…and one incredibly famous band that almost did.
Irish/English band the Pogues is probably best known for the drinking habits of its legendarily unreliable lead singer Shane Macgowan (as well as its Celtic-infused hit “Fairytale of New York”). When the band’s first single “Dark Streets of London” was released and climbing the charts in 1984, the group’s career almost ended as it was just starting. At the time, the group’s name was Pogue Mahone, an Irish Gaelic phrase that means “kiss my ***.” Because of the band name, the BBC wouldn’t play the song excvept for very late at night. So Pogue Mahone became the Pogues, and the song became a hit.
Terence Trent D’Arby was a big star in the late 1980s with soul-inflected rock songs such as “Wishing Well,” “Sign Your Name,” and “Delicate.” He hasn’t had a hit song since 1993, however, which is about the time he started to have dreams, in which he claims his subconscious told him to change his name to Sananda Maitreya. D’Arby legally changed it in 2001, telling the media, “Terence Trent D’Arby was dead. He watched his suffering as he died a noble death.” At that point, he formed his own record label and kept releasing music under his new name.
British band Motorhead has been a pioneer of hard rock and heavy metal for more than 40 years. In 1975, the group booked a gig on the BBC’s hugely popular Top of the Pops music performance show…so long as they changed their name. The group’s original name was a word that means, roughly, “a boy whose parents were not married,” and so they changed it to Motorhead, a word that means, roughly, “a drug addict.”
The Beach Boys
Brian Wilson famously transformed the sound of his band, the Beach Boys, in the mid-1960s, eschewing three-minute songs about surfing and cars in favor of daring, experimental recordings like “Good Vibrations” and Pet Sounds. It was such a radical shift that Wilson proposed changing the name of the band to simply The Beach—because the group’s members weren’t boys anymore. Wilson drew up a contract and called a meeting, but none of his bandmates were willing to sign it, and the issue was dropped.