How Did The Sex Pistols Get Their Name?

There are genre-defining albums, and then there's "Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols." Frontman Johnny Rotten, drummer Paul Cook, guitarist Steve Jones, and bassist Glen Matlock (later replaced by the notorious Sid Vicious), per Brittanica, didn't invent punk rock, but they certainly exemplified it. The four blokes, clad in tight shirts (or no shirts), studded leather, and ripped denim, raised their share of hell during the two and a half years they were active, vandalizing studios and name-checking musicians they couldn't stand. 

Through it all, they only managed to release one studio album, and arguably the band's most famous member –- Vicious –- didn't even perform on it, according to what Jones told Total Guitar Magazine (via Louder). Despite the band's short career, cut short by drug abuse and crime, their influence on punk rock cannot be understated.

You may be tempted to think that the men who performed as the Sex Pistols came up with the name on their own. However, the origin of the name is somewhat disputed. Although according to Express, the general consensus in the industry is that their manager, Malcolm McLaren, came up with the Sex Pistols name as a marketing gimmick. It was nod to the cutting-edge boutique he owned.

McLaren's version of events

McLaren says he was behind the Sex Pistols' name, according to The Express. At the time, McLaren and his partner, Vivienne Westwood, owned a Kings Road BDSM/intimate apparel shop called, appropriately, "SEX." 

Among the fishnet stockings and similar gear that you'd expect such a shop to sell was a teenage girl with her own look. Jordan Mooney's sense of rebellious fashion bled into the burgeoning punk scene and the young men who would become the Sex Pistols rocked the look cultivated by Mooney. McLaren, for his part, says that he "launched the idea in the form of a band of kids who could be perceived as being bad," and said he wanted something that sounded like "sexy young assassins." He, of course, landed on the Sex Pistols.

Original bassist Glen Matlock, however, remembers things differently. He claims that the guys themselves decided on the name while McLaren was on another continent. Further, he says that the band suggested names like Crème de la Crème, Le Bomb, and The Damned, before landing on the Sex Pistols.

What Does Sex Pistols Even Mean?

The easiest and most obvious answer to the question "what does 'the Sex Pistols' mean?" is that it refers to the band members' penises. That's certainly the conclusion reached by the website Band Name Explained, according to Express. The site points to the title of their album as evidence: "Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols." "Bollocks" is British slang for testicles, and when they're removed from the equation -– "never mind" them -– we're left with, well, you get it.

The site further posits that there's a connection between their name and not human genitalia, but floral genitalia. That is, part of the anatomy of the female plant is the pistil, so there may be a connection there.

Or of course, there's always McLaren's explanation, which is that he wanted the band to be tied to his shop, which was of course named "SEX." He could have named them "the Sex Ambassadors" or "the Sex Janitors" or whatever, so long as he started with the word "sex," but "pistols" suggested a sort of menace, the type of thing he was going for. It worked.