Why Did Joy Division Change Their Name to New Order?

 Joy Division Exhibition

Joy Division is seen as one of the most important bands of the post-punk movement, despite their short lifespan. Many know they morphed into New Order, but why did Joy Division change their name to New Order?

Here is what I know from being a huge fan of both bands:

Joy Division changed its name to New Order after the tragic suicide of lead singer Ian Curtis in 1980 on the eve of the band’s first US tour. The band members had all previously agreed to stop using the name Joy Division if any member left the group. 

Initially, the band was in such a state of shock that continuing under the Joy Division name seemed unthinkable. And it was many years before New Order really even acknowledged Joy Division or played any Joy Division songs.

But what happened to Ian Curtis, how did the band decide to continue as New Order, and when and why did they decide to start playing Joy Division songs under their new name?

Let’s explore.

Why did Joy Division break up?

Joy Division did not break up as much as decide to go in a new direction with a new name after the suicide of lead singer Ian Curtis. The band had pledged to quit performing under the name Joy Division and retire those songs if any band member left. 

So technically, the band came to a close after Ian’s death, as the agreement stated.

Inspired by a concert of Sex Pistols, Sumner and Hook looked to hire a vocalist for their aspiring band. The band hired Ian through a wanted ad without an audition. Stephen Joined soon after the band’s first couple of drummers proved ill-fit.

This concluded the new outline for Joy Division.

The band produced iconic music from 1976-1980, producing just 2 iconic studio albums: Unknown Pleasures and Closer.

While the band began to enjoy success in music, the pressure of touring, substance abuse, an affair and a broken marriage, and sleepless nights affected Ian’s physical and mental health. And he already struggled with epilepsy.

I listened to Curtis’s song Passover and noticed how he failed to ‘find the balance in family and musical ambitions.’ He hints at the chaos to come by saying:

This is the crisis I knew had to come

Destroying the balance I’ve kept.

And before releasing the second album, “Closer”, Ian was already suffering two seizures a week.

Not making anything better, Curtis’s medications and extreme mood swings put the band into turmoil. An excerpt by Curtis written to his Belgian girlfriend, Annick Honore, indicates the Joy Division’s strain. He said:

“Joy Division in itself is such a great responsibility not only for my health and peace of mind but the fact that on me rests the future of others and more beside. Indeed the strain had become too much.”

Although Joy Division was a band with a bright future, the band never really got to experience the fruits of their labor due to the band’s break up following Ian Curtis’s death.

What happened to the lead singer of Joy Division?

Joy Division’s lead singer Ian Curtis took his own life on the eve of May 18th in 1980 after struggling with his physical and emotional health and feeling caught between his wife and his girlfriend.

Like touring musicians often come across, Ian’s relationship with wife Deborah Curtis began to flounder amidst increasing popularity.

To make it worse, Ian hid his condition of epilepsy from the band members until he suffered a major epileptic episode in the tour van following a gig in London in December 1979.

Fans and media houses speculated that Curtis’ depression over the medications he took to control his condition began to take its toll on his mental health, leading to his suicide.

While searching the story, I came across an article by Radiox.Co.Uk that explained:

Curtis had suffered from depression for some time, having lived with severe epilepsy for over 18 months, and this, coupled with personal and relationship issues, had overwhelmed the 23-year-old musician.

Does New Order play Joy Division songs?

New Order avoided playing Joy Division songs for many years, but when they reunited in 1998 after a small hiatus, they did begin to include Joy Division songs in their setlists and continue to play Joy Division songs to this day, despite their original pledged agreement to not do so without all original members. 

The initial members of the Joy Division band included vocalist Ian Curtis, guitarist/keyboardist Bernard Sumner, bassist Peter Hook, and drummer Stephen Morris.

The foursome members are known to have pledged to a standard agreement. According to the Radiox.Co.Uk:

“It was a principled stand that the musicians observed to quit performing as Joy Division when the band lost Ian Curtis.” 

