The Band Name Game

The mysterious origins of Yellowcard, Coldplay, Polyphonic Spree and more

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The Rolling Stones and Radiohead got theirs from song titles, U2 and the B-52's from military aircrafts and Lynyrd Skynyrd from their old gym teacher. And the stories behind new millennium band names are no less random:

Yellowcard
According to these So-Cal pop-punkers, "yellowcard" is a take on the ever-popular Frat house idiom, "party foul," proving drunks can be simultaneously obnoxious and witty. Perhaps Ewan McKegger was already in use.

Coldplay
Chris Martin and his mates, originally called Starfish, were friends with a band called Coldplay. When that band gave up the name, Starfish asked if they could use it. The original Coldplay took the name from a book of poetry.

Incubus
Like the Grateful Dead and countless other bands, the members of Incubus were scanning a dictionary when they found their name. Incubus is a mythological Greek "evil spirit" who descended on sleeping women and had intercourse with them. Score!

Sum 41
Instead of a dictionary, Sum 41 broke out a calendar to concoct their name: The band's official formation took place on the forty-first day of summer prior to entering the twelfth grade.

Jimmy Eat World
Credit this one to guitarist Tom Linton's brothers, Jimmy and Ed, and youthful juvenile aggression. During a childhood argument, Jimmy locked Ed, the smaller of the two, out of his room. Ed handled his anger constructively by drawing a picture. The illustration showed Jimmy shoving the Earth into his mouth. The sneering caption at the bottom read, "Jimmy eat world."

New Found Glory
Singer Jordan Pudnik says that when he and guitarist Steve Klein worked together at Red Lobster, they were asked to play a show. Needing a name for the flyers, they plucked words from some of the band names they'd previously toyed with -- "found," "glory" -- and came up with New Found Glory.

Nickelback
Previously employed by Starbucks -- when coffees retailed for $2.95 and $4.95 -- bassist Mike Kroeger became accustomed to telling customers, "Here's your nickel back." When he and brother Chad needed a name for their robust hard rock blend, Mike's old job came in handy.

Jet
This back-beat driven, hand-clapping Aussie garage-rock quartet took its moniker from the 1973 Paul McCartney and Wings' single. McCartney got the name from his dog.

The Thrills
These Irish rockers cannot get enough Americana. To get their name, they took Michael Jackson's Thriller and Phil Spectorized it, and then they wrote a whole lotta songs about California.

Keane
Always one to respect their elders, resonant Brit-pop trio Keane paid homage to singer Tom Chaplin's childhood caretaker by using her surname.

Coheed and Cambria
Lead singer and songwriter Claudio Sanchez lives in a fantasy world. Literally. He is the author of a three-part graphic novel in which one of the characters is himself. But the two main characters are Coheed and Cambria.

Polyphonic Spree
Bandleader Tim DeLaughter knew he wanted to form a huge, symphonic pop band, but he was stuck for a name. A fan of the old Wacky Pack stickers, he had a framed set on the wall. Staring at it, he was inspired by "Polly Dent" (parrot toothpaste). The rest of the name came to him effortlessly.

Fiery Furnaces
The brother-sister duo of Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger took their name from a line in the 1968 kids' musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, starring Dick Van Dyke. The children in the movie ask their father to save the car from the "fiery furnace." The initials F.F. are doubly meaningful to the band -- Friedberger and Friedberger.

Alien Ant Farm
Terry Corso, guitarist of the Riverside, California, pop-metal group, once daydreamed about aliens populating Earth . . . and tending to humans like ant farms.

Franz Ferdinand
This Glaswegian buzz band was named for the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination in Sarajevo in 1914 precipitated the First World War.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
California's woozy answer to the Jesus and Mary Chain commandeered the name of Marlon Brando's biker gang in The Wild One.

The Vines
The father of lead singer Craig Nicholls once played in a band called the Vynes. But the similarities end there: "My dad never smoked pot," Nicholls says.

Death Cab for Cutie
These Washington boys took their name from the title of a song performed by the comic U.K. group the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band in the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour movie.

Evanescence
Struggling to express themselves, Amy Lee and her Arkansas band hit upon a word that describes the quality of vanishing into thin air.

N.E.R.D.
Stands for No One Ever Really Dies. "Energy cannot be destroyed," says Pharrell Williams, the Neptunes' moonlighting rock star.

Pretty Girls Make Graves
Borrowed from a song title on the Smiths' eponymous debut, which came from a quote in the Jack Kerouac novel, The Dharma Bums, which, in turn, inspired another band name . . .

Marah
Led by brothers Dave and Serge Bielanko, this lunchpail Philly rock & roll band hit upon its name, loosely translated as "bitter," in the book of Exodus (Chapter 15, Verse 23).

Five for Fighting
In a guest column he wrote for InsideHockey.com, singer-songwriter John Ondrasik explained that his band's name was inspired by a 1995 hockey fight involving his beloved L.A. Kings: "Before gloves touched ice I had named my band. The music business was a hockey fight. You hit the ice. You take some shots. You sit in the box. You come back for more."

Fountains of Wayne
The wry pop band stumbled on its name on the signage of a store in Wayne, New Jersey, selling -- yes -- fountains.

Modest Mouse
The latest group to bubble up from the underground apparently took its name from a phrase practiced by people with speech impediments (lead singer Isaac Brock has a lisp).

Decemberists
These literate Pacific Northwest indie rockers are named after the nineteenth-century Russian revolutionary group of the same name, minus the third "e."

Godsmack
A day after Sully Erna, lead singer of this Massachusetts-based new metal band, chided a bandmate for the cold sore on his lip, he turned up with one of his own. It was the singer's comeuppance -- his Godsmack -- for laughing, his bandmates said. "God Smack" is also the name of an Alice in Chains song.

My Morning Jacket
According to this Southern boogie band's leader, Jim James, he was with friends in Lexington, Kentucky, late one night, exploring the remains of an old bar. "It was soooo creepy," he writes. "There were half-burned pool tables and cigarette machines . . . I followed one beam of light over into a corner where there was a ripped-up poster of a girl wearing a robe with the initials 'MMJ.' It probably meant 'Mean Michelle Jackson' or 'My Magic Johnson,' but I took it to mean 'My Morning Jacket.'"