Animal symbolism is part of almost every culture in history, so it makes sense that the imagery would make its way into music, too. These top rock bands took their names and inspiration from animals.
1. Arctic Monkeys
The Arctic Monkeys are a British band that rose to prominence in the early 2000s and one of the first ones to use the internet to share their music. The members knew one another from grade school, and it is thought that their name came from a rude slang term for a person from Northern England. They have become one of the most iconic UK groups of the 2000s.
Steppenwolf was a heavy rock band that was prominent during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Ironically, most of the members had previously been in another animal-named group, The Sparrows. The name Steppenwolf was taken from a novel by German author Hermann Hesse, referring to the Caspian Sea Wolf native to the Caucasus. Though they were only together for four years, their music was highly influential in the development of modern heavy rock.
3. The Turtles
The Turtles were a folk rock band that were active throughout the last half of the 1960s. They had many Top 40 hits but are best remembered for their 1967 song Happy Together. They were originally called the Nightriders, then the Crossfires; at last, they settled on the Tyrtles, but the misspelling didn’t stick, and they eventually became, simply, the Turtles.
Mastodon is a heavy metal band that formed in 2000; they have played an important role in directing the genre through the start of the 21st century. The members experimented with a variety of different names; they settled on Mastodon after a conversation about one of guitarist Bill Kelliher’s tattoos, which frontman Brent Hinds said reminded him of a “mammoth skull.”
Rock band Swans formed in the early 1980s as an exploration into experimental rock. They continued to play new alternative genres throughout the following decades, including noise rock and neofolk. Lead singer Michael Gira said he chose their name because it encapsulated everything he wanted the music to be: stunning and elegant but backed by an “ugly attitude.”
6. White Lion
White Lion was a glam metal band that was active through the 1980s and early 1990s. The name was chosen by vocalist Mike Tramp and guitarist Vito Bratta, who founded the group in 1983. Tramp originally wanted to call the band, Studs, but this idea was struck down by David Lee Roth of Van Halen, who suggested that people might think they were an LGBTQ+ band. Tramp and Bratta changed their name to Lion, which eventually became White Lion.
7. Dog Eat Dog
Dog Eat Dog was formed in 1990 and helped pioneer the fusion of rap and punk music. They went through several names during their early days, including Face Off, Rubber Band, F-Troop, and B-Load. It isn’t known exactly who suggested their name, but they eventually adopted it as their permanent name. The phrase comes from a Latin proverb: “A dog does not eat the flesh of a dog.” It has come to mean a society where everyone is out to conquer everyone else.
8. Def Leppard
Def Leppard is one of the biggest and most famous English heavy metal bands of all time. Formed in 1976, they had many hits throughout the 1980s and 1990s and are one of the best-selling groups in history. Several of the members were originally in a band called Atomic Mass. Vocalist Joe Elliott came up with the name Deaf Leopard while drawing art posters. They then modified the spelling to better reflect their “punk” status.
9. The Monkees
The Monkees were one of the best-known rock bands named after an animal. They were formed in the 1960s with the intent of starting a television show with the same name. The idea was a situational comedy that followed four young men trying to become rock n’ roll stars. The show, which ran from 1966 to 1968, was fairly successful, winning two Emmy Awards. After it went off the air, the members continued making music under their show name.
10. Hootie & The Blowfish
Hootie & The Blowfish formed in the mid-1980s and was one of the biggest soft rock bands of the following decades. Though their music is widely known and respected, they have often been teased for their strange name; it was inspired by the nicknames of several college friends that Darius Rucker and Mark Bryan knew at the University of South Carolina.
The Eagles are a rock band that formed in the 1970s and are best known for their 1976 song Hotel California. They have won six Grammy Awards and are considered one of the most influential rock groups of the 1970s. There are different accounts as to how they got their name, but it originated during a trip to the Mojave Desert, where the members drank tequila and smoked peyote. There, they saw eagles flying overhead. Another member of the band who joined later said that the name was more generally inspired by the reverence for eagles in Hopi culture.
12. Crazy Horse
Crazy Horse has been making music since 1968 and remains active to this day. The group was originally fronted by Neil Young, with whom they later collaborated. He was fascinated by Native American history and mythology and chose the name Crazy Horse in honor of the Oglala Lakota leader of the 19th century. He has also used themes and names from Native culture with his songs Broken Arrow, Pocahontas, and Cortez The Killer.
13. Atomic Rooster
The band known as Atomic Rooster formed in the late 1960s and was highly influential on the progressive rock scene of the 1970s and 1980s. Their sound changed significantly over those decades, incorporating elements of blues, soul, and blues rock. They were made up of former members of the group The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown; after they split, they formed Atomic Rooster. It isn’t widely known where they got the name, though it is said they were inspired by the rock band, Rhinoceros.
