10 creative band names that reference literature


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Music and literature inspire passion and often intersect in surprising ways. Both art forms benefit from skillful storytelling, pacing and imagery. One of my favorite writers who was also a musician was Leonard Cohen, who had a career as a novelist before becoming a singer-songwriter. Bob Dylan chose his stage name after the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. Decades later, in 2016, Dylan received the Nobel Prize for Literature. Famous authors such as Stephen King, Amy Tan, Mitch Albom and James McBride have performed covers as The Rock Bottom Remainders – a band whose name could also belong to a second-hand bookstore.

Indie pop singer-songwriters including Regina Spektor and Sufjan Stevens have tons of songs with literary and religious references. Kendrick Lamar was the first rapper to win a Pulitzer Prize in 2018. Taylor Swift has plenty of literary allusions in her early lyrics and even more on her recent ones. Folklore and Always scrapbooks.

While many bands have literary or religious references in their lyrics, the bands listed below have taken it to the next level and put their literary influences directly into their names. Several theories speculate on the origin of the Beatles name, and one is that they channeled the Beat movement. American writers had some hits from 2014. All of the band names below, however, are much clearer and more specific references than those two. Some of these groups also have literary titles of albums and songs, as well as their bookish names.

modest mouse

This Pacific Northwest American rock band takes its name from “The Mark on the Wall”, a 1917 story by Virginia Woolf from her book Monday or Tuesday. Here is the quote from which the name derives: “I wish I could come across a track of pleasant thoughts, a track indirectly reflecting credit on myself, for these are the most pleasant thoughts, and very frequent even in the minds of modest, mouse-colored people who sincerely believe they don’t like to hear their own praise.

Roots Things Fall Apart album cover

Roots

Founded in Philadelphia in the late 1980s, the hip-hop group’s name refers to the historical fiction book Roots by Alex Haley and its miniseries adaptation. The book and miniseries were cultural phenomena that inspired many black Americans to research their own family history. Haley also co-wrote The Autobiography of Malcolm X. In 1999, The Roots released Things Fall Apart, an album titled after Chinua Achebe’s novel of the same name.

Cover of the album Plagues of the Devil wears Prada.  Horror image of a person covering their face

The devil wears Prada

The 2003 novel The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger, about a young woman working for a major fashion magazine, was an instant hit. The film adaptation, starring Anne Hathaway and Meryl Streep, was released in 2006. The eponymous band was founded in 2005. The band members, who originally described themselves as “Christian metalcore”, had assumed to wrong that the book condemned materialism as an evil before reading it. . Although they are now a secular group, they have kept the name inspired by their first impression of the book title.

The Best of the Dead Milkmen album cover, featuring a dead cartoon cow

The dead dairymen

This early 1980s Philadelphia punk band said their name was a pun on Macon “Milkman” Dead III, the protagonist of Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon. The novel traces Milkman’s development through most of his life. Band members claimed to have come up with the name in high school, before they even formed a band.

Murakami

Murakami, a popular and contemporary alternative rock band from Russia, is named after successful Japanese author Haruki Murakami. His writings often refer to music, especially the Beatles, such as his novel Norwegian Wood and his short story “With the Beatles” in the new yorker. It is therefore not surprising that musicians find him influential in return.

Idlewild The Remote Part album cover.  A white man looks sad on a beige background.

idlewild

Idlewild was the idyllic location in LM Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables where Anne Shirley and her best friend Diana created an imaginary world. In a 2007 interview, singer Roddy Woomble explained why he named his band after this fictional location, adding, “But there’s a part of me that’s very twee, and I can’t deny that. I like tweed jackets, teacups. Their song “Roseability” references “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose”, a famous line from Gertrude Stein’s poem “Sacred Emily”.

The cover of the eponymous album of The Airborne Toxic Event.  A black tree against a gray sky.

The Airborne Toxic Event

This alternative rock band, founded in 2006, takes its name from a section of Don DeLillo’s postmodern novel White Noise. In the novel, it is the term the media and the U.S. military use to describe a man-made disaster causing dangerous dark clouds. Another group, Wonderlick, is a deliberate misspelling of the protagonist’s name in DeLillo’s novel Great Jones Street.

Good Charlotte Greatest hits album cover.  A sepia photo of the band.

Sweet Charlotte

The founders of this pop-punk group, twins Joel and Benji Madden, named the group after a children’s book: Good Charlotte: Girls of the Good Day Orphanage by Carol Beach York. The late 90s through early 2000s was an era of ironic and humorous band names, especially in pop-punk. A 1969 mid-level fantasy book set in a girls’ orphanage doesn’t seem like such an arbitrary namesake in context.

Lipstick Traces album cover by Mishima.  The band's name and title are written on the arms of a man in green night vision.

mishima

This Barcelona-formed Catalan indie pop band is named after Mishima Yukio, a major 20th-century Japanese author whose name is often spelled as Yukio Mishima in English. He was a playwright, poet, model and novelist who was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. His life and work were controversial, in part because of his loyalty to the Japanese emperor.

Belle & Sebastian EP/DVD book cover. "Belle & Sebastian present Books." A white woman with brown eyes and short brown hair lies on a pile of books, as if they were pillows.

Belle and Sebastian

This indie pop group from Glasgow is named after Belle and Sébastien de Cécile Aubry. It’s a classic French children’s book about a boy and his Pyrenean mountain dog, who live in a French alpine village. The book is adored and has been made into a film and a television series in France. Many of the band’s songs are about songwriting or contain literary and historical references, such as their song “Marx & Engels”.


These are some of my favorite examples of literary group names. I’m sure you can think of more, so you can let me know your favorites on social media! You might also like this list of must-have music books.

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