And now, the origins of some of my favorite band names. Gleaned from interviews I've heard or read over the years:
They Might Be Giants
These guys are my husband's favorite band (of course). Their name comes from Don Quixote - Don Quixote is preparing to go to battle with some windmills. When asked why, he replies "They might be giants."
The band, being a favorite among freaks and geeks like me, used to resist being considered a band for nerds, because they thought it insulting to their fans. Which reminds you that not long ago, nerd used to be an insult. Now it's a thing the prom queens claim to have been so that people will think they are cool. Even though they probably spent most of high school making nerds' lives a living hell.
Jeremy and I danced to this as the first song at our wedding. We're that nerdy.
The Barenaked Ladies is a very silly name for a band, and the name came about in a very silly way. The band's founders were bored at a concert, and entertaining themselves by making up ridiculously bad band names, one of which was The Barenaked Ladies. Later, when they were about to play together at a battle of the bands, they were asked for a band name, and one of them replied Barenaked Ladies because that's all he could think of.
On a related note, Stan Lee has claimed that the name for the World War II-based comic series Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos got their name as the result of a bet between he and another Marvel Comics exec; that Lee could not make a success of a comic book with the stupidest name he could think of. Lee tells a fanciful story, but I suspect the name was at least partially inspired by one General Holland McTyeire "Howlin' Mad" Smith, a famous WWII general.
Lee, incidentally, also claims that one of the Howling Commandos, Percy "Pinky" Pinkerton, whose first appearance was in 1964 was Marvel's first gay character. This, too, might be Lee revising history, but Marvel Comics did have one of the first openly gay comic book characters, Northstar, who came out of the closet around 1991. Marvel has very often used the X-Men and other hero groups as an allegory for the gay rights movement, just as they did with the civil rights movement in the 1960s. I think that's pretty brave of them, standing up for what they believe to be right without concern for popularity. You could probably see it in a more cynical light, but why?
The band was once called The New Yardbirds. Legend has it that when the band was searching for a new name, Keith Moon, drummer for The Who, said that the name New Yardbirds would go over like a lead zeppelin. Wikipedia tells it differently, but I like the version I heard better.
I don't know how The Who got their name, but I do know that this is one of the funniest bits in cartoon history: