7 Band Names Defined: Go Gaga for Nirvana
Few of us have avoided getting one of Lady Gaga’s catchy pop songs stuck in our heads, but the origin of her name is harder to find. The artist gleaned the name from a Queen song, but the word gaga entered the English lexicon in the early 1900s as a term for “crazy” or “silly.” Though its origin is unknown, it may come from the French imitative gaga meaning “senile” or “foolish.” Today the word is most commonly used in the sense of deep infatuation, where going gaga for something is the same thing at “mooning over” it.
[nir-vah-nuh, –van–uh, ner-]
This 1990s grunge rock band happens to be named for the least grungy of all Buddhist states of being. In Buddhism, nirvana is the ethereal plane of enlightenment, reached when a soul has gained enough wisdom to free itself from the cycle of reincarnation. The word comes from the Sanskrit nir meaning “out” and vati meaning “it blows.” Thus nirvana literally translates to “a blowing out,” as in a candle.
This American prog-rock band sailed through the ’70s and ’80s with hits like “Mr. Roboto” and “Come Sail Away,” but if they were sailing on the mythical river Styx, they would have to be dead. In classical Greek mythology Styx is a river in the underworld over which the souls of the dead are ferried. The word is a cognate of the Greek stygos meaning “hatred” and stygnos meaning “gloomy.”
The Eurythmics are a British pop/rock duo best known for their 1983 album Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). But even the mellifluous voice of Annie Lennox isn’t as lulling as the art for which the band is named. Eurhythmics is the art of interpreting musical rhythms through one’s body. It was invented by Swiss composer Emile Jaques-Dalcroze to express the “symmetry and spirit” of music. Similarly, if something is eurhythmic, it is harmonious, or pleasing to the ear.
In classical mythology the muses were goddesses with the power to inspire poets, artists, and apparently a loud English rock band of the early aughts. Most Greek and Roman epics begin with an “invocation to the muse,” e.g. “Sing oh muse of the rage of Achilles…” the first lines of Homer’s Iliad. From the Greek mousa, the word entered Middle English in the 1300s. Today to muse on a subject is “to meditate” or think on it deeply.
REM stands for rapid eye movement, or “the rapidly shifting, continuous movements of the eyes beneath closed lids during the stage of sleep characterized by dreaming.” There are many theories about the function of REM sleep: Some scientists think memories are consolidated during the cycle; others say REM sleep is important to brain development, but surely both hypotheses can be applied to the rock band from Athens, Georgia.
This military slang term is a portmanteau abbreviation of will co(mply). The word emerged during World War II as a sign that a radio message just received (roger) will be complied with (wilco). It’s a nicely ironic name for the Chicago alternative rock band fronted by singer Jeff Tweedy who has done anything but comply.
Zoe, I love your brain. This is a very interesting piece and I will be sharing it. Thank you for what you do. 🙂
What a great compliment, thank you, Dawn. It means a lot to me.
Love this list 😀 My name’s Nirvana! And people keep on thinking I’m named after the band…
How entartaining, indeed. 🙂 😀