Although existing members enjoyed fame and success as New Order, their legacy was overshadowed by their association with Joy Division for the initial years.

I have seen New Order 4 times, but only 1 of those times (the last of the 4) included Joy Division songs. Those songs I saw them play were:

  • Atmosphere
  • Love Will Tear Us Apart
  • Transmission
  • Isolation
  • Shadowplay


It’s worth pointing out, however, that New Order’s early single “Ceremony” is technically a Joy Division song. But it was never recorded in a studio until they were New Order.

How did New Order get their name?

As with the name Joy Division, the name New Order refers to an aspect of Nazi Germany, although the band is quick to point out that the name is not meant as a show of support for Nazi Germany. The Nazis used the term “the new order” as a reference to the political order instilled in conquered countries.

And the name Joy Division referred to brothels inside of concentration camps during World War II.

But it’s also worth pointing out that Joy Division originally went under the name Warsaw, named for the David Bowie song Warsawa.

Joy Division’s dissolution also meant that the surviving members had to start from scratch.

So when it came to form a new band, the band manager Rob Gretton was agonized over what to call the new band leading them to play their first show as a trio without any name at all.

According to Morris, one suggestion was “The Sunshine Valley Dance Band.” The band dropped the name because it sounded like an old school group and held the potential danger to infuriate the Ian Curtis fans after the latter’s suicide.

Another suggestion was “The Witch Doctors Of Zimbabwe,” but the idea was dropped when Sumner threatened to quit if they were called that.

Some other potential suggestions included vague names like “Stevie And The JDs”, “The New Order Of The Kampuchean Front,” which was considered to be a bit political until the group shortened it to just “The New Order.”

And finally, the band decided to drop “The” from ‘The New Order’ without realizing that the term was inextricably linked to right-wing rhetoric.

Peter Hook, in his autobiography “Substance: Inside New Order,” wrote:

“Never at any point did any of us consider a certain Mr. Hitler show us how daft we were. We just thought it summed up our new start perfectly.”

Despite a close link with ironic controversies, New Order’s name has stuck with the band for nearly 40 years now.

It’s also worth noting that there was already a band called The New Order in the ’70s featuring members of The Stooges and the MC5. But that band was short-lived and defunct by the time New Order arrived on the scene in late 1980.

How many members of Joy Division are in the New Order?

All 3 of Joy Division’s remaining members formed New Order along with drummer Stephen Morris’ then-girlfriend, now wife, Gillian Gilbert. However, original bassist Peter Hook left New Order in 2007 and has not yet returned.

Joy Division’s trademark was based on prominent, melodic bass, guitar, and drums as rhythm and texture; complex, literary lyrics; and mediumistic live performances.

The group’s performances created an energetic, emotional, and sonic atmosphere which marked the band’s viability.

While the band may have initially intended to continue as a trio, they had also become increasingly interested in synthesizers, as evidenced in some of the final Joy Division recordings such as Atmosphere and Love Will Tear Us Apart.

So it was not a surprise that they added Gillian Gilbert, who was comfortable on both guitar and keyboards.

As I mentioned, Hook left the band in 2007 after tensions grew between Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner, finally leading Hook to leave the band. Hook has stayed off the New Order boat since then.

Phil Cunningham and Tom Chapman joined New Order in 2011, leaving only two Joy Division existing members in the band.

The group with Morris, Sumner, Gillian, Chapman, and Cunningham continues to be called New Order.

Joy Division: The Tragic Death of Ian Curtis


The success and fame that band members enjoyed being in Joy Division were hard to surpass.

However, Ian Curtis’ sudden death and the agreement they made forced the surviving musicians to come forward with a new name.

From a list of potential suggestions, New Order was suitable for members who perfectly captured their music’s spirit.

Photo which requires attribution:

Joy Division Exhibition by Man Alive! is licensed under CC2.0 and was cropped, edited, and had a text overlay added.

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