Band Names: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Courtesty Columbia Free Times

Columbia Free Times | May 18, 2005
Forget about base closings and high gas prices. Forget about mortgage payments and cable bills. Instead, let your day-to-day worries subside and focus on something eternal: band names.

Whether you think about it or not (and unless you’re a music geek, you probably don’t), you’re surrounded by band names. And whether you’re part of the Beatles generation or the Nirvana generation, you’ve always been surrounded by band names. Band names are on the radio, the TV and the Internet. They’re in newspapers and magazines. They’re on T-shirts, bumper stickers and marquees.

Band names are such a ubiquitous part of the cultural landscape that you might even be numb to them by now: Sure, you hear the names, but you never give a second thought to what they mean or whether they’re good names. When you start paying attention, though, you’ll find plenty of food for thought – clever wordplay, social commentary, historical and cultural references, and, yes, plenty of boundless egotism and stupidity, too.

With this week’s cover story, we dive into the ocean of band names and ask you to take a swim, too. If you’re easily offended, we ask that you lighten up — rock ‘n’ roll used to be about rebellion, after all, and for some bands it still is.

By the way, don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t heard of a lot of these bands. This package is all about the names, not the music. Even if you haven’t heard of 70 percent of these bands, we guarantee that each and every one is (or was) real — with the obvious exception of an accompanying article on the art of making up band names for fictional bands.

One more thing: This is not a primer on the origins of band names. In some cases, we will tell you where the name came from. In other cases, we won’t. And that’s just as it should be: Band names have to work on multiple levels — for the casual observers who don’t care where the name came from, as well as for the crazed fans who care enough to research a band’s name.

This week’s package starts with a list of band names that we found “noteworthy,” which doesn’t mean the same thing as “good.” We lean toward the names we like, but we’ve also included some bad and ugly names, too. We also encourage you to respond with all the bands we left out (we know there are a lot). Is it frivolous to do a cover story about band names? Sure it is. But you just might find that thinking about band names can be oddly addictive, in which case you’ll be asking yourself what’s in a name for days. We’ve certainly been doing that around the office; now it’s time to spread our madness to you. — Dan Cook

The List

A Tribe Called Quest


Complain about “A Horse with No Name” all you want, but it takes some chutzpah to name your band “America.” Dan Cook

… And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead

Though the name is more indicative of their earlier sound, this remains, by far and away, one of the most badass names in rock. Who cares if it's a tad too long; people revere Charles Dickens, and he could spend pages describing a discarded banana peel. Kevin Langston

Angry Samoans reminds us that this band was “part of the first wave of Los Angeles punk.” All most of us really care about, though, is that the name conjures up a couple of tag-team wrestlers who dominated the sport in the 1970s. DC

Archers of Loaf

This might not even be a scatological reference, but the best interpretation I can come up with is perhaps it's a spin on the "shooting the s#!t" euphemism. Either way, it has a nice ring to it. KL

Armageddon Dildos

The images derived from this name are priceless, and I'm not that perverted a person. KL


See “America.” DC

Asleep at the Wheel

It’s a cliché, sure, but sometimes a cliché works. DC

Ass Ponys

At what point is a band name so bad that it becomes good? Somewhere in the vicinity of “Ass Ponys.” DC

Atari Teenage Riot

Atom & His Package

The Average White Band

You can imagine that a band of white guys from Scotland might face a credibility gap when they tried to play R&B. The Average White Band headed off the anticipated criticism with a sense of humor. DC

Bad Religion

The Band

The most succinct name ever might induce furrowed brows, but what else would you call yourself if you'd cut your teeth backing Bob Dylan during his controversial turn to rock? KL


Droning, sleep-inducing indie goodness from an aptly named band. DC

The Betty Ford Experience (local)

Black Sabbath

When you’re gods of metal, you need a name that gives voice to your unspeakable dark powers. With “Black Sabbath,” the bar was set so high that bands have been striving for 30 years to reach it. DC

