A Sound Garden

What's in a name: the origins of how bands got their names

Street signs. Song lyrics. Even the name of a hated co-worker. These have been the origins of the names of some of the most well-known rock bands of the '80's/'90s northwest music scene.

The northwest music scene had a ton of goofy band names. Sex With Sarah, Quigzy Stick, Elvis Love Child, Bob's Your Uncle, Mona Lisa Overdrive, and Slam Suzanne were among actual bands that played during the grunge era. But even the better-known bands had stories behind their names.

Here's the story behind how some bands, famous and not-so-famous, got their names. Have more to add to the list? Contact us at northwestpassage1@gmail.com.

Northwest Passage

Northwest Passage is an exploration of the music scene centered around Seattle in the 80s and 90s. This project looks at all aspects of the rock scene, not just the part that became known as the "grunge explosion." Learn more about Northwest Passage

grunge album name origins


Named after a Washington State hotline to report HOV lane violators on Interstate 5.

grunge album name origins

Alice in Chains

Originally spelled Alice N' Chainz, Layne Staley shed light on the subject in a Rolling Stone article (11-26-92): "The name came from a side project of my old group. We were going to have this band that dressed up in drag and played heavy metal as a joke."

grunge album name origins

Bikini Kill

Named after the newsletter written by Kathleen Hanna, Kathy Wilcox and Tobi Vail, whose title came from a line in a Lois Maffeo-penned cabaret song.

grunge album name origins

Blood Circus

According to Blood Circus guitarist Geoff Robinson, the name came from a "motorcycle gang trash novel from the 60's."

grunge album name origins


Named after the person who claimed the band's original name of Shame.

grunge album name origins


Name was a word singer Sean Croghan made up as a response to a racist acquaintance, who said he liked to "nigger bash".

grunge album name origins

Daddy Hate Box

Name is a parody of Mother Love Bone.

grunge album name origins

Green River

Named after a river south of Seattle, where a serial killer used to dump his victims after he killed them. (related fact: the father of Alice in Chains drummer Sean Kinney was on the task force for the infamous Green River serial killer, who was finally arrested in 2001.)

grunge album name origins


Name from a line in Euripides' ancient tragedy Medea: "There's a hole burning deep inside me."

grunge album name origins

Love Battery

Name from a song off the Buzzcocks' debut album, Another Music in a Different Kitchen.

grunge album name origins

Mad Season

Named after a English term for the time of the year when psilocybin mushrooms are in bloom. (Band was originally named The Gacy Bunch, after serial killer John Wayne Gacy and the television show The Brady Bunch.)

grunge album name origins

Mr. Epp and the Calculations

Named after a math teacher at Mark Arm and Jeff Smith's high school.

grunge album name origins


Named after a hated ex co-worker of singer Buzz Osborne.

grunge album name origins


Named after a Russ Meyer soft-core movie.

grunge album name origins


Named after the Buddhist state of freedom from suffering by band leader Kurt Cobain, precisely because of the contrast with his angry, anguished, pain-racked sound. "I wanted a name that was kind of beautiful or nice and pretty instead of a mean, raunchy punk rock name like the Angry Samoans," he later explained.

grunge album name origins

Pearl Jam

Allegedly named after a hallucinogenic jam, Peyote, that singer Eddie Vedder's part-Native American grandmother, Pearl, used to concoct, hence the name, Pearl Jam. Others say the name is a semen reference. (Before the band was called Pearl Jam, they were known as Mookie Blaylock, then a New Jersey Nets basketball player.)

grunge album name origins

Pretty Girls Make Graves

Named after The Smiths song of the same name (which itself was named after a quote from Jack Kerouac's The Dharma Bums)

grunge album name origins


Derived from Sleater-Kinney Road, Interstate 5 exit number 108 in Lacey, Washington.

grunge album name origins


Named after a sculpture in Seattle called "A Sound Garden", which makes music as the wind blows through the pipes.

grunge album name origins


Named after a semi-official Pere Ubu bootleg LP.

grunge album name origins


Named after the '70s killer rat movie of the same name.