“There is nothing new under the sun,” or so they say, which means that coming up with an original, witty and memorable name for a rock and roll band that hasn't already been used by some obscure garage-punk act from Brazil, is almost impossible. These rare rock gods managed to do just that though, scouring the seedy underbelly and bringing back names that will outlive them by (perhaps) centuries, in most cases transcending the source material to become living legends.
Of course, not all origin stories can be so impressive (Coldplay stole their name from a mate's defunct band and Bono from U2 christened himself after a shop that specialised in sunglasses called “Bonovox”), but here we'll be focusing on a few of the stranger, more elaborate and more interesting tales.
The story goes that the Oxford 5-piece who would go on to become one of the most influential bands of the modern era initially named themselves “On A Friday” because...well...they used to rehearse on a Friday. Obviously, this name was derided by pretty much anyone with a functioning pair of ears, so when the band started to gain major label interest, they were told in no uncertain terms that the name had to go. And so history was formed when (in what was reportedly a last-minute panic grab) the band pulled their eventual name from the 1986 Talking Heads album, “True Stories,” and the song “Radio Head.”
Another British rock and roll institution from Oxford, the progressive rock godfathers went through quite a few different iterations before they settled on Pink Floyd. They began as "Sigma 6," a group of teenage hopefuls playing popular R+B staples such as "Louie, Louie," but accentuating them with spaced out, jazz inspired solos. The band went through many name and line-up changes during the mid 60's and eventually split-up. Four of the surviving members went on to form a new band which they called "The Tea Set" with new guitarist and lead vocalist Syd Barrett. Barrett would soon re-name the band "The Pink Floyd Sound" (after blues musicians Pink Anderson and Floyd Council) after they shared a bill with another band calling themselves "Tea Set" (The "Sound" in their name was dropped fairly quickly as all involved agreed it was really a bit pointless).
Synth-pop dandies Duran Duran were a ubiquitous presence in the 1980's and continue to tour to masses of adoring fans. Their name is an obscure reference to a soft-core “Erotic adventure” movie from the 1960's called “Barbarella,” which featured a young Jane Fonda in the title role. The character “Durand Durand” was played by Milo O'Shea, and was “The inventor of the Positronic Ray, a weapon that Earth leaders fear will fall into the wrong hands.” Hogwash, then.
Arguably one of the greatest British rock bands of all time, Led Zeppelin were an unavoidable presence in the 1970's, and loomed larger than perhaps any other rock band before or since. The band's fortunes were not always so bright though. In fact, the name stems from ill-fated 'The Who' drummer Keith Moon, who believed his audition for the band would go down like a “Lead Zeppelin” (a zeppelin being a gigantic balloon). Of course, he didn't get the gig (that honour would later go to John Bonham, but they did keep the name!), the misspelling, however, is down to the fact the group thought that most Americans (they were one of the first British hard rock bands to truly 'break America') would mispronounce the word “Lead” as “Leed.”
Fall Out Boy
Though these slick pop-punkers made a name for themselves as perma-fringed rock and roll poets, their namesake is actually a quite obscure Simpsons reference. Fall Out Boy was the sidekick to the show's chizzled comic book superhero 'Radioactive Man', who was played by a certain Mr Millhouse Van Houten in the famous episode in which the Radioactive Man movie is being cast and filmed in Springfield.
Possibly the single most 'nerdy' reference in rock and roll, prog rockers Marillion took their name from J.R.R. Tolkein's “Silmarillion,” a companion piece to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The name was likely shortened to avoid copyright infringement.