How Rock Bands Got Their Names

After listening to a Jefferson Airplane song one day, Adam Dolgins wondered: “What is a Jefferson Airplane anyway? And, for that matter, who is Pink Floyd?” Those questions inspired his book: Rock Names: From ABBA to ZZ Top (subtitled: How Rock Bands Got Their Names). Dolgins did his research the old school way (as any rock aficionado should), conducting interviews with the band members via phone and — get this — fax. The result is a fascinating collection of rock band names — from the traditional to the outlandish — and best of all, the colorful stories  behind the names. Rock names were inspired by a variety of sources, including books, movies, nicknames, musicians (particularly blues musicians that greatly influenced and gave birth to rock and roll), celebrities, and even pets. Below are a few interesting rock band names and their origins:

ABBA: An acronym of the first initials of the names of the four band members.

AC/DC: The band members chose the name because it represented their “high voltage” sound. It had nothing to do with the reference to bisexuality.

Flock of Seagulls: Named after the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull a fable by Richard Bach.

Bad Company: Named after the film Bad Company (1972) starring Jeff Bridges.

The B-52s: Named after towering bouffant hairdos and not the U.S. Air Force bombers.

Blue Oyster Cult: Name inspired by a menu that featured Blue Point Oysters.

Boomtown Rats: Named after a term described in Woody Guthrie’s autobiography, Bound for Glory. Kids who moved into the boom towns of Oklahoma were excluded from existing gangs, so they formed their own new groups, calling themselves “Boomtown Rats.”

Elvis Costello: Declan MacManus’s manager picked out the first name and Declan used his mother’s maiden name as his last name.

Deep Purple: Named after one of the bandmember’s grandmother’s favorite songs performed by Nino Tempo.

Jefferson Airplane: Inspired by a dog named Blind Thomas Jefferson Airplane, that was, in turn, named after Blind Thomas Jefferson, a famous American blues guitarist and singer from the 1920s known as the “Father of the Texas Blues.” As his name implies, Jefferson was born blind.

Marilyn Manson: A combination of two names: Marilyn Monroe and Charles Manson.

Meat Loaf: The lead singer’s high school nickname given to him by a football coach.

Pink Floyd: A combination of two names: Pink Anderson and Floyd Council, two Georgia bluesmen.

ZZ Top: A combination of two names: Z.Z. Hill, a Texas bluesman, and Top, a brand of rolling paper. 

Read related posts: Origins of the Beatles Name
The Dark Side of the Moon Turns 40
Best Books for Music Lovers
How Many Music Genres Exist?

For further reading: Rock Names: From Abba to ZZ Top by Adam Dolgins, Citadel Press (1998)

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