The Surprising Name Origins of 20 Famous 1990s Bands

From Toad the Wet Sprocket to Stone Temple Pilots, the stories behind the names of your favorite bands from the 1990s just might surprise you.
Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst doesn't care if you think 'Limp Bizkit' sucks.
Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst doesn't care if you think 'Limp Bizkit' sucks. / KMazur/GettyImages

In the 1990s, you could start virtually any type of band—grunge, industrial, trip-hop, Britpop, punk, ska, swing, rap-metal—and stand a chance of getting played on the radio. With that freedom came the ability to name your band practically any bizarre thing that popped into your head. There were no wrong answers. Read on to learn the stories behind 20 famous ’90s bands with weird names we’ve all come to love.

1. Toad the Wet Sprocket

Best known for the jangly 1992 hit “All I Want,” Toad the Wet Sprocket got their name from a Monty Python sketch called “Rock Notes.” Python member Eric Idle was apparently trying to think of the dumbest name possible.

2. Pearl Jam

Eddie Vedder and company were originally known as Mookie Blaylock, a reference to the NBA point guard who played with the Nets, Hawks, and Warriors. After they got famous as Pearl Jam, Vedder told journalists their name referred to his great-grandmother Pearl and the hallucinogenic jam she liked to make—but that’s bogus. Bassist Jeff Ament suggested the name Pearl, and soon after, the group attended a Neil Young show filled with impressive jams.

3. Weezer

Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo named his band for a childhood nickname given to him by his father. Cuomo’s dad got the unusual nickname from a character on The Little Rascals. “I said, ‘Why him?’” Cuomo explained in 2022 on Conan O’Brien’s podcast. “And he said, ‘He’s the cool one.’”

4. Stone Temple Pilots

Fans of Stone Temple Pilots often refer to the band as STP—and that’s fitting, since the group got their name from the motor oil brand STP. Lead singer Scott Weiland dug the logo, so they worked backwards and came up with a backronym to fit those letters.

5. Radiohead

This one’s pretty simple: The coolest, brainiest band of the ’90s took their name from “Radio Head,” a 1986 song by the coolest, brainiest band of the ’80s, Talking Heads.

6. Nirvana

After cycling through a bunch of scuzzy names like Skid Row, Pen Cap Chew, and Ted Ed Fred, Kurt Cobain and his crew settled on the kinder, gentler Nirvana, the Buddhist term for a state of peace and well-being devoid of suffering and desire. “I wanted a name that was kind of beautiful or nice and pretty instead of a mean, raunchy punk name like the Angry Samoans,” Cobain once said.

7. Goo Goo Dolls

According to legend, the group now known as Goo Goo Dolls changed their name because a club in Connecticut refused to put their original name, The Sex Maggots, on its marquee. But is that really true? “That’s how the folklore goes,” bassist Robby Takac told Forbes. “[Goo Goo Dolls] doesn’t really mean anything … The first name was bad, so we moved on to another bad name, got 15,000 fans, and were afraid to change it.” Lead singer John Rzeznik has admitted it’s “kind of a stupid name.”

8. Nine Inch Nails

When trying to come up with a name for his industrial-leaning synth-pop project, Trent Reznor had a rough time. In 1994, he told Axcess magazine that he tried about 200 names that sounded cool at first but later revealed themselves to be anything buy. “Nine Inch Nails lasted the two-week test, looked great in print, and could be abbreviated easily,” he said. “It really doesn't have any literal meaning. It seemed kind of frightening.”

9. Limp Bizkit

If you think there’s a deep meaning—or any meaning at all—behind the name Limp Bizkit, you’ve probably never listened to Limp Bizkit. “The name is there to turn people’s heads away,” lead singer Fred Durst said in a 2000 book about the group. “A lot of people pick up the disc and go, ‘Limp Bizkit. Oh, they must suck.’ Those are the people that we don’t even want listening to our music.”

10. Oasis

Back when this band’s lineup only featured one Gallagher brother, Liam, they were known as Rain. After they decided to change the name, Liam spotted a cool concert poster on his brother Noel’s wall. The band was Inspiral Carpets, whom Noel roadied for, and the venue was the Oasis Leisure Centre in Swindon, England.

11. Matchbox Twenty

While waiting tables in Florida prior to getting famous, Matchbox Twenty drummer Paul Doucette spotted a customer with an unusual softball shirt. The number 20 was on the back, and the front had a load of patches, one of which read “Matchbox.” Douchette put the two together, and while frontman Rob Thomas hated the name, they wound up keeping it.

12. No Doubt

Formed all the way back in 1986, nearly a decade before they blew up, No Doubt was initially a straight-up ska band with a super-dynamic lead singer. No, not Gwen Stefani—his name was John Spence. (Stefani was a secondary vocalist.) Spence was fond of the phrase no doubt, which is how the group got its name. Sadly, Spence died by suicide in December 1987 at the age of 18.

13. Foo Fighters

Around the time he recorded Foo Fighters’ self-titled 1995 debut album, playing all of the instruments himself, Dave Grohl was reading a lot of books about UFOs. He needed a name for this new project that would imply an actual band—not just him—so he chose Foo Fighters, a World War II-era term used by military pilots to describe unidentified flying objects.

14. Green Day

This one’s all about weed. A “green day” is a day spent doing nothing more than getting stoned. “We were trying to be the Cheech & Chong of punk rock for a while,” frontman Billie Joe Armstrong told Bill Maher.

15. Jane’s Addiction

Jane is a real person: Jane Bainter, a onetime Hollywood housemate of Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell. She really did have an addiction—to heroin—and her misadventures with a drug-dealing boyfriend inspired the 1988 Jane’s Addiction classic “Jane Says.”

16. Bush

Chalk this one up to local pride. Bush leader Gavin Rossdale and his compatriots named their band after Shepherd’s Bush, a suburb of West London. 

17. Smash Mouth

Famed NFL coach Mike Ditka used the phrase smash mouth to describe his preferred brand of take-no-prisoners football. “We liked the way he said it,” said Smash Mouth via X (formerly Twitter) in a 2016 tweet about the origin of their name.

18. Sugar Ray

These SoCal purveyors of feel-good pop-rock were originally a much heavier band known as Shrinky Dinx. Following threats of legal action from Milton Bradley, who were then licensing the rights to the plastic-melting toy Shrinky Dinks, they changed their name to Sugar Ray, after ’80s boxer Sugar Ray Leonard. “We chose it because it was a piece of Americana, like Ford cars and 7-Up,” frontman Mark McGrath told SFGate in 1997. “You have to look at the name as a representation of America as a whole—the good, positive part of America.”

19. Hootie & the Blowfish

For the millionth time, Darius Rucker is not “Hootie.” And the other dudes in his band are not “the Blowfish.” The band name actually refers to two friends Rucker had while attending the University of South Carolina. One wore big glasses and looked like an owl; the other had puffy cheeks. The two once walked into a party, and Rucker called out, “It’s Hootie and the Blowfish!” The rest is history.

20. Garbage

The seemingly self-deprecating name of this electro-tinged alt-rock outfit was a result of their creative struggles early on. “Without coming up with anything cool … and when you least expect it, it all falls into place … I hope all this ‘garbage’ will become something beautiful,” drummer Butch Vig wrote in a studio journal.

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