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Why is the Music Group Pearl Jam Named Pearl Jam?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 23, 2024
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Getting the real story behind a band's name can be an exercise in frustration, and the Pearl Jam saga is no exception. There are a number of rumors concerning the meaning of the name, and some of them are barely discussable in a family-friendly forum. Had the band's original ideas remained intact, however, listeners would be discussing the meaning behind the band name Mookie Blaylock. Several members of the band were fans of a professional basketball player named Mookie Blaylock, and they went out on a few early tours under that name.

This is where the stories behind the name Pearl Jam diverge. Some sources suggest that Mookie Blaylock objected to his name being attached to a grunge rock band from Seattle. When the grunge movement became popular, the record label insisted that the band create a new name. After much discussion, the band agreed on the name Pearl. One prevalent rumor is that the band attended a Neil Young concert and noticed that almost all of Young's songs were extended jam sessions. This idea of musicians jamming onstage provided the Jam in the name.

Another rumor about the name started after lead singer Eddie Vedder provided his own satirical spin to several interviewers. Vedder claimed that his great-grandmother, a woman named Pearl, married a Native American man, and together they concocted a number of hallucinogenic products. One particular favorite was a jam containing the hallucinogenic cactus called peyote. The combination of his great-grandmother's name and her favorite drug-laced jam inspired the band to call itself Pearl Jam. Although Eddie Vedder does have a great-grandmother named Pearl, the story is considered a fabrication used to mollify intrusive reporters.

Other rumors surrounding the name range from the plausible to the vulgar. Some say that when the name Mookie Blaylock was rejected for legal reasons, the band decided to use his nickname instead. Their first album was allegedly named Ten in honor of Blaylock's number in the 1989 National Basketball Association (NBA) draft, although other sources say Blaylock's draft number was 12.

Perhaps the worst rumor concerning the name Pearl Jam is sexual in nature. Band names such as the Lovin' Spoonful and 10CC had already been connected to an unmentionable sort of "inspiration," so it is not unthinkable that a male rock band would use a sexual reference for their band name. The members of the band deny any frat boy connotations behind their name, although their own explanation behind the imagery is also a bit coarse.

Members of the band have given several interviews in which they explain their concept behind the "pearl" in the name. An oyster doesn't form a pearl for aesthetics; it's a natural reaction to an irritation. The oyster excretes a form of bodily waste to contain this irritant. The result, at least for humans, is a perfectly formed pearl. The members of Pearl Jam felt that the story of the pearl's evolution from waste product to prized possession was an allegory of their approach to music. Sometimes, a great piece of music would emerge from the darkest or lowest moments of their personal lives.

Musical Expert is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to Musical Expert, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon962071 — On Jul 21, 2014

I live in Seattle and have heard the mushroom jam/lady named Pearl story. Sounds very plausible- especially in Seattle. It's this story that made me re-listen and appreciate them even more.

By JackWhack — On Feb 20, 2013

Whenever bands have names that aren't easily explained, it can be tempting for fans to come up with poetic reasons for the names. Sometimes, the reasons behind the names are just simple or stupid, though.

There's no real way of knowing, unless you were there in the room when the band came up with a name. You just have to believe whatever they say about it. They could have lucked into a name that sounds interesting, but there reasons behind choosing the name could be vulgar or silly.

By feasting — On Feb 19, 2013

I had heard the story about Eddie having a grandmother named Pearl who made great jam, but I had never heard that it contained peyote. I just thought it was something fruity, like grape jam. That sounds more believable.

By Oceana — On Feb 18, 2013

@Kristee – Yes, they did have good lyrics, but in my opinion, they weren't nearly grateful enough for having made it big. They seemed to always want to downplay their fame, and I even recall them refusing to make any more music videos after their first few were so successful on MTV.

I don't think that anyone who finds the success that eludes thousands of musicians should act this way. If a reporter asks a question that you don't want to answer, don't make up something to be sarcastic. Just tell him you don't want to answer that.

I don't think a band should keep the origin of its name a secret, either. Your name is very public, and it is how your fans know you. Own up to how you got it.

By Kristee — On Feb 18, 2013

I prefer the explanation in the last paragraph of this article. This seems more in keeping with the depth of Pearl Jam's lyrics than the other more crude explanations.

By anon270418 — On May 22, 2012

I grew up an Seattle and everyone always said that one of the members was part native american, and his grandmother used to make jam with psychedelic mushrooms and called it "pearl jam".

By anon170785 — On Apr 27, 2011

I've always assumed Pearl Jam referred to sperm. Look at all their peers and precursors - Cream, Lovin' Spoonful, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Steely Dan, Hole. Rock bands often name themselves with "hidden" meanings like this. It's kind of stupid.

By anon158055 — On Mar 05, 2011

It was a way to avoid saying sperm.

By anon143605 — On Jan 17, 2011

Come on "wise?" geek, Ten was Mookie Blaylock's jersey number, not draft position.

ValleyFiah, you may want to revisit Pearl Jam, their last album is better than anything the white stripes or black keys have done.

By ValleyFiah — On Oct 10, 2010

When I was a kid, my best friend and I used to listen to Pearl Jam. In fact, one of the first concerts I had ever gone to was a pearl jam concert when I was about ten years old. I don't listen to pearl jam much anymore, but I listen to blues rock groups like the White Stripes and The Black Keys. These are all good groups. This site always has such interesting articles. This one definitely had a nostalgic quality.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to Musical Expert, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide...
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