“Anyone who can only think of one way to spell a word obviously lacks imagination.” – Mark Twain

And, as if to prove Twain’s point, we can thank some of the most imaginative people around – rock stars – for the myriad imaginative spellings of their band’s names, or sometimes even their own names. So this week let’s look at the misspellings of a few rock legends and some of the bands they fronted.

First to mind comes Led Zeppelin, whose proposed name — the New Yardbirds — ran into problems with members of the previous band. When The Who’s drummer Keith Moon told the band that they were going to crash “like a lead balloon,” inspiration struck. But they spelled it “Led,” groups members said, so that “thick Americans” wouldn’t mispronounce it “lead.”

By the way, while the name of The Who is spelled correctly, the O is often replaced by the astrological symbol for Mars (an O with an arrow protruding from the upper right), the planet from which men supposedly come. The Who had previously called themselves Johnny Devlin and the Detours.

Some artists have avoided misspelling their names and/or their albums by simply using symbols. For example, when Led Zeppelin released its fourth album in late 1971, its name consisted only of four occult symbols. “Each of us (band members),” remembered the group’s Robert Plant, “decided to go away and choose a metaphysical type of symbol which somehow represented each of us individually,”

In 1993 the artist formerly known as Prince changed his name to something people called a “Love Symbol,” which was a mashup of the symbols for man and woman. The artist said that he made the change because Warner Brothers owned his “name and all related music,” and he had become “merely a pawn” to make money for the label.


Of course you can’t talk about British rock bands without mentioning the Beatles. Originally called the Quarry Men after the Quarry Bank School that John Lennon had attended in Liverpool, the group decided on the Beatles in 1960 as a tribute to Buddy Holly’s Crickets.

According to a story told by Lennon the unique spelling of the band’s name came about when “one day a man on a flaming pie came down and said to us, ‘From now on you are Beatles with an a.’ . . . We said, ‘Thank you, Mr. Man.’”

The Beatles’ influence even carried across the pond when Lennon also suggested Cyrkle as the name of another band, which had a 1966 hit “Red Rubber Ball.” But there’s more.

Jim McGuinn (who would change his first name to Roger around 1968), leader of a Los Angeles band called the Jet Set, saw the Beatles playing a 12-string guitar in their 1964 film “A Hard Day’s Night.” After purchasing a similar instrument, McGuinn honored the Beatles by changing the name of his band to that of a misspelled animal, The Byrds.

And the list of misspelled band names goes on thanks to Frijid Pink (whose name offers a rare example of three-dotted letters in a row, and whose big hit was “House of the Rising Sun”), Blue Oyster Cult (which uses an unnecessary umlaut above the O and was known for “Don’t Fear the Reaper”) and the movie band Spinal Tap (a pointless umlaut over the “n”).

And then there’s the Scottish band Chvrches, which makes use of the “v” that’s used for “u” in the old 23-letter Latin alphabet, as well as the Dublin band that christened itself “Thin Lizzy” because the Irish supposedly pronounce “thin” as “tin” (while we thick Americans pronounce “thin”).


Many bands, such as the Left Banke, the Stone Poneys and the Black Crowes, have added an “e” to their names, as have singers Marvin Gaye, whose last name was actually Gay, and Lorde (Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor) who added the feminine “e” to the end of her regal-sounding stage name.

Gaye and Lorde are not the only singers to slightly change the spelling of their names. John Francis Bongiovi Jr. now goes by Jon Bon Jovi.

The name of American singer Halsey is an anagram of Ashley, her first name, while Doors lead singer Jim Morrison anagrammed his name into “Mr. Mojo Risin.’” Morrison probably chose “mojo” (“the quality of being stronger than everything around you”) because of his mounting legal problems at the time. (Also, on many of their album covers the “doors” logo appears in lowercase.)

Do all these misspellings matter in the real world?  Not really. Even so, I know, it’s only rock ‘n’ roll (the apostrophes take the places of the “a” and the “d” in “and,” by the way) but I like its strange spellings.

Thank yov for reading.

Jim Witherell of Lewiston is a writer and lover of words whose work includes “L.L. Bean: The Man and His Company” and “Ed Muskie: Made in Maine.” He can be reached at [email protected]

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