Blind Melon

All I can say is that this band name really sucks. KL

Blue Öyster Cult

"Don't Fear the Reaper" and "Burning for You" are great songs, but can we not lay off the ether just long enough to think up a decent name? KL

Boogie Down Productions

The Boo Radleys

Boo Radley is the feared and ridiculed “other” in To Kill a Mockingbird. The band takes sides with life’s outcasts. DC


I, for one, don't like bands that name themselves after food, but to name your band after one of the most uninteresting items in the food pyramid is beyond me. Why not call yourself Radish or Carrot instead? KL

The Brian Jonestown Massacre

Combine Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones with the 1978 Jonestown Massacre, and this is what you get. (See also, “Guyana Punch Line.”) DC

Built to Spill

The Butthole Surfers

Lighten up, people – it’s just a band name. DC

The Byrds

What are we really gaining by changing the “i” to “y”? KL

Cabaret Voltaire

Sounds French, philosophical and kind of sexy in a geeky intellectual way. DC


The name, like the music, combines California and Mexico. DC

Camper Van Beethoven

One of the most creative underground rock bands of the 1980s, the newly reunited Camper Van Beethoven is as clever with words as with music. They’re kind of campy, too. DC

Cannibal Corpse

Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine

I don't know who Carter is (maybe a reference to Jimmy?), but I applaud his use of a band name to promote his sexual prowess. KL

The Clash

The Clash was punk rock’s smartest ambassador when the genre still cared about injustice, with a name that reinforced its message. DC

The Coal Porters

Cole Porter … get it? DC

Concrete Blonde

Confederate Fagg (local)

Need we say more? DC

Crash Test Dummies


The name seems like an allusion to the saying "the cream always rises to the top," and it's hard to disagree with arguably the best trio in rock history. KL

The Creation

Creedence Clearwater Revival

The Crystal Methodists

Ounce for ounce, one of the best band names ever. DC

The Cunning Linguists (local)

Cunning, indeed. DC

Daft Punk

Dandy Warhols

Dead Can Dance

Dead Kennedys

Sure, it’s tasteless. But you’ll never forget it. DC

The Dead Kenny Gs

An ingenious spin that’s worthy of the original. DC


Died Pretty

Dire Straits

Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy

Dread Zeppelin

Doing reggae covers of Led Zeppelin, what else could you call yourself? DC

Dream Syndicate

Drowning, Not Waving

Echo & the Bunnymen

Eleventh Dream Day

Elvis Hitler

Trivia: What band on this list shares a member with Elvis Hitler? Oh, no need for suspense, since you could easily Google the answer in .25 seconds anyway. The band is His Name is Alive; the common member is Warren Defever. DC


See “America” and “Asia.” DC

Everything But the Girl

Believed to be taken from a store sign that claimed everything but the girl was for sale. KL

Fatboy Slim

The Flaming Lips

Flying Burrito Brothers

Love the band, hate the name. Maybe we can blame Keith Richards for this, too. KL


Try saying this name without getting "Slow Ride" stuck in your head. That, alone, is reason to banish this one to hell. KL

Folk Implosion

Frankie Goes to Hollywood


Slang for "fake," here's a classic example of a band name that seemingly hijacks the word's previous connotation. KL

Game Theory

Leave it to a brainiac like Scott Miller to name his band after a branch of applied mathematics used in everything from economics and political science to biology and military strategy. DC

Gigantic Orange Question (local)

God is My Co-Pilot

Godspeed, You! Black Emperor

Grandmaster Flash

The Grateful Dead

The Guess Who

Guided By Voices

Mr. Pollard, you’re a genius. But we already knew that by listening to your band. DC

Guns N’ Roses

Guyana Punch Line (local)

Sick humor, indeed. If you don’t get the joke, think 1970s cults. Still don’t get it? Go look up “Jim Jones.” DC


Haircut 100

I don’t know what it means, but it’s got a nice ring to it. DC

Hayseed Dixie

They do bluegrass versions of AC/DC songs. ‘Nuff said. DC


His Name is Alive

Though the name carries overtones of religious devotion, the reference is to Abraham Lincoln, not Jesus. DC


