The story of Elston Gunnn, Bob Dylan's unknown alter-ego
(Credit: Alamy)

From Bob Dylan to Led Zeppelin: How 10 of your favourite artists got their name

Band names on paper might seem like the difference maker between a good band and a great band, when, in reality, they mean next to nothing in the grand scheme of things. The only important thing at the end of the day is whether you’ve got the tunes to walk the walk and even with the most dexterous band name in the world, it’s meaningless without the songs to match.

At the beginning of careers, band names are treated with the same importance as songwriting. It takes many artists many pseudonyms before landing on the perfect encapsulation of their image or identity under a name’s umbrella. Sometimes, like in the case of bands such as Arctic Monkeys, they stick with the first name they come to and prove that having a good name is a nonsensical idea that is the least important facet for a band.

Another group who didn’t think about their name is Jimmy Eat World, who took to social media in 2018 to offer words of wisdom to upcoming bands not to do what they did. “Advice for new bands: When coming up with a band name, make sure it’s acronym displayed really large on your artwork or t-shirts won’t be complicating matters. You’re welcome,” the group posted.

The pop-punk band revealed that during a party in February 1994, they quickly needed to land on a name and after five minutes made a decision, they’ve grown to regret. “It was brought up and we discussed it for less than 5 min, no shit, we decided to call ourselves Jimmy Eat World so we could play this dumb ass party,” the band then added, “So moral of the story: even seemingly small and insignificant decisions can be much bigger than you could imagine. Slow down sometimes and make sure it’s right.”

In this feature, we will take a look at how ten of your favourite artists came to land on their stage name, and some of the stories range from the strange to the downright bizarre. Let’s dive in!

How your favourite artists got their name

Bob Dylan

On August 2nd, 1962, civilisation would change forever when a 21-year-old Minnesotan called Robert Allen Zimmerman would make the decision to be now known as Bob Dylan. It may have felt like a small moment at the time but little did he know it would soon become a moment in history.

Zimmerman’s bold decision to change his name to Bob Dylan wasn’t the first time that he had performed under a different alias. The growing folkie first gained a notable reputation whilst going by the name of Elston Gunn as well as variations on his birth name such as Robert Allen. But it was on Bob Dylan that he would eventually settle.

“The first time I was asked my name in the Twin Cities,” he noted in Chronicles, “I instinctively and automatically, without thinking, simply said: ‘Bob Dylan.’ Now, I had to get used to people calling me Bob.” That instinctive decision would turn out to be one of the best things that Zimmerman would ever do and if you told him that almost 60 years on he’d be revered as one of the greatest artists who ever lived under the name of Bob Dylan — he would almost certainly believe it.

Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd wasn’t the original moniker for the group that was formed with Syd Barrett at the helm all those years ago. The name is so symbiotic with the band, that’s impossible to picture them using another guise even for a split second. However, before they were Pink Floyd, they went by the much less enticing name of The Teaset, which far from paints a psychedelic-tinged picture in the same way that their latter moniker would.

Thankfully, the band were forced into changing their name when they arrived to play a gig during their early days and looked at the line-up to discover there was another group called The Teaset on the bill. Syd Barrett then off the top of his head had the bright idea to combine the names of two Piedmont blues musicians from his record collection: Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. Alas, Pink Floyd was born.

The Clash

The Clash is another almost perfect band name that perfectly sets out the stall for their sound and the thrashing image that Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Topper Headon had created for themselves.

The band fist considered calling themselves either The Weak Heartdrops or The Psychotic Negatives, but, just like the inspiration that came for Joe Strummer to write, ‘London Calling’, it came to the group from the Evening Standard. Paul Simonon noticed how the word ‘clash’ was being used often in news reports in the paper, and he knew that he had landed on the jackpot.

Radiohead

When Thom Yorke, Ed O’Brien, Philip Selway, and brothers Colin and Jonny Greenwood all met at the prestigious private, Abingdon School, they decided to form a band. However, they could only rehearse on Friday’s, in light of this, they called themselves On A Friday.

A mere few months after graduating from university, On A Friday were snapped up by Parlophone Records but on the condition that they changed their name and alas, Radiohead was born. The new name was suggested by a representative of the label, who took it from a Talking Heads album track and the band fell in love with it.

Blondie

Blondie’s name has caused the band a constant headache. At the beginning of their inception, people wrongly assumed that they were never really a band and, instead, Blondie was simply a pseudonym for their enigmatic lead singer Debbie Harry—which, of course, has never been the case.

