This Is What These Popular Band Name Acronyms Stand For

From NSYNC to AC/DC, here's what the names of your favorite bands mean.

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It's not uncommon for music fans to refer to their favorite bands by using an acronym or nickname derived from a group's original name. Take Creedence Clearwater Revival, Electric Light Orchestra, and Guns N' Roses, for example. Over the course of their careers, it became just as common to refer to these bands as CCR, ELO, and GNR, respectively. But what about the bands that started out with acronym names—like ABBA and NSYNC? Do those names mean anything? Have you always assumed they meant one thing, while they actually mean another? To help answer those questions, here are the origin stories behind some of the most popular band name acronyms in music history.

ABBA: Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny, and Anni-Frid

Studio shot of Swedish pop group ABBA, Germany 1970s.
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Swedish pop powerhouse ABBA had a simple idea when it came to creating a band name—using the first initial of each of their names: Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid "Frida" Lyngstad.

The group originally went by Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid, using the name on their first single—1972's "People Need Love." However, once they made it to the Eurovision competition finals in 1974 with their song "Waterloo," they changed their name to ABBA.

N.E.R.D: No one Ever Really Dies

nerd band with Pharrell singing on microphone
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The name N.E.R.D—a hip-hop collective formed by Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo, and Shay Haley in 1999—stands for "No one ever really dies." But how did the group land on that particular acronym? Speaking with Interview magazine in 2010, Williams explained that the band's name had a double meaning—being both about the Albert Einstein quote, "energy can't be destroyed," as well as an attempt to dispel the negative connotation of the word "nerd."

"When I was coming up with that name, I wanted to 'celebritize' being smart, because I noticed that being a nerd when I was in high school was the corniest thing you could ever do," Williams said. "So I was like, 'You know what I'm gonna do? I'm gonna take my music and I'm going to slowly but surely punch away at that notion that being a nerd is not cool.'"

TLC: T-Boz, Left Eye, and Chilli

tlc band members posing on red carpet for music awards
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This particular TLC doesn't mean "tender loving care," nor does it have anything to do with a certain television channel. No, we're talking about the chart-topping R&B trio that ruled the airwaves in the '90s with hits like "Creep" and "Waterfalls."

Originally, the name stood for the original three members: Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, and Crystal Jones. However, it was decided early on that Jones wasn't the right fit and she was replaced with Rozonda Thomas. Since TLR didn't quite have the same ring to it, Thomas was given the nickname "Chilli," and TLC lived on.

NSYNC: JustiN, ChriS, JoeY, LanstoN, and J.C.

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When it came to naming one of the biggest boy bands in music history, there were two factors that led to NSYNC. First, according to an interview that the group did with Larry King, the name is partly in thanks to Justin Timberlake's mom, who noted early on how "in sync" the boys were when they sang.

The second—and maybe more obvious—reason that the group chose the name they did is because it's an acronym of the last letter of each original member's first name: Justin, Chris, Joey, Jason, and J.C. But when Jason Galasso was replaced with Lance Bass, something need to fit for the "N." On an episode of Dancing With the Stars, Joey Fatone revealed that they had nicknamed Lance, "Lanceton."

AC/DC: Alternating Current/Direct Current

ac/dc band on the stage performing
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The electrical acronym AC/DC stands for "alternating current, direct current," and there is no band more electric than this legendary group from down under.

According to CBS Music, original member and lead guitarist Angus Young would notoriously wear schoolboy uniforms on stage, which his sister sewed for him. On the side of her sewing machine, Young noticed the symbol "AC/DC" and thought it would be the perfect name for his "power-riff rock band." He was right.

LFO: Lyte Funkie Ones

the band LFO posing on the red carpet
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This pop group may have been a one-hit wonder, but they still managed to garner a significant fan base. LFO—which stands for Lyte Funkie Ones—got its name because original member Rich Cronin had been nicknamed "Lyte Funkie One" when he started rapping in Boston.

After joining forces with Brian Gillis and Brad Fischetti, the trio decided to keep the name that Cronin already garnered some recognition with. However, over time, the members grew less fond of the full name and started only referring to themselves strictly as LFO.

O.A.R: Of a Revolution

OAR rock band performing on stage
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Marc Roberge, lead singer of the the rock band O.A.R., admitted in an interview with Boward Palm Beach New Times that he knows his band often gets mistakenly referred to as "oar," but really he's just happy people are talking about them at all. In actuality the name stands for: Of a Revolution.

"We got the name in the basement of our drummer's house back in high school," Roberge says. "We were making music that was new to us, and we liked it." But as the band began to take off, he says, "We changed it from Of a Revolution to O.A.R. because it's easier to put on marquees and stuff."

SWV: Sisters With Voices

SWV band on stage performing
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This R&B vocal trio from New York City is composed of Cheryl Gamble, Tamara Johnson, and Leanne Lyons—so clearly the group's name isn't derived from the initials of the members' names. Instead, it stands for Sisters With Voices. Johnson told Rolling Out that the group's original name was TLC—an acronym of their names—but as the other TLC blew up, they couldn't use it. Their manager ended up coming up with SWV, which the group didn't like at first but eventually stuck.

R.E.M: It depends on who you ask

lead singer Michael stripe of rem band performing
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The members of this Athens, Georgia-based alt-rock group kicked around ideas like Slug Bank and Third Wave before settling on R.E.M., which technically stands for "rapid eye movement." According to David Buckley's biography of the band, however, the name wasn't chosen for that reason. Lead singer Michael Stipe randomly picked the name from a dictionary, and it stuck because it was "short, easily remembered, and nonspecific."

However, a 2019 book about the band by Robert Dean Lurie proposes another theory. Athens native William Often Carlton tells Laurie that the band was named after photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard, who signed his prints "r.e.m.," because Carlton and Stipe often discussed Meatyard's work.

Kali Coleman
Kali is an assistant editor at Best Life. Read more
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