8 great band name origins
One thing that rock bands are known for are their creative names. There’s the legendary name of Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, named for Florida high school gym teacher Leonard Skinner who taught several of the band’s members, and who was remembered for enforcing the high school’s rule about no long hair on men. There’s also The Guess Who, named in advance of the release of their first album as a clever marketing ploy.
But lots of bands out there have creative names with fun etymological roots; here are a few of my favorite band name origins.
1. Foo Fighters
Although Dave Grohl is probably the first thing most people today think of when they hear the term foo fighter, the term actually refers to an ‘unidentified flying object of a kind reported by US pilots during World War II, usually described as a bright light or ball of fire’.
2. Iron Maiden
Although there is some doubt that it ever actually existed, an iron maiden refers to a historical instrument of torture that consisted of box shaped like a coffin that is lined with nails. Appropriate name for a heavy metal band!
As the origin story goes, guitarist Dave Mustaine had just been fired from Metallica, and was riding a bus when he found a political pamphlet that referred to a megadeath, a unit used in quantifying the casualties of nuclear war, equal to the deaths of one million people. It wasn’t long after that Mustaine had formed his own band, later changing the name to Megadeth, trendily misspelling the word by leaving out the ‘a’.
4. Three Dog Night
The story goes that vocalist Danny Hutton’s girlfriend, actress June Fairchild, was reading a magazine article about indigenous Australians, when she came across the term three dog night, referring to a night so cold that a man would sleep with three dogs to keep warm. Whether the term was ever widely used is debatable, but the name remains a landmark of pop quirkiness regardless.
Radio enthusiasts probably recognize the name of this alternative rock band as an abbreviation of ‘will comply’, meaning ‘I understand and will comply’. The term is used as a procedure word (or ‘proword’) especially in radio operations.
6. Led Zeppelin
Once you know that the basic template for this seminal hard rock band was the term lead balloon, as in the phrase to go over like a lead balloon, or to be poorly received, the oddball name makes a bit more sense. According to music journalist Keith Shadwick, the name started as a joke between Keith Moon and John Entwistle, the drummer and bassist of The Who, respectively, and Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck, who had discussed forming a ‘supergroup’. At some point, Moon and Entwistle apparently quipped that such a band would have gone over like a lead balloon. Switching out balloon for zeppelin and dropping the ‘a’ to avoid confusion with its heteronym, the name Led Zeppelin was created.
This name comes from the term devolution, in the sense of ‘evolutionary degeneration’, or the opposite of evolution, a concept that the band has played with since its inception.
8. Yo La Tengo
The story of how a critically lauded indie band from Hoboken, New Jersey ended up with a sentence as its name goes back to the inaugural 1962 season of the New York Mets baseball team. Following several collisions between English-speaking center fielder Richie Ashburn and Spanish-speaking shortstop Elio Chacón – Ashburn had been calling out ‘I got it’ to signal that he would catch the fly ball, but wasn’t understood by Chacón – Ashburn learned to call ‘yo la tengo’ (‘I’ve got it’ in Spanish). Upon using the Spanish sentence in a game, though, Ashburn was plowed over by left fielder Frank Thomas, who spoke no Spanish.