Sometimes, when they’re in need of inspiration, musicians reach for their bookshelves—whether it’s to write a hit song or land on the perfect moniker for their act. These 20 bands each took their names from the pages of classic works of literature by the likes of C.S. Lewis, William S. Burroughs, Charles Dickens, and beyond.
1. Modest Mouse
“I wish I could hit upon a pleasant track of thought, a track indirectly reflecting credit upon myself, for those are the pleasantest thoughts, and very frequent even in the minds of modest, mouse-coloured people, who believe genuinely that they dislike to hear their own praises.”
“I chose the name when I was 15,” lead singer Isaac Brock said. “I wanted something that was completely ambiguous, but it’s really candyesque sounding. But it meant something to me. And I could identify with that.”
2. Veruca Salt
3. My Chemical Romance
Bassist Mikey Way was working at a Barnes & Noble when he saw the novella collection Ecstasy: Three Tales of Chemical Romance by Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh; he particularly liked the phrase chemical romance, so he wrote the title down and took it home to the then-nameless band.
4. Titus Andronicus
The New Jersey punk band named themselves after William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, one of the Bard’s most bloody and violent plays.
“I have found that when a person wants to be in a band, he or she spends a lot of time accumulating a mental file of words or phrases that would be cool band names. ‘Titus Andronicus’ was, to my mind, the best one that I’d come across,” vocalist/guitarist Patrick Stickles explained to Exclaim.ca. “I wanted our band to straddle that line between the more cerebral, thoughtful elements of the human condition and the part of us that just wants to see blood and brutality.”
5. The Doors
The Doors took their band name from the title of Aldous Huxley’s book The Doors of Perception, which Huxley grabbed from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by English poet William Blake: “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern.”
6. Steely Dan
Walter Becker and Donald Fagen founded their now-iconic band in 1971 shortly after moving to LA, taking their name from William S. Burroughs’s Naked Lunch (a controversial book that some have deemed basically unreadable). It’s a reference to a passage in the chapter “A.J.’s Annual Party” in which a character wears a strap-on penis called “Steely Dan III.”
The band’s original name was The Sparrows, but founder John Kay renamed it Steppenwolf based on a suggestion from record producer Gabriel Mekler, who had just finished reading Hermann Hesse’s novel.
8. Of Mice & Men
The California-based metalcore band Of Mice & Men got their name from John Steinbeck’s famous work. “The book Of Mice and Men says, ‘the well laid plans of mice and men often falter,’” frontman Austin Carlile explained. “You make plans, and they get screwed up. [Bassist Jaxin Hall] and I both had plans for life, and they both got screwed up, so now we’re making the most of what we can.”
9. Joy Division
Originally, the name of the band was Warsaw, but they changed it to Joy Division so people wouldn't confuse them with another punk band from London called Warsaw Pakt. The name Joy Division has dark origins: It comes from the novella House of Dolls by Yehiel Feiner, who wrote under the pen name Ka-tzetnik 135633—his number in the Auschwitz concentration camp. The novella describes so-called “joy divisions” of women imprisoned at Auschwitz who were used as sex slaves for Nazi soldiers and officers during World War II.
Guitarist Bernard Sumner, who had been given the “harrowing book” by someone at work, wrote in his memoir that while reading, “I came across a reference to a section where women were housed for the pleasure of Nazi officers on leave. It was known as the Freudenabteilung, the Joy Division, and that phrase just leapt out at me immediately as the perfect name for the band. Of course I knew straightaway that this was dodgy ground, but this was the height of punk, a period where it was acceptable to be unacceptable. ... Now, in my more mature years, I probably wouldn’t pick it, because I know it would offend and hurt people, but back then, I was very young and well, selfish. Calling ourselves Joy Division was a bit mischievous.”
10. Clem Snide
Singer/songwriter Eef Barzelay named his alt-country band Clem Snide after a character who appears in several of William S. Burroughs’s novels, including Naked Lunch (where Snide is described as “the Private A** Hole”).
11. As I Lay Dying
The San Diego-based metalcore band got their name from William Faulkner’s novel As I Lay Dying. But while lead singer Tim Lambesis liked the name of the book, that’s just about the only thing he liked.
“We got the idea from the name. I wouldn’t say that there is a correlation in the meaning of the book and the meaning of the band. We stole the name from there,” Lambesis explained to Metal Underground. ”It’s kind of depressing but I guess it’s well-written. It’s not my style of novel.”
12. Belle & Sebastian
Lead singer and founder Stuart Murdoch named his indie pop band after a French children’s book called Belle et Sébastien by Cécile Aubry. It was adapted into a TV series during the ‘70s and was made into a Japanese anime series in the ‘80s.
Originally, the Australian alternative band was called Innocent Criminals, but changed their name to Silverchair when they signed with Sony Music in 1994. The trio told Buzz Magazine in 1994 that the name was an accident: “We were all over at the drummer's house and we were requesting some songs on the radio, and one of them was[,] oh ... ‘Sliver f**k’ or something by the Smashing Pumpkins and the other one was ‘Berlin Chair. ’We wrote ’em down and someone wrote ‘Silver Chair’ instead of ‘Sliver Chair,’ and that’s how Silverchair popped up.” This, however, turned out not to be the true story—the name actually came from the C.S. Lewis novel The Silver Chair, the fourth novel in The Chronicles of Narnia book series. You can see the band talking about why they felt the need to make up a story about their name in the video above.
14. Josef K
15. The Artful Dodger
British garage band The Artful Dodger—founded by Mark Hill and Pete Devereux—was named after the leader of the juvenile pickpocket gang in Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist. The name was said to have been inspired by all the bootleg songs they made when they first got started in the music industry. They also named their record label Fagin Records, after another character in the novel.
16. The Boo Radleys
17. Sixpence None The Richer
Sixpence None The Richer took their name from a passage in C.S. Lewis’s book Mere Christianity. The section from Lewis’s book is about a son asking his father for a sixpence to buy him a gift.
“When the father received the present, he was none the richer because he originally gave the sixpence to his son,” lead singer Leigh Nash said on The Late Show with David Letterman. ”The analogy is to God who gives gifts for us to glorify him. He is not richer because of our presentation since he originally gave the gift.”
18. Okkervil River
Okkervil River lead singer Will Sheff named his indie rock band after a short story by Russian novelist Tatyana Tolstaya. “There’s a lot of writing in the second person, a lot of jumping around in terms of what she was talking about, and it just felt very intuitive to me,” Will Sheff told MTV. “A lot [of] how those experiences might feel to me, where you’re waking up from a dream and you’re jostled around. I was just really impressed by her writing.” Okkervil is also the name of a river in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
19. The Airborne Toxic Event
The Los Angeles-based indie rock band based their name on a section from the novel White Noise by Don DeLillo.
Born Richard Hall, the electronic songwriter got his middle name, “Melville,” and the nickname “Moby” from his parents, who told him at a young age that Moby-Dick author Herman Melville was in their family lineage. “The basis for Richard Melville Hall—and for Moby—is that supposedly Herman Melville was my great-great-great-granduncle,” he told CNN.