Can a band name make or break a group? Probably not, judging by the number of awkwardly named groups who have gone on to achieve spectacular success. Oftentimes the logic behind a band name is clear – The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Black Sabbath are all based in reasoning we understand – but some names leave us scratching our heads. Below are 10 such names, each of which we’ve attempted to decipher and explain. Of course, if you know of some others…

Death Cab For Cutie

Frontman Ben Gibbard settled on this moniker even before forming the band that bears its name. Simply put, the name is the title of a song, performed by The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, in the The Beatles film Magical Mystery Tour. Originally included on the Bonzo’s 1967 album, Gorilla, the tune was a send-up of both Elvis Presley and teen-tragedy pop songs such as “Teen Angel.” The late, great Alex Chilton was known to cover the song on occasion.


Duran Duran

The campy 1968 sci-fi film Barbarella, starring a young Jane Fonda, provided Duran Duran with this band name. Actor Milo O’Shea, who played mad scientist Dr. Durand-Durand in the movie, repaid the group’s tribute to him by appearing (in character) in the band’s 1985 concert film, Arena. As a side note, Keith Richards’ long-time girlfriend, Anita Pallenberg, had a substantial part in Barbarella as well, although her voice was dubbed over by another actress.


Steely Dan

Beat novelist William Burroughs’ work has been the source of many band names (Dead Fingers Talk, The Mugwumps, etc.), but it turns out the nice fellows in Steely Dan snagged an especially notorious moniker from Burroughs’ fiction. In his scandalous 1959 novel, Naked Lunch, Burroughs makes reference to, ahem, a sex toy comically dubbed “Steely Dan III from Yokohama.” Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen and Walter Becker began their careers in Brooklyn, by the way.


Alien Ant Farm

Credit for this imaginative band name goes to original AAF guitarist Terry Corso, who explains the name as follows: “I was daydreaming at my desk job and thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if the human species were placed on Earth and cultivated by alien intelligence?’ Maybe the aliens added us to an atmosphere that was suitable, and they’ve been watching us develop and colonize, kind of like what a kid does with an ant farm.” Corso may have subconsciously been remembering an episode of the ’60s sci-fi TV show, Outer Limits, wherein alien ants from Mars descend on Earth.



Few bands have had as much fun igniting speculation about their band name as Hoobastank has. Depending on which interview you read, the name was either bestowed upon them by a gentleman with Tourette’s Syndrome, is a bastardization of the phrase “scuba tank,” or is the middle name of bassist Markku Lappalainen. In an interview with Launch Yahoo!, frontman Doug Robb confessed, “It’s one of those old high school inside-joke words that doesn’t really mean anything.”


Alice Cooper

Originally dubbing themselves The Spiders, and then The Nazz, Alice Cooper (the band) settled on their permanent name after an encounter with a Ouija board. Alice (the man) has claimed the name simply popped into this head while he was eating Doritos, but in his book, No More Mr. Nice Guy, guitarist Michael Bruce writes: “Vince [Furnier, Alice’s real name] sat down with our road manager, our road manager’s sister, and their mother, who was supposed to be a medium. They were playing with the Ouija board and Vince asked it who he had been in a previous life. The board spelled out the name, ‘Alice Cooper.’” Bruce says an employee at L.A.’s Cheetah Club later embellished the story, adding that “Alice Cooper” had been a 16th century witch.


Iron Maiden

Heavy metal often calls for a heavy band name, and few names have a heavier connotation than “Iron Maiden.” The term describes a medieval torture device wherein a person was placed upright inside a coffin-like box that was fitted with spikes on the inside door, which would slowly impale the unfortunate victim. Presumably, today, the administration of such justice would fall in the category of “cruel or unusual punishment.”


The Replacements

“We apologize, here they are, The Replacements,” was how the late, great “Mats” were introduced to their first large TV audience during the debut broadcast of the American Music Awards. In an unpublished memoir, drummer Chris Mars explained the choice of band name as follows: “Like, maybe the main act doesn’t show, and instead the crowd has to settle for an earful of us dirt bags. It seemed to sit just right for us, accurately describing our collective ‘secondary’ social esteem.” Later, after both of them had been booted from the band, Mars and guitarist Bob Stinson briefly considered forming a group called The Replaced.


Jethro Tull

Frontman Ian Anderson and his bandmates were saddled with this name in 1968, when an agent booked them for a show, under “Jethro Tull” for the first time, which turned out to be especially successful. It turns out the real-life Jethro Tull had been an 18th century historical figure famous for (hold onto your hats) inventing the agricultural seed drill. “It’s not a name I feel particularly wonderful about,” Anderson later admitted.


Goo Goo Dolls

Several stories have arisen regarding the origin of this unlikely name chosen by John Rzeznik and company. The most credible explanation, confirmed for the most part by Rzeznik, is that the name came from an ad the group spotted while flipping through the pages of True Detective magazine. Depending upon the source, the story goes that the “doll” was either of the inflatable variety, or was simply a child’s toy whose expression changed when you pressed the back of its head.