Origins of Band Names: From The Beatles to Radiohead

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The curious origins of famous band names

The Curious Origins of Band Names: From The Beatles to Radiohead

When it comes to band names, sometimes the stories behind them are just as intriguing as the music itself. In this article, we’ll delve into the curious origins of some of the most famous band names in history, providing a glimpse into the creative minds of the musicians who chose them.

  1. The Beatles

You might assume that the world’s most famous band would have a profound story behind their name, but in reality, The Beatles’ name was simply inspired by another band. John Lennon, a huge fan of Buddy Holly and The Crickets, wanted to pay homage to them while also creating a unique pun (Spitz, 2005). Thus, The Beatles, with an intentional misspelling, were born.

  1. Radiohead

Before they became known as Radiohead, the English rock band went by the name “On a Friday,” as they used to rehearse on Fridays (Randall, 2000). However, after signing a record deal, they were advised to change their name. The band members decided on Radiohead, inspired by the song “Radio Head” by the Talking Heads from their 1986 album “True Stories” (Randall, 2000).

  1. Led Zeppelin

The name Led Zeppelin came about after a conversation between Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, and The Who’s Keith Moon and John Entwistle. As they discussed forming a supergroup, Moon allegedly quipped that the band would go down like a “lead balloon” (Hoskyns, 2006). Page remembered the phrase and modified it to “Led Zeppelin” to avoid mispronunciation, and a legendary band name was born.

  1. Nirvana

Kurt Cobain chose the name Nirvana for his band to reflect his fascination with Buddhist teachings (Azerrad, 1994). Nirvana is a transcendent state in Buddhism where suffering, desire, and the sense of self are extinguished. Cobain believed the name was appropriate, as he wanted their music to provide listeners with an escape from their everyday lives (Azerrad, 1994).

  1. The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones’ name was inspired by the blues song “Rollin’ Stone” by Muddy Waters (Wyman, 2002). Brian Jones, the founding member of the band, suggested the name during a phone call with a club promoter who needed a name for the band’s upcoming gig. Jones saw the Muddy Waters LP on the floor and decided to use the title of the track as the band’s name.

  1. Pink Floyd

The iconic psychedelic rock band Pink Floyd derived their name from the combination of two blues musicians’ names, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council (Mason, 2005). Founding member Syd Barrett came across their names while flipping through his record collection and decided to merge them, creating the unique and memorable name, Pink Floyd.

  1. U2

Originally called “Feedback,” U2 changed their name after a suggestion by their friend and fellow musician, Steve Averill (McCormick, 2006). The new name was chosen for its ambiguity and open-ended interpretation, as well as its minimalistic and futuristic sound. U2 also refers to the American spy plane, which the band members found intriguing (McCormick, 2006).

  1. Queen

The name Queen was chosen by the band’s late frontman, Freddie Mercury, who wanted a strong, regal, and universally recognizable name (Jones, 2011). Despite initial concerns that the name might be perceived as too grand or flamboyant, the band members eventually agreed that Queen was the perfect name to represent their music and image.

  1. Red Hot Chili Peppers

The Red Hot Chili Peppers got their name from a combination of influences. The “chili pepper” part of the name was inspired by the jazz band “Chili Peppers,” while the “red hot” portion was borrowed from the classic blues song “Red Hot” by Robert Johnson (Kiedis & Sloman, 2004). The band members appreciated the energy and intensity the name conveyed, making it a fitting choice for their unique fusion of rock, funk, and punk.

  1. Coldplay

Initially called “Starfish,” Coldplay changed their name after a local band decided to give up the name “Coldplay” and offered it to them (Roach, 2003). The name, which was derived from a book of collected poems called “Child’s Reflections, Cold Play,” resonated with the band members, who felt it had a certain mystique and suited their atmospheric sound.

  1. Green Day

Green Day’s name is a tribute to the band members’ love for cannabis, as “green day” was slang for a day spent smoking marijuana (Spitz, 2006). The name was chosen after the band had to abandon their original moniker, “Sweet Children,” due to a name conflict with another local band.

  1. The Doors

The Doors took their name from the title of Aldous Huxley’s book “The Doors of Perception,” which itself was inspired by a line from a William Blake poem: “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite” (Densmore, 1990). The band members found the concept of doors representing a passage to a new level of consciousness fitting for their music.

  1. R.E.M.

R.E.M. stands for “rapid eye movement,” which is a phase of sleep characterized by rapid eye movements and vivid dreams (Fletcher, 2002). The band members liked the mysterious and dreamy connotations associated with the name and found it fitting for their enigmatic sound and often cryptic lyrics.

  1. Arctic Monkeys

The name Arctic Monkeys was originally suggested by the band’s guitarist, Jamie Cook, who had always thought it would be a great name for a band (Billboard Staff, 2013). Although there’s no elaborate backstory, the band members liked the unusual and catchy combination of words, and the name stuck.

  1. The Black Keys

The Black Keys’ name was inspired by a schizophrenic artist named Alfred McMoore, who used the term “black keys” as an expression for people he disliked (Hiatt, 2010). The band members, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, knew McMoore through their families and found the name both humorous and memorable, deciding to adopt it for their blues-rock duo.

Fact Sources:

Azerrad, M. (1994). Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana. Doubleday.

Billboard Staff. (2013, October 2). Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner on their new album, ‘AM’. Billboard. Retrieved September 2021, from

Densmore, J. (1990). Riders on the Storm: My Life with Jim Morrison and The Doors. Delacorte Press.

Fletcher, T. (2002). Remarks Remade: The Story of R.E.M. Omnibus Press.

Hiatt, B. (2010, May 27). The Rise of the Black Keys. Rolling Stone. Retrieved September 2021, from

Hoskyns, B. (2006). Led Zeppelin IV. Rodale.

Jones, L. (2011). Freddie Mercury: The Definitive Biography. Hodder & Stoughton.

Kiedis, A., & Sloman, L. (2004). Scar Tissue. Hyperion.

Mason, N. (2005). Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd. Phoenix.

McCormick, N. (2006). U2 by U2. HarperCollins.

Randall, M. (2000). Exit Music: The Radiohead Story. Delta.

Roach, M. (2003). Coldplay: Nobody Said It Was Easy. Omnibus Press.

Spitz, B. (2005). The Beatles: The Biography. Little, Brown and Company.

Spitz, M. (2006). Nobody Likes You: Inside the Turbulent Life, Times, and Music of Green Day. Hyperion.

Wyman, B. (2002). Rolling With The Stones. DK Publishing.