Behind the History and Meaning of the Band Name Arctic Monkeys

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Videos by American Songwriter

With a regular name like Alex Turner, one likely needs a unique band name if one wants to be memorable in a market saturated with sound.

So, that’s what the British-born band Arctic Monkeys did.

Fronted by Turner, the mellow-yet-indelible voiced songwriter, and performer, the band has gone on to sell more albums than there are snowflakes, seemingly in the white wintry locale they’re named after. And their latest, The Car, was released earlier this fall. It marks their seventh LP.

But what is the meaning and origin of the band’s name, exactly? That’s the subject of today’s inquiry. So, without further ado, let’s dive into just that, shall we?

Origins of the Band

Before we get into the specificity of the origin of the band’s name, let’s dive into some of the group’s general history.

The English rock band was formed in Sheffield, England in 2002 and it’s comprised of lead vocalist Turner, guitarist Jake Cook, bassist Nick O’Malley, and drummer Matt Helders. Former member Andy Nicholson, who played bass, left the group in 2006 after the band released its debut LP.

The group rose to fame largely because of its popularity on the Internet. Their 2006 debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, became the fastest-selling debut record in U.K. chart history and has since been said to be one of the greatest rock debuts of all time. It won Best British Album at the 2007 Brit Awards and the group followed it up in 2007 with the release of their sophomore offering Favorite Worst Nightmare.

In 2013, the band earned wider, global acclaim with their LP, AM. That record topped four Billboard charts and was certified platinum in the United States. It also became the group’s third album to win British Album of the Year at the BRIT Awards, and in the U.K., Arctic Monkeys became the first indie band to debut at No. 1 in the region with their first five albums.

The History of the Name

Formed in the early 2000s, the band’s origins begin with a neighborhood. Both Turner and Helders were close friends and neighbors and the two later met Nicholson in secondary school.

Turner grew up in a musical household and his father was a music teacher. Early on Turner played guitar, including in an instrumental band with Helders, who played drums. Nicholson played bass. Guitarist Jamie cook was also a member.

The name Arctic Monkeys was Cook’s idea and is likely a play on the term “northern monkey,” which is a derogatory term for someone from northern England. But the members embraced it just as they embraced their roots and soon the name stuck and has helped earn them fame.

Monkeys? From the Arctic? What could that possibly mean? This is likely the thought process many music fans go through when considering the group for the first time. It’s the kind of slightly opened window that can make for a delightful entry to a new sound. And it’s worked.

As far as the band itself, at first, Turner was reluctant to be the lead singer. But, according to Helders, Turner had a “thing for words” and was convinced given his talents and skill as a frontman, lyricist, and lead singer. The group later played its first gig on June 13, 2003, at The Grapes in Sheffield City Centre.

They began to record demos soon thereafter at 2fly studios in Sheffield. Some 18 songs were tracked and those birthed the collection, Beneath the Boardwalk. It was burned onto CDs and given away at shows, which were then uploaded to the internet and shared via popular file-sharing platforms.

The name Beneath the Boardwalk came about when the first group of demos were sent around. The first sender named them after where he first received them—the Boardwalk. More were shared and all under this name. So, while Beneath the Boardwalk is not an official album, it is, in a way, the band’s first official release.

Said band members, “We never made those demos to make money or anything. We were giving them away free anyway—that was a better way for people to hear them.” And “hear them” they did.

Now, the group is one of the biggest rock bands in the world. The rest, as they say, is music history.

Photo: Zackery Michael / The Oriel

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