Knowing Courtney Love, I can only assume the reference is to the female genitalia. Throw her in a hole for all I care. DC


Hootie & the Blowfish (local)

Engelbert Humperdinck

OK, not a band, but c'mon, it took balls for young Gerry Dorsey to usurp the name of a 19th-century Austrian operatic composer, let alone one with such a ridiculous sounding name. Tim Conklin

Hurt Reynolds (local)

Hüsker Dü


Iron Butterfly

Iron Maiden


Jane’s Addiction


Jazz Butcher

The Jesus & Mary Chain

John Cougar Concentration Camp

Delightfully absurd, yet with a strong dash of sociopolitical awareness. Well done. DC

Joy Division

There’s nothing joyful about this band’s name or its music. Singer Ian Curtis hung himself in 1980, and the band is named after a World War II slang term that refers to concentration camp units where Nazi soldiers raped prisoners. DC

Kathleen Turner Overdrive

Kevorkian Death Cycle

Killing Joke

Kool & The Gang



Larb (local)

Named after a Thai dish, this experimental local band had a Theremin player. DC

Led Zeppelin

Huey Lewis & The News

Limp Bizkit



This name might seem sexist if it weren’t an all-female group. DC


Lush shoegazer rock played by lushes. DC

Magnetic Fields

Man is the Bastard

Man or Astro-Man?

Martian Death Lyric

Massive Attack

MC 900-Foot Jesus

Meat Beat Manifesto

Meat Loaf


Men at Work

Men Without Hats


Minor Threat

Mission of Burma


The perfect name for a band whose music can turn from beguiling and hushed to a tidal wave of frenzied feedback and noise — just like Gizmo and his evil counterparts, The Gremlins. KL


With the hypnotic resonance of Mark Sandman’s three-stringed bass setting the tone, this is yet another case of the name fitting the sound. Putting out an album called Cure for Painsimply sealed the deal. DC

Mother Love Bone

Let this name takes its rightful place in the dustbin of rock history. DC

Mötley Crüe

Without the umlauts, it’s just another band name. With them, there’s a faux sophistication that puts the name over the top. DC

Mott the Hoople

The Mr. T Experience

This band could never hope to be as important as The Jimi Hendrix Experience, but they can successfully lodge the image of an ‘80s TV icon into your brain. DC

Murder By Death

My Bloody Valentine

A nice twist on “My Funny Valentine” that brings to the forefront the knife-in-the-heart aspects of love. DC

My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult

Naked Raygun

What the hell is a “Naked Raygun,” anyway? DC

Napalm Death

Naughty By Nature

Ned’s Atomic Dustbin

Neutral Milk Hotel

With a different band making the music, this name could be horrendous. Neutral Milk Hotel’s wacky neo-psychedelia, however, makes it a perfect match. DC

New Fast Automatic Daffodils

A classic in the tradition of nonsensical band names. DC

New Model Army

Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan and parliamentarian New Model Army wreaked havoc on royalist forces in the mid-17th century. More than two centuries later, this band protested the status quo in a decidedly less hostile manner. DC

Nine Inch Nails

Nocturnal Emissions

Oingo Boingo

Look, The Cure don't sound like they're curing anything, and The Darkness aren't very dark. But Oingo Boingo sums up exactly what Oingo Boingo sounds like. Three cheers for onomatopoeia. TC

Ol’ Dirty Bastard

Born Russell Jones, Ol’ Dirty went on to call himself Big Baby Jesus and Dirt McGirt before passing away. KL

Olivia Tremor Control

See “Neutral Milk Hotel.” DC

Pansy Division

They’re not homophobes, they’re homophiles. DC

Pearl Jam

Smirk all you want, but the band says its name is not a euphemism for “love butter.” Other theories: Eddie Vedder’s great grandmother was named Pearl; Janis Joplin’s last record was called Pearl; and oysters create by turning unwanted waste into beautiful gems. Alas, we’re left scratching our heads before a downright silly moniker. KL

