Where did famous bands get their names?

Lots of popular bands got their names from unlikely places! Here’s where some famous bands got their names:

ABBA

In 1969, songwriter/keyboard player Benny Andersson and songwriter/guitarist Björn Ulvaeus met vocalists Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad and made their musical debut as “Festfolk”. They didn’t gain success in Sweden as “Festfolk”, but they took the top spot in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 under the name “ABBA”, an acronym for the band members’ first names.

Learn songs by ABBA with these song lessons!

AC/DC

During the “Satanic Panic” movement of the 1980s, many hard rock bands were accused of devil worship. Despite speculation that the band’s name stood for “Anti-Christ/Devil’s Children” or similar things, the reality is much more ordinary. AC/DC is an acronym for “Alternating Current/Direct Current,” which means a device can use both types of power.

Learn songs by AC/DC with these song lessons!

Deep Purple

The band was on a tour of Sweden and Denmark under the name “Roundabout” when
guitarist Ritchie Blackmore suggested the name “Deep Purple”, after his grandmother’s favorite Bing Crosby song.

Find lessons for Deep Purple’s hit “Smoke on the Water” here.

Foreigner

The band originally went by “Trigger” on their first demo tape, but that name was taken by another band. Guitarist Mick Jones, who is English, chose the name “Foreigner” instead since the band, made up of three Brits and three Americans, would always be “foreigners” no matter what country they were in.

Grateful Dead

The California-based band started out as “The Warlocks”, but that name was taken by another band. The group picked “Grateful Dead” out of a dictionary. The term refers to a concept featured in many folktales where the main character helps a dead stranger resolve a debt, giving them karmic repayment after the fact.

Hootie and the Blowfish

Contrary to popular belief, lead singer Darius Rucker is not “Hootie” and the rest of the band is not “The Blowfish”. Actually, the name comes from the nicknames of two of Rucker’s University of South Carolina friends, one who had big glasses that made him look like an owl (Hootie) and one with big cheeks that made him look like a pufferfish (the Blowfish). According to a 1995 newspaper article, the two walked into a party where the band was playing and Rucker announced “It’s Hootie and the Blowfish!” The name stuck.

Judas Priest

English heavy metal band Judas Priest took their name from another musician – Bob Dylan. The name came from Dylan’s 1967 song, “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest”.

Find the song lesson for “Breaking the Law” here.

Led Zeppelin

Guitarist Jimmy Page was playing lead guitar for The Yardbirds after Eric Clapton left the band, and the band had to finish out their U.S. tour dates without much of a band, so Page recruited Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham. Keith Moon of The Who said the project would go down “like a lead balloon”, so the newly formed group chose “Led Zeppelin” as their final name. They intentionally misspelled “Led” so that there wouldn’t be any confusion about the pronunciation.

Lynyrd Skynyrd

The Southern rock group named themselves after a strict gym coach, Leonard Skinner, at their Florida high school who sent founding member Gary Rossington to the principal’s office for having too-long hair.

Find song lessons for Lynyrd Skynyrd here!

Motley Crue

Motley Crue guitarist Bob “Mick Mars” Deal helped name the band when he recalled a time his previous bandmate called the group “a motley looking crew”. The group modified the spelling of the phrase and added some German umlauts inspired by a German beer they were drinking.

Pink Floyd

This British band started off as “The Tea Set” and had a residency at a club in downtown London. One night, another band also named “The Tea Set” was set to perform at one of their gigs. Frontman Syd Barrett created the name “Pink Floyd” on a spur of the moment, pulling from two names from his record collection, “Pink Anderson” and “Floyd Council”.

Find song lessons for Pink Floyd here.

Rush

The band was scrambling to find a name before their first gig, in a Toronto coffee shop located in the basement of a church. Drummer John Rutsey’s brother suggested the name “Rush”, since that’s what the band members were in.

Find the song lesson for “Tom Sawyer” here.

The Who

The band started off as “The Detours”, but after finding out about another band in London with a similar name, they had to change it. Other ideas thrown out were “No One”, “The Group”, and “The Hair”.

Find song lessons by The Who here.

Yes

While the group members searched for an appropriate name, guitarist Peter Banks suggested they called the group Yes, a very short and positive word. The others agreed that the name was not meant to be permanent, but just a temporary solution.

ZZ Top

Vocalist and guitarist Billy Gibbons admired talented guitarists like B.B. King and Z.Z. Hill, and noted that many of them had used stage names with two initials. He first combined their names to name the band “Z.Z. King”, but thought it was too close to “B.B. King”. According to AmericanSongwriter.com, “Gibbons decided that a “king is going to the top.” So, he landed finally on ZZ Top. The rest is history.”

Find song lessons for ZZ Top here.

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