Here's How Nine Inch Nails Got Their Name

Most of the time, band names aren't worth pondering over, especially if they're called the Clash, the Jam, or something else rather self-explanatory. Other times, names are suffused with all kinds of meanings, like the explanation Psychedelic Porn Crumpets gave Pilerats: "We were jamming a few years ago and brainstorming a name and two suggestions were we should have a band with crumpets and we should have a band with Porn. I guess psychedelic sums us up a bit so that was the final ingredient." 

Sometimes — a lot of the time, really — names are just a jumble of letters or words that sound good to the person doing the naming. However, something about the name Nine Inch Nails seems to convince people that there is a deeper meaning behind the scenes. Perhaps it's Trent Reznor's affinity for high concept work, such as recording in the house where the Tate murders occurred, or as he told Blabbermouth, the original but discarded idea behind the 2005 album White Teeth: "I was gonna talk about multi-layered reality and waking up in a dream you can't wake up out of, and eventually finding acceptance after you go through this period of trying to fight it. It was all kind of a big analogy for me getting sober." 

It does make some sense, then, that Reznor would be the kind of person who would put a lot of thought into what he would name his band. Did he, though?

The curse of band names

The years have seen the proliferation of many theories. One notion, put forward by the website Band Name Explained, is that Trent Reznor was inspired by lyrics from Tori Amos's 1992 song "Precious Things." However, Nine Inch Nails formed in 1988, presenting this theory with a chronological stumbling block. A writer for Spin went off his own deep end, trying to think of reasons behind the name: "Is the name Nine Inch Nails a reference to the spikes used to crucify Jesus? Is Reznor saying that all his fingernails are nine inches long (like Freddy Krueger)?" 

Obviously, the image of a nine inch nail holds a lot of metaphorical weight.

Still, luckily for the Spin writer, Trent Reznor simply explained the name when Axcess Magazine asked about it: "I don't know if you've ever tried to think of band names, but usually you think you have a great one and you look at it the next day and it's stupid. I had about 200 of those. Nine Inch Nails lasted the two week test, looked great in print, and could be abbreviated easily. It really doesn't have any literal meaning. It seemed kind of frightening. [In his best he-man voice] Tough and manly! It's a curse trying to come up with band names." 

Sometimes — a lot of the time, really — names simply sound good to the namer.