What does the name "Foo Fighters" mean?

17 November 2020, 21:00 | Updated: 18 November 2020, 10:08

Foo Fighters 1998 Denver
Foo Fighters 1998 Denver. Picture: Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images

Where did Dave Grohl get the name of his band from? Radio X gets to the source of his inspiration…

Foo Fighters - a name that’s synonymous around the world with heavy guitar anthems and the legend that is Dave Grohl. But why did Big Dave pick such an unusual name? What does “Foo Fighters” actually mean?

Back in the Nirvana days, Grohl had written and recorded songs but had kept them to himself as he considered Kurt Cobain to be the musical genius in the group. When Cobain died in April 1994, it looked like Dave would join another band as a superstar drummer, but the world was surprised when he came out of the studio with a whole album’s worth of his own songs, recorded pretty much by himself.

But Dave still wasn’t confident enough to release the music under his own name. He told Clash magazine in 2010: “Around the time that I recorded the first FF [demo] tape, I was reading a lot of books on UFOs. Not only is it a fascinating subject, but there's a treasure trove of band names in those UFO books!"

"I had recorded the first record by myself, but I wanted people to think that it was a group, I figured that FOO FIGHTERS might lead people to believe that it was more than just one guy. Silly, huh?"

"Had I actually considered this to be a career, I probably would have called it something else, because it's the stupidest fucking band name in the world."

A picture of a flying saucer photographed by farmer Paul Trent shown flying over his farm, November 1950
A picture of a flying saucer photographed by farmer Paul Trent shown flying over his farm, November 1950. Picture: Bettmann/Getty Images

The term “foo fighter” was first coined by the US Air Force in World War II, as a term for strange phenomena sighted in the sky, before the term “unidentified flying objects” became a term. In November 1944, pilots flying over Western Europe had spotted glowing objects flying quickly around the night sky - which were thought to be a new German “secret weapon”.

They were quickly dubbed “foo-fighters” by Donald J. Meiers, a radar operator in the 415th Night Fighter Squadron, who named them after a then-current comic strip called Smokey Stover. Smokey was a fireman, or “foo fighter”, who travelled to incidents in his “Foomobile”.

The term made its way into common usage in the 30s, even showing up in a Daffy Duck cartoon.

So when airmen saw bright balls of “fire”, flying in the sky, they called them “foo fighters”… and Dave Grohl picked up the term from one of the many, many books on UFO history.

Such a shame he doesn’t like the name, then! And, ironically, Grohl and his then-wife Jennifer Youngblood made a very brief cameo appearance in an episode of the TV drama The X-Files, in 1996. Mulder and Scully knew a thing or two about foo fighters…