Pearls Before Swine


The name ph#!king sucks. KL

Pink Floyd

Formed by combining the first names of two blues musicians, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. DC

Pop Will Eat Itself

Porno for Pyros

Presidents of the United States of America

Blissfully ridiculous in both length and grandiosity. DC

Primal Scream


Let’s not even talk about that symbol he used for a while. DC

Psychedelic Furs

Public Enemy

Pussy Galore

Before he blew up the blues, Jon Spencer was in this band — named after the James Bond girl in Goldfinger. Worthy of inclusion if only for the name of their 1989 album, Dial M for Motherfucker KL

? and the Mysterions

Quiet Riot


Here’s a rare case where the band’s body of work forgives its otherwise embarrassing name. KL

Rage Against the Machine

Marxists on a major label? Whatever. I still call ‘em “Owned by the Machine.” DC

Reagan Youth

These days, the late President Ronald Reagan is revered by all but the staunchest liberals. It wasn’t always that way, as the name of this 1980s punk band attests. In case you didn’t catch it, the reference is to Hitler Youth. DC

Reluctant Debutantes (local)

REO Speedealer

There’s a certain genius in creating a new name from the carcass of outdated rock icon. DC

The Righteous Brothers

When I was a kid, I just assumed that these guys were brothers and that their last name was Righteous. (Hey, it’s easier to buy than, say, Joe and Bob Chemical.) I was crushed when I learned otherwise. How cruelly deceptive. KL

Rites of Spring

Go ahead and name your band after the Igor Stravinsky piece that caused a riot in 1913 Paris, and we shall worship you with all our fervor. KL

Rocket from the Crypt

The Rolling Stones


A good example of the lengths metal bands will go to in order to evoke death. The name means “grave” in Portuguese. DC

7 Year Bitch

It's easy to fall flat when using a pun to name your band, but this one's got enough teeth and smarts to win me over. KL

The Sex Pistols

Yeah, it's old hat now, but at the time ... I mean, think about what a "sex pistol" is, then think about how that went over in Britain circa 1976. TC

Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet

It’s fun to say, and it sounds like the title of a really bad science fiction novel. DC

Skinny Puppy

The name would lead me to guess that we were dealing with a bad redneck rock band. Instead, we’re dealing with an industrial outfit. Go figure. KL


Adolescent males need socially acceptable outlets to channel their aggression. Slayer provided that outlet. And no, listening to Slayer does not cause people to slay one another. DC

Sly & The Family Stone

Sly Stone could’ve simply called it “Sly & The Stone Family,” but inverting it made it exponentially and unquestionably cooler. KL

Smashing Pumpkins

Good god, is this the best you could do? DC

Smoking Popes

Sonic Youth

Southern Culture on the Skids

I never liked this band, but it’s a damn good name. Plus, their music is Southern culture on the skids — a warped deconstruction of rockabilly, country, boogie, blues and more. DC


A great underappreciated band with an unfortunate name. Regardless, “In the Meantime” is as close to rock perfection as any song I’ve heard. KL

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion

In case you miss his repeated name checking, John Spencer does, in fact, lead this band, and their music is, in fact, an explosion of the blues. I heard it called “blues on acid” before. I’ll buy that for a dollar. KL

Spinal Tap


The combination of religious and drug imagery set against such celestial soundscapes renders this one of the most fitting band names I know. KL


For a band that makes quote-unquote geeky music, I like that its name conjures images of some bully, or “square” pusher. KL

Stabbing Westward

I don’t know whether this band had Manifest Destiny in mind, but I’d like to think they’re trying to remind us of our nation’s violent westward expansion. DC


Dana Carvey joked that it was probably a hard sell to his friends, but it took sheer balls to change his name from Gordon Sumner to Sting. Bravo, buddy. KL

Stone Temple Pilots

Hands down one of the most stupefying band names of all time. Almost as stupefying as that “Dead and Bloated” song of theirs. KL

