Sunday, March 3, 2024

"Nomen est omen" or where do bands get their names from?

When you read the name of a band, you often wonder how the musicians came up with it. With "Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich" it's easy, the band members simply took their names or nicknames.

It is also easy for the Klaus Renft Combo. Klaus Jentzsch (his grandmother's name was Renft and he adopted this stage name) as the band's founder and leader made that happen. The Puhdys also made it easy for themselves, using the first letters of their first names and first adding a 'y' ("Puhdy-Quartett") and then an 's'.

With the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, the naming process is basically known, but how do you come up with the idea of calling yourself "Death Cab For Cutie" or "10cc" or „Acht Eimer Hühnerherzen" (Eight Buckets of Chicken Hearts)?

Let's start with the simple things. John Lennon named his first band The Quarrymen after the school he and other band members attended. As Lennon greatly admired Buddy Holly, it became the "Beatals" after a suggestion by Stuart Sutcliffe and later "The Silver Beetles" as a tribute to his band "The Crickets" – according to the relevant sources. But what "The Crickets" has to do with beetles is not really clear, except that both are insects. The name The Beatles probably originated in Germany when the band (then still with Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best) performed in the Hamburg strip club "Indra". The story that – after Astrid Kirchherr had given the band members the mushroom head hairstyle (invented by photographer Jürgen Vollmer) – Paul McCartney said: "Hey, we look like beetles!" and the band name was derived from this must be relegated to the realm of legend.

For the Rolling Stones, the story goes that Brian Jones called a newspaper editorial office to place an advertisement for a concert by the band. When he was asked what the band would be called, he replied: "Rollin' Stone". He allegedly had this record lying on the floor in front of him. The story is not really verified, but Muddy Waters played an important role in the band name, whether with the lyric line "I'm a rollin' stone" or with the song title "Rollin' Stone". After all, one of his records brought Jagger and Richards together at Dartford station.

The Who were initially called "The Detours", later "The High Numbers". Their new manager Peter Meaden advised the band, who were known for dismantling their instruments while performing, to choose a different name that would be shorter and more rebellious. In Pete Townshend's opinion, "The Who" would be aggressive and energetic enough – whatever led him to this view.

There are several legends about the choice of name for The Animals. One is that the band members discussed it in a pub in Newcastle upon Tyne and were inspired to choose the name by a poster about an upcoming "Animalism" event. On the other hand, the band would have heard the phrase "They look like animals!" several times from visitors at their gigs as the "Alan Price Combo". In his biography, however, Eric Burdon mentions "Animal" Hogg, the member of "The Squatters", a local band, as the origin of the name.

Ronnie Van Zant and his friends from high school in Jacksonville (Florida) had formed a band called "The Noble Five". Their school's sports teacher, Leonard Skinner, had often warned and reprimanded the five for violating the dress code (which also regulated hair length). When the boys gave up school, they changed the band name to "Leonard Skinner". However, as they were afraid of getting into trouble for this, they exchanged all the vowels for 'y'. And so Lynyrd Skynyrd was born. Skinner died in 2010 and maybe he was the most influential sports teacher in pop culture. Would he have taken that as praise?

Death Cab for Cutie – how do you come up with such a weird name? Ben Gibbard from Bellingham, Washington, had a pretty decent success with his solo project "All-Time Quarterback" in 1997 and then decided to turn it into a band. He quickly found the name – the "Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band" (a group of British art school students who became famous for their appearances in the Beatles film "Magical Mystery Tour") had a song with this title on their 1967 album "Gorilla". And as Gibbard thought it suited the sometimes somewhat dark and mysterious style of his music, it became the name of the band. It did them no harm, they are still successful and were even nominated several times for a Grammy in 2006.

Band names also change, and sometimes not voluntarily. The GDR band Klosterbrüder (Monastery Brothers) also had to make this experience. It is not really clear why they called themselves that. Since their hometown of Magdeburg had its origins in the Mauritius monastery founded in 937, it stands to reason that the band found this fitting and thus chose their name. The history of the "Klosterbrüder", who were considered the hardest rock band in the GDR (famous for their live performances), is somewhat obscure and it is not really clear whether they were founded in 1963 or 1967. However, the fact that they became famous and even appeared on GDR television also had disadvantages. Because of their informal live performances and their "church-related" band name, they were repeatedly targeted by the GDR cultural authorities, which also led to tensions within the band. At the end of 1975, they gave in to state pressure and changed their name to Magdeburg (with a few new members). The band made a comeback under this name in 1992. Since January 14, 2000, however, they have been called "Klosterbrüder" again.

