Ever wondered where rock band names come from? Sometimes, it comes from hours of discussion; in other situations, the name was often picked at random, or just because the band members liked the sound of it. Take one of the most talked about bands of the last few years. What does “Måneskin” mean exactly? An Italian band with a Danish name who wowed Sanremo, then Eurovision, before going on Jimmy Fallon and leaving Drew Barrymore tongue-tied?
In any case, it goes back to the same fundamental question of why bands call themselves what they do. Sometimes, the answer will be clear-cut because the band members have mentioned it in dozens of interviews; in other cases, there’s a sense of mystery about whose idea it was, or where it came from. Either way, let’s dive into the (real or alleged) stories behind the names of some of the most famous bands of all time!
The Meaning Of Måneskin And Other Rock Band Names
Let’s start with these Roman rock stars with a particularly odd name. Måneskin literally means “moonshine,” a Danish word (pronounced mon-e-skin) suggested by their bass player, Victoria De Angelis, whose mother happened to be Danish.
The Beatles are one of the most popular and influential bands in the history of music. While “Beatles” itself isn’t actually an English word, it’s a play on “beetles,” as in the bugs. So why did The Beatles pick this name? It was suggested by a former member of the band, Stuart Sutcliffe, although why is not exactly clear. What is certain is John Lennon decided to change “Beetles” into “Beatles” as a tribute to beat music, which was particularly hip at the time. It wasn’t so much about cockroaches (as many claim) as it was about counter-culture.
There’s some mystery surrounding the name “Led Zeppelin,” but also a fascinating story. What is known is that, at some point, Jimmy Page (guitarist and frontman for what would become Led Zeppelin), Jeff Beck (guitarist for The Yardbirds, a band Page had been part of), Keith Moon (drummer for The Who), and John Entwistle (bass player for The Who) came up with the idea of forming a superband, but Moon apparently suggested this would “go over like a lead balloon” (an English expression used to say something is unlikely to attract interest). A few months later, Page remembered this expression and, after swapping “balloon” for “zeppelin” (the biggest balloon he could think of), decided to drop the “a” in “lead” to make it clear how the word should be pronounced. In conclusion: “Led Zeppelin” means, quite simply, “lead zeppelin”!
AC/DC has a very prosaic meaning: “alternating current/direct current,” words you can find on all sorts of electronic devices. The Young brothers, the founding members of AC/DC, had a sister who came across the acronym one day and thought it suited the band’s energetic style.
Even if you do know French, the meaning of “Depeche Mode” is a bit harder to work out; the name was chosen by lead singer Dave Gahan as he was leafing through a French fashion magazine called “Depeche Mode,” something close to “fast fashion.” Liking the sound of it, Gahan suggested it for the band’s name.
The story behind “Foo Fighters” is also a bit muddled. Dave Grohl, former drummer for Nirvana, picked the name for a fake band he’d created after releasing a number of songs recorded solo at the end of his time with Nirvana. Later, Grohl went on to start up a real band of his own. But what exactly does “Foo Fighters” mean? At the time, Grohl had been reading a lot of stories and books about UFOs, in one of which he stumbled across the term “foo fighter.” A foo fighter was someone who spotted unidentified enemy aircraft during World War II. The term was taken from a contemporary comic strip, and Grohl liked it enough to use it for the name of the group he’d go on to found not long after.
The meaning of “Nirvana” is a bit more famous: a Buddhist concept describing life’s ultimate goal, which is freedom from suffering, desire and ego. What’s interesting is why Kurt Cobain chose this name. Despite being very close to the hardcore and punk scenes, Cobain wanted to distinguish himself from the pretty unrelaxed, unappealing names that were big at the time. Hence “Nirvana.” As the frontman himself put it: “freedom from pain” was “pretty close to my definition of punk rock.”
The meaning of “Pink Floyd” is pretty hard to figure out unless you’re a die-hard fan of the band. Pink and Floyd were actually the names of two blues singers, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council, who were Syd Barret’s favorite musicians. Fun fact: the band needed to find another name anyway, because the one they’d picked out, The Tea Set, had already been taken.
This article was originally published on the Italian edition of Babbel Magazine.