Here’s the real reason behind how Pearl Jam got their name

Pearl Jam, portrait, Pinkpop, Landgraaf, Netherlands, 6th August 1992
(Image credit: Niels van Iperen/Getty Images)

Even when he was feeling a bit moody for ten years, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder would still find ways to amuse himself doing interviews. One such method was to weave some fictional nonsense in there, and it’s for that reason that there are so many varying tales regarding the name of the band.

The best one was that the band’s moniker combined the name of Vedder’s great-grandmother Pearl, who he claimed was married to an American Indian and had a habit of cooking up preserves spiked with an array of mind-melting hallucinogenics, so Pearl’s jam = Pearl Jam. A very decent tale, except, apart from the fact he had a great-grandmother called Pearl, it was exactly that. Just a tale.

“Total bullshit,” Vedder told Rolling Stone’s Brian Hiatt. The truth is a little more mundane. Only a few gigs into their career, the group were already beginning to attract a sea of fans and were about to sign a deal with Epic Records. At that point, they were called Mookie Blaylock after a basketball player and, maybe sniffing some future success on the horizon, started to wonder if it was a good idea to share their name with a cult hero sportsman. Mookie Blaylock, for one, might not have appreciated it. 

So they decided to switch it up: “Pearl” was suggested by Ament at a band practice. Soon after, a few of the members went to a Neil Young show and afterwards marvelled at how every song had turned into a jam. Jam?! Pearl… Jam??! There it was, the home-made peyote preserve all a figment of Eddie Vedder’s imagination.

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer for The Guardian, Variety and Classic Rock, and co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former editors of Q magazine Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. Niall has written for NME, X-Ray Magazine and XFM Online and interviewed some of music’s biggest stars, including Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, St Vincent, The 1975, Depeche Mode, Radiohead and many more.