As a group, they were originally called Angel and The Snake, a label which, admittedly, doesn’t quite have the same catchy ring to it. “Chris and I tried out a few [band] names. One was Angel and the Snake, but I wasn’t sure it was easy to remember,” Harry recollected to the New York Post in 2014. “One day, I was walking across Houston Street and someone yelled ‘Blondie’ at me. I thought, ‘Jeez, that’s quite easy to remember.'”

Joy Division

Joy Division’s name is the ultimate juxtaposition from their sound, which is anything but joyous in the traditional sense. However, the band’s name came from a dark place and landed the Mancunians in hot water. ‘Joy Division’, was the name of the prostitution wings in the Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War, which they read about in a holocaust survivor’s book called, House of Dolls.

Their first moniker was the much-more inoffensive ‘Warsaw’, named after a David Bowie song featured in his then latest album Low. Ian Curtis was an incredibly huge Bowie fan, and the name seemed to fit all the parties. It seemed like Warsaw had found their title. While booking some concerts in late 1977, Stephen Morris found out that their names collided with another group called the Warsaw Pakt, and they landed on a new identity.

Led Zeppelin

Jimmy Page was already an experienced lead guitarist, filling session spots and working with the Yardbirds.   In August 1968, Page then invited Robert Plant and John Bonham to join his band, the New Yardbirds, for a September tour in Scandinavia, but, the name was merely a placeholder.

Reflecting on the process, Jimmy Page later told Ultimate Guitar: “It was a name that Keith Moon had mentioned back then. He was talking, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to have a band called Led Zeppelin?’ And I asked him if we could use the name because I was gonna be in this band Led Zeppelin with Keith Moon, so was Jeff Beck.”

He added: “So when we were playing in Scandinavia we were out there as New Yardbirds, it was a cloak of invisibility really. And even on the first recordings, it said ‘New Yardbirds’ on the box because I didn’t want anybody to know what the name of the band was until we really officially unveiled it. And [the first album] was it.”

Oasis

Oasis was born out of the ashes of an earlier group called The Rain, which featured bassist Paul McGuigan, guitarist Paul ‘Bonehead’ Arthurs, drummer Tony McCarroll and Chris Hutton on vocals. However, Hutton wasn’t quite up to Bonehead’s standard so he decided to invite acquaintance Liam Gallagher down to audition with the group—a decision which would end up being the greatest move that both men would make.

Of course, Liam passed the audition with flying colours. However, he wasn’t keen on the name. Gallagher suggested to his new bandmates that the group change their name to Oasis after seeing an Inspiral Carpets tour poster in Noel’s bedroom which featured the Oasis Leisure Centre in Swindon as a venue.

Bring Me The Horizon

Sheffield rockers Bring Me The Horizon took their name from the film world. However, they didn’t get their shot of inspiration from some French arthouse film that they watched at the Showroom Cinema and instead it is from a line uttered by Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of The Caribbean.

Speaking to SPIN, frontman Oli Sykes revealed: “Right at the end of the film — it might even be the very last line — Johnny Depp says, ‘Bring me that horizon.’ That was really inspiring. I was still living with my parents in Sheffield, England, when the movie came out [in 2003]. For me and the band, playing music was always wrapped up with the idea of touring and travelling and seeing the rest of England and the rest of the world.

“We never thought doing that was possible, but that’s what we wanted to do. So that quote sort of stands in for our feeling of wanting to see what the planet had to offer.”

Alt-J

The reasoning for Alt-J’s band name is undoubtedly the dorkiest on the list, but, it’s clever nonetheless — just like their delectable music. The delta triangle symbol is synonymous with Alt-J, and if you hold down the buttons ‘Alt’ + ‘J’ on a Mac computer, your eyes will meet that very symbol.

Speaking about how the band landed on this name, keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton stated: “Gwil discovered the Alt-J shortcut on his computer, which creates the ‘delta’ symbol, and he thought we should call our band just the delta symbol, which is a triangle in the Greek alphabet.

“That was kind of our band name but we chose to pronounce it Alt-J, because we knew being played on the radio, you need to really give your band a name that is spoken and not just written. So it was going to be said ‘Alt-J’ and written like a triangle or a delta. But now the delta symbol remains as sort of a masthead for the band.”

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