears. He also penned lyrics for many songs including “Light My Fire” and “You Make Me Want to Do Wonderful Things.” One song he co-wrote is called “The End.” It’s not about death per se, but it does feature his most well known phrase — you can say that about almost anything!

In fact, one could make an argument that James Dean did not really die in his car accident because of what people refer to as his iconic status. Having appeared in several movies (including Easy Rider), written some popular songs, and left an important legacy, he lived on through repeated mentions of his name and reflections of himself in the media.

That seems like a good way to measure success as a writer. If your work leaves an impression then people will talk about it constantly, which is definitely worthy of recognition.

The Smiths

how famous bands got their names

After leaving Manchester for London, guitarist/vocalist Morrissey made sure he had a pen name to use for his music. He chose the stage name of Johnny (or as some say, “Johnny”) Smith. As time went on, however, it was hard to keep up with all of the different versions of the band’s name.

Most people refer to the group as just The Smiths, but other aliases include The Mighty White Boys, The Mezzos, The Two-Tone Bandits or even The Average Man and His Third Grade Education.

It is thought that The Smiths first used The Name itself as a song title during their 1985 album The Queen Is Dead. According to legend, this comes from a line in which the main character imagines himself being called The Greatest Living Englishman. This gave way to The Greatest Living British Novelist before being shortened to The Author.

The Clash

how famous bands got their names

After leaving England to pursue music as a career, bassist Paul Simon (now known just as “Paul”) and guitarist Mick Jones formed a band together in London. They recruited drummer Terry Chimes, who would go on to be one of the most famous drummers ever-he was the drummer for English rock bands such as Thin Lizzy and Bad Company!

After performing several songs acoustically for friends and family, they finally got their break when record producer Martin Lewis heard them play and asked if they wanted to join his new project. He gave them the name The Clash and helped promote their first album by writing an article about it that he published in a magazine called Record Mirror.

Since then, The Clash has had many different lineups and has recorded eight studio albums, two live albums, three compilation albums, and twenty-six singles. Some of their biggest hits include “London Calling,” “I Take Care Of You,” and “White Man In A Helicopter.”

Their influence is still seen today.

The Rolling Stones

how famous bands got their names

When you’re a famous rock band, people recognize your name and what you do. Sometimes, however, they don’t know where it came from or why you chose that name. In some cases, it’s because of the song you wrote or performed as part of your repertoire. But in other instances, it has nothing to do with music at all.

The Rolling Stones is the example we will be using for this article. Many think their stage surname comes simply from how fast they play their songs. It doesn’t!

In fact, there are several stories about how The Stones got their name. None of them are true but they each have a very interesting story behind them.

Led Zeppelin

The name “Led Zeppelin” is not very famous, but it actually has some interesting backstory. According to lead singer Robert Plant, the band chose their moniker after watching what he calls an “epic sunset” in France. He says that they sat down to talk about how beautiful the sky was when one of them mentioned how well-known British rock bands had long, elaborate backstories for their names.

At this point, someone probably should have told guitarist Jimmy Page that there are no stories behind most musician monikers. But Plant insisted that they use the word “led” to describe the sun setting as a reason why their new group needed to bear a title that alluded to a story.

Thinking quickly on his feet, bassist John Paul Jones came up with the words “Zeppelin” and “placid,” which were both qualities of the sunset. And so, the next time you hear people talking about the music of Led Zeppelin, be sure to mention that their luscious sound was inspired by nature and the beauty of otherworldly light.

Generalizations like this can sometimes inspire creative thinking. For example, because the moon usually rises at night, many musicians refer to songs with lyrics about the moon as being about nighttime.

Bob Dylan

how famous bands got their names

As mentioned earlier, most musicians don’t have their own name until well into their career. Even then, it’s only their first or last name. It's not like Bruce Springsteen who people know as The Boss. He has an entire album named after him!

Bob Dylan is different. His stage name comes from Robert Allen “Bobby” Zimmerman. But he re-branded himself in 1965 when he changed his last name to Dylan. Why? Because at that time, there was already a popular singer with that first name.

He wanted to be distinguished from her. So he took the second part of her surname and made it his. This way, he would always have a unique first name and therefore get more attention because of it.

His song lyrics sometimes include references to this new stage in his life (like his 1969 hit song I Want You). Some say these references are about how he felt while using the other Bobby’s name. Others believe they refer to his feelings towards the artist before he completely reinvented himself.

A few years ago, someone did do some research and discovered that the two Bennies were friends back in high school. That makes sense since both men had similar personality traits and artistic talents.

The Grateful Dead

how famous bands got their names

When you’re famous enough, people start referring to you as something. For the iconic American rock band The Grateful Dead, their name came from a set of lyrics written by Robert Hunter in 1974.

The song? “Touching You No More/Let's Get Lost Again” which features the lines "the touching goes both ways / I need your touch". This lyric was inspired by a romantic encounter that guitarist Jerry Garcia had while he was traveling through Europe.

While staying at a hotel in France, Garcia met an aspiring singer named Charlotte Martin. They shared a room together and later became romantically involved. After learning about her family, she asked him if he wanted to meet them, but he declined.

He eventually broke up with her, though, because he felt she needed his attention more than him. She would later say that meeting his parents made her realize how much he loved her.

After he left Paris, he wrote the lyrics for the song “Touching You No More” and gave it to bassist Phil Lesh. While listening to the music, Lesh realized what the title referred to so he rewrote the lyrics.

That version is not only longer, but also includes references to the French language! It’s therefore unlikely that anyone outside of the region will ever know the true meaning of the song’s title unless they are very well-educated.