Pink Floyd, Boyz II Men, Nirvana, The Beatles and more started with very different names.
During one of the Beastie Boys tributes after the death of MCA I heard a reporter mention that the group was originally named the Young Aborigines. I’d never heard that before. But it’s true… when they first started out, the Beastie Boys were briefly meshuggah enough to think the Young Aborigines was a good name for the group.
There are tons of stories about how bands started with different names, from ABBA to Zeppelin comma Led. I researched a bunch and picked out these 11 favorites…
1 | Boyz II Men used to be Unique Attraction
This adds a little subtext to “Motownphilly”… when these four guys who wanted to sing and walked up to Michael Bivins and he said “What’s your name?” they DIDN’T respond “Boyz II Men, hey! Ya know what I’m sayin’?” They responded “Unique Attraction.” Knowing that historical truth kinda makes all of 1991 feel like a lie to me.
2 | Pink Floyd used to be The Meggadeaths
This is one of the names Pink Floyd cycled through before they picked Pink Floyd (others included the Spectrum Five, the Tea Set, and Leonard’s Lodgers). But this is the only one that went on to be the actual name of another famous band — albeit minus one of the extraneous Gs and one of the non-extraneous As. Had Pink Floyd settled on Meggadeath, what would Megadeth have settled on?
3 | Skid Row used to be Skip Rope
When Bon Jovi discovered this band… and their miles and miles of rockin’ hair… he told them Skip Rope was never going to work. (It is pretty un-hardcore. Tough to battle Slaughter and Ratt and Poison if you’re evoking images of little girls doing double dutch. There’s a reason Cinderella is one of the less famous bands of that era.)
So he told them to go with Skid Row. Only it turned out there was a ’60s Irish group called Skid Row… so Bon Jovi paid $35,000 for the name. I guess they could’ve taken Bon Jovi’s strategy and named the band after the lead singer’s last name… only I think in music circles, “Bach” is already taken.
4 | Nirvana used to be Skid Row
Even though Skid Row and Nirvana feel like they’re out of completely different eras — because, really, music shifted that dramatically in like a four-year span — Skid Row was formed in 1986 and Nirvana was formed in 1987. Like… had Nirvana hit the big time just slightly earlier they would’ve been doing hair metal stadium rock anthems.
Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic went through a bunch of early names, one of which was Skid Row — because the other Skid Row hadn’t gone wide yet. Others included Pen Cap Chew and Cobain’s first band name, Fecal Matter. So Nirvana was a really, really good choice.
5 | The Beatles used to be Johnny and the Moondogs
This was one of their early names before they had Ringo. Or Pete “The Fifth Beatle/Apu” Best, for that matter, but I like to give the credit for their success to the brilliant, stabilizing force that WAS Ringo F. Starr.
In their defense, with the name Johnny and the Moondogs, they could’ve done one hell of a morning zoo radio show if their music career hadn’t worked. Johnny; his sidekick, Paulie Mac; and their stunt boy/intern, Hairy Harrison. Yoko eventually could’ve signed on as the Useless Girl.
6 | Coldplay used to be Pectoralz
That’s right. Pectoralz made plural with a z. Even Sly & The Family Stone’s Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) thinks that name is trying too hard.
7 | Goo Goo Dolls used to be Sex Maggots
They only kept the name for two days (but did eventually name a song “Sex Maggots” once they were famous). Once they shed it, they stopped trying to be a punk rock band and started playing those decidedly-un-punk songs that are all now simultaneously stuck in my head. But not a single thing about that music makes me think of sex or maggots. Mostly just how I don’t want the world to see me because I don’t think that they’d understand.
8 | Color Me Badd used to be Take 1
On the official Color Me Badd website, ColorMeBadd.net (because ColorMeBadd.com is naturally owned by a Russian domain parker), the group gives the long version of their origin story. (Which involves Bon Jovi’s contribution to their big break. That guy really had his hands all over music once upon a time.)
After they got signed, they switched from Take 1 because they were afraid it was too close to a gospel group called Take 6. After all, like most gospel groups, they were singing that psalm about sexing you up.
They upgraydded to Color Me Badd. Their website says their standard response for why they went with the double-d “Badd” is because they were “badd as in good, with two ds, extra badd.” That’s very corny… but all I have to do is listen to about 15 seconds of I Adore Mi Amor and all is forgiven.
9 | Pearl Jam used to be Mookie Blaylock
– Pearl Jam was originally named for an obscure basketball player — but changed the name because their label was afraid he’d sue. (Their most famous album, Ten, is named after Blaylock’s jersey number).
After abandoning Mookie, they went with Pearl Jam. If you believe Eddie Vedder, “the name is in reference to the pearl itself… and the natural process from which a pearl comes from, basically taking excrement or waste and turning it into something beautiful.” If you believe the PG-rated legend, it’s because Eddie’s grandmother Pearl made delicious jams. If you believe the R-rated legend, the name is a reference to ejaculate. Or, you believe none of those because you haven’t thought about Pearl Jam since 1996.
(That’s right. Occasionally I go on the offensive against Pearl Jam even though I have no beef with them. Sometimes I just enjoy watching people from Seattle get apoplectic.)
10 | Def Leppard used to be Atomic Mass
They’re really more of an isotope, as they’re armed with a slightly lighter nucleus than the average band.
11 | New Kids on the Block used to be NYNUK
Internet fable says “NYNUK” was not an acronym but rather a name their manager picked, inspired by the “nyuk, nyuk” of the Three Stooges. No one can speak to how that was related to the band… perhaps it was because a manufactured boy band is a bona fide form of corporate stooging? Then again, I would think that; in a boy band, I wouldn’t be the “cool one” or the “tough one,” I’d be the “cynical one.” Or the “accountant.”