14. Dinosaur Jr.
Grunge band Dinosaur Jr. formed in the mid-1980s and became a vital influence on the East Coast grunge scene, which was mostly limited to the Pacific Northwest at the time. They were originally called Dinosaur; however, they ran into legal issues after another band called Dinosaurs threatened them with a lawsuit following the release of their first two albums. To avoid accusations of name theft, they changed their name to Dinosaur Jr.
15. Band of Horses
Band Of Horses formed in Seattle in the mid-2000s. They have been a steady influence in the development of modern indie and folk rock, receiving a Grammy Award nomination in 2011. The group was originally formed under the name Horses in 2004.
Frontman Ben Bridewell took the name during a time when he was sleeping in the streets and listening to Will Oldham or Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s song Horses, which includes the line “I’d be riding horses if they let me, Sleep outside at night and not take fright.”
16. Counting Crows
Counting Crows is a modern rock band that formed in the early 1990s. Their name was inspired by a British nursery rhyme about counting magpies—which are related to crows—for luck. The rhyme was notably featured in the 1989 film, Signs Of Life. It also inspired a song, A Murder Of One, on the group’s debut album. They are one of the most successful indie rock bands of all time and continue to tour in the 2020s.
17. Fleet Foxes
Fleet Foxes is a folk rock band based in the Pacific Northwest. They have gained widespread attention since their formation in the mid-2000s for their unique sound, which popularized folk rock and chamber pop fusion. They were originally called The Pineapples but were forced to come up with a new name after meeting another group with the same name. Frontman Robin Pecknold chose Fleet Foxes because he said it made him think of the tradition of English fox hunting, which he found elegant and unique.
18. The Pussycat Dolls
The Pussycat Dolls were a contemporary burlesque group that formed in the mid-1990s before branching into mainstream pop in the early 2000s. They have been credited with launching the careers of pop stars such as Melody Thornton and Nicole Scherzinger. The origins of their name haven’t been widely shared, but it may have something to do with their classic burlesque routines, provocative choreographed dances, and themed costumes.
19. Iron Butterfly
Iron Butterfly is a rock band that formed in the 1960s whose sound helped pave the way for the rise of modern heavy metal. They are best known for their 1968 hit In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. It is said that their name was inspired by looking for a term that was self-contradiction but also struck an unusual and striking mental image. It is safe to say that they found a name that fit their criteria.
20. Modest Mouse
Modest Mouse formed in the Pacific Northwest during the early 1990s and became widely known for their contributions to indie rock. Their name was inspired by a line in the story The Mark On The Wall by Virginia Woolf: “the minds of modest, mouse-colored people.” It is an unusually adorable name for a rock band, but it has served the group well; they remain one of the most iconic indie bands of the 1990s.
21. Cage The Elephant
Cage The Elephant rose to fame in the late 2000s with the hit single Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked. They have won two Grammy Awards and are considered one of the most influential punk bands of the 21st century. They got their name in their early days when a man approached them after a live show and kept saying, “You have to cage the elephant.”
22. Cobra Starship
Cobra Starship was an alternative electropop band formed in the mid-2000s. The group took its name from a combination of two other vintage albums, including one called Disco Starship. Frontman Gabe Saporta also took inspiration for the band from his experiences on a “vision quest” in Arizona during which he lived with Native American tribes and used peyote. After this, Saporta traveled to the Catskills, where he began composing the group’s debut album.
23. Imagine Dragons
Dragons might not be real animals, but Imagine Dragons is famous enough that they’ve still made our list. The pop rock band rose to prominence in the early 2010s with their hit singles It’s Time, Radioactive, and Demons. They took their name from a secret anagram that only the members know—so it actually doesn’t have anything to do with dragons at all. They have been called one of the most influential pop-rock groups of the 21st century.
24. The Boomtown Rats
Irish band The Boomtown Rats were highly influential on the rock scene of the late 1970s and 1980s, particularly in the UK. They broke up in the mid-1990s before reforming in 2013. Originally named The Nightlife Thugs, they adopted their new name after an anecdote from Woody Guthrie’s biography, which spoke of a local “gang” of children. Several members reunited in the late 2000s to perform isolated shows under the name The Rats.
Jellyfish was a rock band that was active from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s. They were known for their progressive style, which led to several albums with unusual names, including Bellybutton and Spilt Milk. Ironically, their name was chosen for lack of a better alternative. It was suggested by a studio executive who chose it for its “dreamy, ephemeral” image; though the members didn’t initially like it, they eventually chose it because they couldn’t think of another name.
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