Straitjacket Fits

If the straitjacket fits … DC

Strawberry Alarm Clock

Suicidal Tendencies

Sunny Day Real Estate

T. Rex

Talking Heads

Temple of the Dog

I’ll avoid worshipping in this temple, thank you very much. DC

Tenacious D

The The

No explanation necessary. Tim Conklin


Look no further than to the name of Van Morrison’s first band to understand that his gift was always with songwriting. Still, I admire the self-awareness involved in using such an ambiguous name for a ragtag R&B bar band. KL

They Might Be Giants

Named for an obscure 1971 comedic film in which a mentally deranged judge (played brilliantly by George C. Scott) thinks he's Sherlock Holmes. And the film got its name from Don Quixote's rationale for tilting at windmills. TC

13th Floor Elevators

This clever one plays up to our superstitious tendencies - I cannot recall ever stepping into a building that listed a 13th floor. You're just angry you didn't think of it first. KL

This Mortal Coil

“For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal coil.” Yes, even bands can quote Shakespeare. DC

Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments

A reminder that this great man wasn’t perfect — and that sometimes our country’s values do progress. DC

Toad the Wet Sprocket

Unless you’re a hardcore Monty Python fan — in which case you probably know the band shares its name with an obscure Flying Circus sketch — this is merely a bizarre moniker for an otherwise splendid group. KL

Trash Can Sinatras

Treadmill Trackstar (local)

Trotsky Icepick

Leon Trotsky was a rival of Stalin who was murdered by a Soviet agent in 1940 while living in exile in Mexico. The name of this mid-80s punk band serves as a reminder of how he died. DC

Ultimate Spinach

I am reminded of a recent conversation in which a friend exuberantly proclaimed that “cauliflower brings it,” meaning, in the parlance of our time, that the vegetable simply rocks. Not since Popeye has spinach benefited from such a glowing appraisal. KL


Urge Overkill

At the height of the grunge movement, Urge Overkill said no to grunge’s anti-star ethos and instead released a bombastic arena-rock masterpiece, the ‘70s-influenced Saturation. The irony, of course, is that fully indulging their rock ‘n’ roll urges never made them more than marginally famous. DC

The Velvet Underground

Named after a 1963 book about “the underground American vice world” of “wife-swapping,” “discipline,” “sex clubs” and more, The Velvet Underground is a fitting name for a band with lyrics like “taste the whip, now bleed for me.” “Underground” also pairs well with the most influential underground rock band of all time. DC

Violent Femmes

Somehow “Violent Women” wouldn’t have had quite the same ring to it. As it turns out, though, “femmes” actually refers to Milwaukee slang for wimps, as opposed to the French word for women. DC

Was (Not Was)

This was the band of famed record producer Don Was (born Don Fagenson) before he was famous. The name works fine as is, but the mystique would’ve been that much stronger if there hadn’t been somebody named Was in the band. DC

Muddy Waters

We’ve Got a Fuzzbox & We’re Gonna Use It


I love onomatopoeia as much as the next guy, but would it not have been more fitting to name this bubble-gum duo Poof? KL

When People Were Shorter and Lived Near the Water

A preposterously long name, yes, and perhaps a tip of the hat to all the anthropologists out there, too. DC

The Who

Sure the joke wears off quickly:

Subject A: "What's this we're listening to?"

Subject B: "The Who!"

Subject A: "Who?"

Subject B: "Exactly!"

Subject A: "We're listening to who?"

Subject B: "You got it! They're great, huh?"

Subject A: "Who?!"

Both: "Third base!"

But you’ve got to tip your hat to these mods for being so cheeky. KL

Widespread Panic

In a genre wrought with awful names, Widespread Panic rises above them all. I might not care for the music, but that's a damn good name. KL


You and What Army

ZuZu’s Petals

The reference point is It’s a Wonderful Life. And you thought the kids weren’t down with the classics. DC

Let us know what you think: Email

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