The New York band Steely Dan claimed for a long time that the name of their band came from an old porn movie in which a steel dildo played a major role. However, the name comes from the novel "Naked Lunch" by William S. Burroughs, which was published in 1959. In it, there is a character called Steely Dan III who has a steel dildo (or penis?). Walter Becker and Donald Fagen found this interesting and named their band after it.

Let's go into the somewhat lesser-known realms of music. Country singer Bill Anderson (James William Anderson III – The Wispering Bill) had a backing band in the 1950s and 60s called the Po' Boys. A radio presenter (unfortunately it is not known who it was) introduced the boys, who were actually only generally referred to as Bill Anderson's band, as "The Po' Boys" during a radio program in 1959. Anderson and the band liked the name so much that they kept it and later changed it to "The Po' Folks". By the way – a po' boy in Louisiana is a sandwich filled with meat and fried seafood.

Speaking of the letter P – the Pet Shop Boys called themselves that because Chris Lowe actually found pet shops interesting and thought that nobody would actually think of naming a pop band after that. Neil Tennant then suggested putting "Boys" after Pet Shop to create a link to other bands that also had "Boys" in their name. The story that they took the name from friends who worked in a pet shop and called themselves that is probably a legend.

The story behind the naming of 10cc is not entirely innocent. The band's manager had read that the largest amount of sperm ever measured in a human ejaculation was 9 cubic centimetres. And that he had had a dream in which he was standing in front of the Hammersmith Odeon in London and a plaque there read: "10cc The Best Band in the World". Graham Gouldman thought that this was appropriate for their potency and so it became the band name.

Allegedly, the Berlin band Die höchste Eisenbahn (The highest railroad) got their name from a record featuring Hans Albers. They discovered this song in the record store "Bis aufs Messer" in Berlin's Marchlewski Street. We would like to believe that if we had ever found a record by the great blond Hans with this title online. It seems to be like all good stories – if it's not true, it's a good invention.

Fury in the Slaughterhouse have better proof of the origin of their name. It comes from a song by "Madness". On their album "The Rise & Fall" from 1982 is the song "Rain" with the lyric "Fury in the slaughterhouse and the rain". Kai and Thorsten Wingenfelder, and their musical comrades-in-arms, found the name interesting and suitable for the style of their band and that's how it stayed.

The band Counting Crows got their name from the British nursery rhyme "One for Sorrow" in which the superstitious counting of magpies – which belong to the crow family – from one to ten is practiced, each with a different meaning. Adam Duritz, the band's singer, was friends with Marie-Luise Parker, who made her screen debut in the 1989 film "Signs of Life". In the movie (which also became known as "One for Sorrow, Two for Joy"), this nursery rhyme appears. Duritz was fascinated not only by his girlfriend, but also by this nursery rhyme, and decided to name the band after the crows to be counted. The entire verse was also incorporated into the song "A Murder of One" on their debut album "August and Everything After".

Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell were looking for a name for their band and read in a newspaper article about the slow movement of people who were in an LSD trip. The article used the term "slow dive" to describe this slow, conscious awareness. Halstead and Goswell found that this term fit perfectly with their music, which is often characterized by dreamy, slow and atmospheric sounds. And so, from then on, there was the band Slow Dive in the shoegaze genre.

Finally, we want to explain the history of Acht Eimer Hühnerherzen. This is a Berlin punk band that has made a name for itself in the scene with its energetic live performances and idiosyncratic, humorous lyrics. Their name comes from a poem by Erich Mühsam, a writer and poet of the Weimar Republic who was killed by the Nazis in the Oranienburg concentration camp in 1934. The poem is called "Bubenmädchenlied" and contains the line "Eight buckets of chicken hearts, if only you could find them." The band rightly felt that this was the right band name for them.

We'll leave it at that for now, maybe we'll continue the article later. We have researched to the best of our knowledge and belief how the band names came about, but as there is a lot written on the net when the day is long, it is quite possible that we have been taken in by one or two legends. Maybe you can send us your stories about strange or unusual band names and how they came about and we'll make a new blog article out of it.


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