Nirvana – Pen Cap Chew
Pen Cap Chew is one of MANY names Nirvana had before they settled on Nirvana. Other options included Ted Ed Fred, Skid Row, and… Fecal Matter a.k.a. Brown Towel.
Radiohead – On a Friday
The original name of Radiohead comes from a simple place: It’s when the band practiced. You know, on a Friday. I’m not even joking, that’s why they called the band “On a Friday” for a while. The name “Radiohead” was chosen as they became more serious as a band (though, the name “Radiohead” comes from a Talking Heads song).
Van Halen – Rat Salad
Eagle-eyed fans of Black Sabbath already know why Van Halen was probably named Rat Salad. It’s the name of a Black Sabbath song, and the band started by performing covers of various 70s bands, including Black Sabbath.
It shouldn’t be terribly difficult to deduce where the name “Van Halen” came from after that though.
The Supremes – The Primettes
This is going to be a bit complicated.
Before The Supremes had their name, they often performed alongside a band called The Primes. Eventually, The Primettes split from The Primes, and became The Supremes. That’s not to say that The Primes faded away though. The Primes morphed into The Temptations (and yes, it’s The Temptations you’re thinking of).
KISS – Wicked Lester
It is not entirely clear why KISS was originally named Wicked Lester. But it was, and the band sounded notably different from what KISS ended up sounding like in the long run, so let’s move on.
Simon and Garfunkel – Tom and Jerry
Obviously, the duo would end up using their last names for the group, but you can’t help but wonder why the hell they were originally named after a cat and a mouse that beat the s@#t out of each other.
There’s an unfortunate answer to that question. They originally formed in the late 1950s, and the label that signed them were afraid their last names were “too ethnic-sounding” for wide release at the time.
Joy Division – Warsaw
You’d think the original name “Warsaw” would simply be a reference to the city, but it’s not that simple. It’s actually named after the David Bowie song Warsawa.
Queen – Smile
It’s worth noting that Freddie Mercury was NOT part of the original band, Smile. This is crucial, because the lead singer of the band Smile, Tim Staffell, designed the logos and branding for the group. When he left Smile to sing for a group called Humpy Bong (yes, really), Freddie Mercury was brought in, and by the time the new-ish group was recording a debut album, the band had naturally changed over to the name Queen (simply chosen because it was catchy).
The Cure – The Obelisk
If you’re thinking “The Obelisk” sounds like a name that a 13-year-old came up with, you’d be dead on the money. Robert Smith was 13 years old when he formed The Obelisk. Though, even 13 year old Robert Smith quickly changed the name to Malice, then Easy Cure, and finally ended up at The Cure.
Green Day – Sweet Children
As far as California punk bands in the late 80s go, Sweet Children is not that outlandish. However, the band was self-aware enough to realize the name wouldn’t age well as the band got older, so they needed to change to a name that didn’t reference age (plus, another punk group in LA was called “Sweet Baby,” which caused some confusion).
Pearl Jam – Mookie Blaylock
So, you might be wondering why the hell Pearl Jam was originally named after a basketball player.
Well, the band had been offered a spot in an Alice in Chains tour, and they needed to come up with a name on the spot. One of the band members had gotten a Mookie Blaylock trading card recently, so they just put the name down to quickly land the gig, with no intention of keeping the name forever.
The Beach Boys – The Pendletones
Here’s a fun fact: Pendleton Woolen Mills plaid shirts were very popular among surfers, and were sometimes called Pendletones. The group wanted to appeal to surfers, and hoped the reference would stick. It didn’t, and the label forced them to find a new name.
The Cranberries – The Cranberry Saw Us
The Cranberries weren’t a very serious band at the beginning. Case and point, read their original name out loud.
If you just realized “oh, it’s pronounced like ‘Cranberry Sauce,’” you’ll probably realize why that name didn’t stick around for the long haul.
Nickelback – The Village Idiots
It is not clear why Nickelback were originally called The Village Idiots, but holy shit can you imagine if they were? They get a ton of mockery as is, imagine if they were straight up called The Village Idiots on top of that.
Blue Öyster Cult – Soft White Underbelly
The band’s original name was spun out from a Winston Churchill quote about Italy that called the country “the soft underbelly of the Mediterranean.” Far stranger is how the band landed their final name, which was based on the poetry of the band manager at the time named Sandy Pearlman. In his poetry, the “Blue Öyster Cult was “a group of aliens who had assembled to secretly guide Earth’s history.”
The Bee Gees – The Rattlesnakes
There is no information on why The Bee Gees were originally called The Rattlesnakes. Seriously, there’s none, and as for the name they eventually took, they were the “Brothers Gibb” as a trio, so the name evolved from the initials of “Brothers Gibb.”
Goo Goo Dolls – The Sex Maggots
It’s not easy to get booked when your band is called “The Sex Maggots,” and when a club in Connecticut refused to put that name on a marquee, the band found a random advertisement for a “Goo Goo Doll” in an issue of True Detective magazine, and rolled with it on the spot.
Journey – Golden Gate Rhythm Section
The original name of the legendary group was because they were a backing band for other San Francisco acts/bands. As for their final name, it was simply suggested to them by a roadie who just thought it’d be a good name.
Creed – Naked Toddler
It should be abundantly clear why this name did not stick around. Like many of these names, it’s not clear why the f@#k they chose their original name, but once women close to lead Scott Stapp pointed out the obvious (you know, that it’s a name that SCREAMS pedophilia), they chose a new name.
AC/DC – Third World War
The original name “Third World War” was chosen because of the band’s interest in hard rock music. Simply put, they wanted to sound like a hard rock band, but eventually, the band decided on AC/DC because… Well, what could be harder than pure electricity?
The Talking Heads – The Artistics
Something people forget about Talking Heads is that in their earliest days, they were technically part of the punk scene of the late 70s and the early 80s. This is crucial, because the primary members, David Byrne, Tina Weymouth, and Chris Frantz were all art school students, and their keyboardist Jerry Harrison graduated from Harvard.
Suffice to say, a band called The Artistics with that background knowledge following them around would have been a problem in that scene, so they settled on Talking Heads as a reference to TV pundits.
U2 – The Hype
While the origin of “The Hype” isn’t known, what’s interesting is that Irish musician Steve Averill essentially renamed the group. He thought The Hype was a bad name, and gave them the name U2, because in his words:
“It’s the name of a spy plane and a submarine, and it’s got an endearing inclusivity about it.”
Black Sabbath – The Polka Tulk Blues Band
There’s a LOT to unpack from that original name. First, it’s worth remembering that since Black Sabbath undeniably helped usher metal music into what it became, they thought of themselves as a blues-rock band at the very beginning, because that’s what they liked.
As for Polka Tulk? Apparently, it was a reference to the talcum powder that Ozzy’s mother used. As for the final (and legendary) name, it derives from the Mario Bava film Black Sabbath from 1963.