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.