The Beatles weren't born that way. Originally, they were the Silver Beatles, to assert John Lennon's leadership -- "Silver" referring to Long John Silver. Presumably, the astute fan would reason thus: Silver Beatles . . . Long John Silver . . . John Silver . . . John Lennon . . . Lennon's Beatles . . . No wonder it didn't stick.
Black Sabbath began as Earth. Trouble was, Earth was also the name of a cabaret band, and agents mixed the bands up. Eventually, an error sent the metal band to a business party expecting fox trots. Frustrated, the rockers renamed themselves Black Sabbath, after a song they had written.
Bread, at first, was half-baked. To quote David Gates: "A bread truck came along right at the time we were trying to think of a name. We had been saying: 'How about bush, telephone pole? Ah, bread truck, bread.' It began with a B, like the Beatles and the Bee Gees. Bread also had a kind of universal appeal. It could be taken a number of ways. Of course, for the entire first year people called us the Breads."
Aldous Huxley gave Jim Morrison a handle on the Doors. Morrison was inspired by some William Blake lines in Huxley's account of a mescaline experience, "The Doors of Perception."
Alice Cooper began as the Earwigs. The new name provoked confusion. Alice Cooper reminisced: "Our official coming-out party at the Ambassador Hotel was totally outrageous. Nobody knew who Alice Cooper was. The ambassador thought Alice Cooper was a debutante from Pasadena."
Because Jimmy Page formed Led Zeppelin after leaving the Yardbirds, Zep was originally the New Yardbirds. As legend has it, the Who's drummer, Keith Moon, heard the band and predicted its music would go down "like a lead zeppelin."
The Who began as the Detours. They became the Who over the objections of their manager, who wanted to name them the High Numbers.
The Beach Boys began as Carl and the Passions.
Creedence Clearwater Revival was originally the Golliwogs.
Aerosmith was Chain Reaction.
Motley Crue began as London.
Nazareth was the Shadettes.
Chicago was shortened from Chicago Transit Authority.
Lastly, for sweet simplicity, you can't beat the Band. In the words of Robbie Robertson:
"Names were really goofy at that time . . . and just to go against that we said, 'We are not going to name the group.'
"The record company went crazy. They said, 'You have to have a name. Call it Number Seven, anything, but think of something.'
"We said, 'OK, we will call ourselves the Crackers.'
"And they said, 'That's a cute name.' They were thinking soda crackers. Then they came back and said: 'No, you can't call yourselves the Crackers. That means something else altogether.' . . .
"They were printing up our first album, and we came in and said, 'Well, we're the Band.'
"They said, 'That's not a name.'
"And we said, 'Right.' "
(Sources: "The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Rock," edited by Michael Heatley; "Off the Record: An Oral History of Popular Music," compiled by Joe Smith, and "Heavy Metal: A Cultural Sociology," by Deena Weinstein.)