Choosing a band name is more important than most people think.
While many get it right the first time around, such as Nirvana or Rage Against The Machine, there are dozens who end up going through multiple name changes before they settle on one that will launch their career. While some bands are forced to change their name due to legal issues, for others it’s for creative reasons or to be taken seriously as artists. Here’s a look at six bands who went from zero to hero after changing their name.
Talking Heads (formerly The Artistics)
David Byrne and fellow Rhode Island School of Design classmate Chris Frantz collaborated together as The Artistics for a couple of years in the early 70s. After deciding to move to New York, Byrne, Frantz and Tina Weymouth (Frantz’s girlfriend) brought back The Artistics, but this time under the guise of Talking Heads. The new name was a term used by TV studios to describe a head and shoulder shot of a person talking. It’s honestly a much better name than The Artistics and one that has become synonymous with the experimental music Talking Heads created. Any other name for Byrne’s avant-garde act would just sound wrong.
Linkin Park (formerly Xero)
I have to admit to liking Xero. While now a name associated with cloud based accounting software, there’s something thrilling about zero being spelled with an x… or maybe I just need to get our more? Before they went with Linkin Park, the band dropped Xero for Hybrid Theory when Chester Bennington joined the band. This helped them get a deal with Warner, who promptly told them they needed to change names again so as not to be mistaken for Hybrid, another act on Warner’s roster. So they came up with Linkin Park, named after Santa Monica’s Lincoln Park, and called their debut Hybrid Theory instead.
Pearl Jam (formerly Mookie Blaylock)
It’s a good thing Pearl Jam decided to change their name. Mookie Blaylock is fucking terrible. It’s up there with Hoobastank, Limp Bizkit and Chumbawamba as one of the worst band names I’ve ever heard. Apologies to Mookie Blaylock, the New York Nets player that inspired the name, but it’s just not right for a band of Pearl Jam’s calibre. Thankfully they dropped the name when they started making waves in Seattle’s grunge scene and realised they wouldn’t be able to trademark Mookie Blaylock to sell merchandise. So they came up with Pearl Jam, although there’s two versions of how they settled on the name. For a long time, it was said to be named after Eddie Vedder’s grandma Pearl who made hallucinogenic jam, but the more plausible story concerns bassist Jeff Ament randomly coming up with the name Pearl, and then adding Jam after seeing Neil Young and Crazy Horse perform and remarking, ‘Every song was like a 15 or 20 minute jam.’ However they came up with it, it’s hands down better than Mookie Blaylock.
Joy Division (formerly Warsaw)
Joy Division is one of the seminal bands of the 80s, but things could have been very different if they forged ahead under the alias of Stiff Kittens. When the collective of Ian Curtis, Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Terry Mason first got together in 1976, a number of people suggested Stiff Kittens as good choice of name. The group rejected this silly idea and went with Warsaw, a reference to the David Bowie song ‘Warszawa.’ They performed as Warsaw for a couple of years, during which time Mason was replaced by a number of different drummers before the band settled on Stephen Morris. Happy with their line-up and the band’s progress, they changed the name once again so as not to be confused with punk act Warsaw Pakt. They went with Joy Division, named after the sexual slavery wing of a Nazi concentration camp described in the 1955 novel House Of Dolls. Despite the controversial name, Joy Division’s music spoke for itself, with the band on the cusp of worldwide stardom when Curtis tragically took his own life.
Radiohead (formerly On a Friday)
Radiohead came together when the five members met during their time at Abingdon School in Oxfordshire. They took the name On A Friday from the usual day they would rehearse in the school’s music room. Although they were offered a record deal off the back off early demos, they declined so they could go to university, continuing to practice as On A Friday over the weekends. As they began to get a name around the local music scene, EMI Records came calling and offered them a deal, although they suggested they find a better name. So that’s what they did, taking inspiration from Talking Heads song ‘Radio Head’ and calling themselves Radiohead. The rest, as they say, is history.
Nickleback (formerly Village Idiot)
So I’ll probably upset a few people by saying I don’t hate Nickleback. That said, I don’t like them either. To me they are a bland mainstream rock act who just exist. They are a shitter version of Foo Fighters. What does intrigue me about the band is their original name, Village Idiot. It’s certainly has me more interested than Nickleback, but I don’t think I could take them seriously with that name either. Imagine Village Idiot topping the charts with bangers such as ‘Rockstar’ and ‘How You Remind Me?’ If they kept Village Idiot, would they still be shit, but less hated by music fans in general? Maybe not.