Ever wondered where rock groups got their names? Ever heard of Jethro Tull? Uriah Heep?
The band known as Spice was later changed to Uriah Heep in reference to the well-known character from David Copperfield. According to biographer Kirk Blows, “Dickens’ name being everywhere around Christmas ’69 due to it being the hundredth anniversary of his death.” According to Dave Ling’s 2001 autobiography of the band, Wizards and Demons: The Uriah Heep Story, though the “Uriah Heep” moniker was chosen in December 1969, the band continued to play gigs as “Spice” until Ken Hensley joined in February 1970.
The band name, ZZ Top, was frontman Billy Gibbons’ idea. The band had a little apartment covered with concert posters and he noticed that many performers’ names used initials. Gibbons particularly noticed B.B. King and Z.Z. Hill and thought of combining the two into “ZZ King”, but considered it too similar to the original name. He then figured that “king is going at the top” which brought him to “ZZ Top.”
Def Leppard vocalist, Joe Elliott, proposed the name “Deaf Leopard” which was originally a band name he thought up while writing reviews for imaginary rock bands in his English class. At Tony Kenning’s suggestion, who was the original drummer in the group, the spelling was slightly modified in order to make the name seem less like that of a punk band.
Lynyrd Skynyrd, known as The One Percent in 1969, leader Ronnie Van Zant sought a new name after growing tired of taunts from audiences that the band had “1% talent”. At drummer Bob Burns’ suggestion, the group settled on Leonard Skinnerd, a mocking tribute to P.E. teacher Leonard Skinner at Robert E. Lee High School. Skinner was notorious for strictly enforcing the school’s policy against boys having long hair. The more distinctive spelling “Lynyrd Skynyrd” was being used at least as early as 1970. Despite their high school acrimony, the band developed a friendlier relationship with Skinner in later years and invited him to introduce them at a concert in the Jacksonville Memorial Coliseum. Skinner also allowed the band to use a photo of his Leonard Skinner Realty sign for the inside of their third album.
One rumor on how The Beatles got their name was that John liked Buddy Holly’s rock & roll band The Crickets, so they named their own band after another insect, the beetle. During the first months of 1960, they were known as The Beatals but tried other names as Johnny and the Moondogs, Long John and the Beetles. After a few gigs, they stuck with The Silver Beatles before becoming the Beatles. A second rumor has it that George said that the name came from the 1953 Marlon Brando film The Wild One.
Bono (Paul Hewson) and other U2 members had six potential names before choosing “U2” for its ambiguity and open-ended interpretations, and because it was the name that they disliked the least.
Marilyn Manson, real name Brian Hugh Warner, is formed by a juxtaposition of two opposing American pop cultural icons: Marilyn Monroe and Charles Manson. Monroe, an actress, was one of the most popular sex symbols of the 1950s and continues to be a major icon over 50 years later, while Manson, a cult leader, was responsible for the murder of actress Sharon Tate, as well as several others; and served a life sentence on murder and conspiracy charges until his death in 2017.
Hootie and the Blowfish, with singer Darius Rucker choosing the name of two college friends. “Hootie” because he looked like an owl, and “Blowfish”, cuz, well, he looked like a blowfish. Rumor has it that their group was called Darius the Black Guy & the Two Ugliest Dudes on campus.
Alice Cooper was born Vincent Damon Furnier. In 1968, the band then called Nazz, learned that Todd Rundgren also had a band called Nazz, and found themselves in need of another stage name. Furnier also believed that the group needed a gimmick to succeed, and that other bands were not exploiting the showmanship potential of the stage. They chose the name “Alice Cooper” largely because it sounded innocuous and wholesome, in humorous contrast to the band’s image and music.
Goo Goo Dolls picked their name from a True Detective ad for a toy called, of course, a Goo Goo Doll. As a young garage band trying to get a deal, they had a gig that night and needed a name. It’s the best they came up with, and for some reason, it stuck.
Foo Fighters got its name from the UFOs and various aerial phenomena that were reported by Allied aircraft pilots in World War II, which were known collectively as “foo fighters”.
There is no Derek in Derek & the Dominos. Popular musicians Eric Clapton, Bobby Whitlock, Dave Mason, Duane Allman, and others, traveled for only about a year, with “Layla” as their #1 song. First, it was Eric Clapton and Friends, then Del and the Dominos, then the Dynamics. When the name was mispronounced at a concert, they were introduced as Derek & the Dominos. With Eric Clapton being immediately taken with the name, it stuck.
Led Zeppelin supposedly got their name from Keith Moon, member of The Who, who thought that the band would never make it and that they would go down like a lead balloon.
The book Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley, published in 1954, is about the psychedelic experience under the influence of mescaline. This book was the influence behind Jim Morrison naming his band The Doors in 1965.
A fun rumor says the Monkees spell their name with two Es as a nod to the Beatles misspelling of beetles.
Some names are obvious, to me at least. Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young? Duh! Remember the Young Rascals? They grew up, and became the Rascals. Jefferson Airplane transported into Jefferson Starship, then warped into Starship. Sorry guys, but The Barenaked Ladies are none of the above; just a bunch of guys that chose a fictional band name.
Here are the given names to a few popular stars today:
- Lady GaGa–Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta
- Elton John–Reginald Kenneth Dwight
- Sting–Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner
- Madonna–yes, Madonna Louise Ciccone
- Mick Jagger? A graduate from the London School of Economics? Michael Phillip Jagger.
Those who kept their names? Elvis Aaron Pressley, Taylor Swift, Bruce Springsteen, Jennifer Lopez, Whitney Houston, Christina Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson, Billy (William) Joel, Rihanna (Robyn Rihanna Fenty), and Roderick (Rod) Stewart, and Meat Loaf.
So who is Jethro Tull? He was an English agriculturist in the 17th and 18th centuries. At first, the new band had trouble getting repeat bookings and they took to changing their name frequently to continue playing the London club circuit, names which included “Navy Blue”, “Ian Henderson’s Bag o’ Nails”, and “Candy Coloured Rain”. Anderson recalled looking at a poster at a club and concluding that the band name he didn’t recognize was his. Band names were often supplied by their booking agents’ staff, one of whom, a history enthusiast, eventually christened them “Jethro Tull” after the 18th-century agriculturist. The name stuck because they happened to be using it the first time a club manager liked their show enough to invite them to return. FYI, I had third-row seats for a concert of theirs in the 70s, and my ears still hurt!
Were you paying attention? Of course Meat Loaf is not his real name! It is Marvin Lee Aday.
And now you know! Of course, all of these, and many of your other favorite artists are available at the library on a music CD, plus digital media services, hoopla and Freegal.