Very few acts have a decent answer beyond “we just liked it”

Asking a band why they gave themselves the name they have has to be the single most obvious question in pop. Very few acts have a decent answer beyond “we just liked it”, and certainly no one has managed to reach the gold standard set by The Beatles, whose common response was something along the lines of: “I had a vision when I was 12. And I saw a man on a flaming pie, and he said, ‘You are The Beatles with an A.’ And so we are.”

The fact that it’s just a pun on both Buddy Holly’s Crickets and beat music was felt to be too obvious to comment upon. So, to save at least 10 bands and further interview awkwardness (and unnecessary storytelling), here are the less vivid, and more humdrum accounts of how they got their names.

1. The Jam

Popular culture has found a few uses for the word ‘jam’ that could have been invoked in the naming of Paul Weller’s first band. It’s a term for improvising music, it denotes things which are stuck or crushed together, there’s a thrillingly urban traffic connotation that echoes The Clash naming themselves after a newspaper headline about conflict… It could all be so, so punk rock.

However, the true origin came from the breakfast table. Young Paul was wondering what name to choose when his sister Nicky piped up “We’ve had Bread and Marmalade, why not The Jam?” And lo, their legend was preserved forever more.

2. Nickelback

Outside of North America, Nickelback may be among the most commonly misspelled names in rock – NickEL, not NickLE – possibly because it’s too similar to the name of a fish (stickleback) and nickel isn’t a commonly used word. But the humdrum reality of the name is that it came from bass player Mike Kroeger’s day job serving coffee. As each drink routinely cost an amount of dollars and 95 cents, he’d spend his time giving customers five cents (or a nickel) in change, and saying, “Here’s your nickel back.”

Fun fact: Nickelback were originally called Village Idiots.

3. Sleater-Kinney

DIY music scenes like to take ordinary things and give them mythical status by taking them away from their original context. So, when Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein formed a band in Lacey, Washington, and started rehearsing in a room near Sleater-Kinney Road, it seemed natural to make use of these two angular and opaque words for their new musical project.

As a band name, Sleater-Kinney is so opaque it could refer to anything from a supergroup to a lawsuit, and they will already have known what it would look like to see their name in lights, as at appears on the road signs for exit 108 on Interstate 5.

4. Tangerine Dream

With a name like that, you’d think Edgar Froese had either literally woken up in a citrus trance and feverishly scribbled the words in his dream journal, or that he was being deliberately colourful, to try and approximate a psychedelic reverie. However, the slightly more boring truth is that he misunderstood the lyrics to the Beatles song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (which is, to be fair, exactly that kind of trippy vision).

As English is not his first language, he thought John Lennon’s “tangerine trees” was “tangerine dream”, and named his band in homage. Mind you, he wasn’t the first to make such a lyrical mistake. The Mystery Trend took their name from the “Mystery Tramp” in Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone, and The Lightning Seeds got their name from Prince’s Raspberry Beret: “The thunder drowns out what the lightning sees.”

5. Young Fathers

Young Fathers’ collective name is not, as you may wonder, a reference to escalating teenage pregnancy in urban areas, or the reaction of any young man on discovering that he’s about to become a babydaddy. It is far closer to home than that. The name comes from the fact that all three members of the group – Graham ‘G’ Hastings, Alloysious Massaquoi and Kayus Bankole – were named after their fathers. They are, in nomenclature at least, the younger versions of their own dads.

And before you ask, yes, the name Junior was already taken.

6. Commodores

Many bands turn to the dictionary to find inspiration when looking for a name. Evanescence looked under E, wanting something a bit wafty, and they found it. The Association found their name while looking up ‘aristocrats’, which had been suggested instead, and Ash worked their way through the As until they found a word they all liked.

But the ultimate moment of musical random lexicography came from Lionel Richie’s band Commodores, who tossed a dictionary into the air to open it, and then pointed randomly at the page. That they are not now called Commodes instead is simply a matter of blind luck.