Briggs and Ouin met during Fresher's week at Oxford; Briggs thought Ouin looked like a member of Teenage Fanclub, a band both of them liked that became a topic of their first conversation. Soon after, the two began playing music together. They advertised for a bass player, and Oli Steadman was the only person to respond to their advert. Oli Steadman's younger brother Rob later auditioned for the role of drummer.
The band is named after the Scottish town of Stornoway on the Hebridean Isle of Lewis, which appears on all UK televised weather reports and shipping forecasts. The band had never been to Stornoway when they decided to name themselves after the town. They played their first gig there on 9 April 2010 and also signed their contract to current label 4AD, a British independent record label part of Beggars Group, there as well. Brian Briggs described in a 2010 interview with UK music blog There Goes the Fear their hunt for a name: "We were looking for somewhere that sounded a bit distant and remote and coastal. And it was a very long process, and quite a fun process that I think every band goes through trying to get the right band name. And we had a massive list, pages and pages, and the only thing that they had in common was that they were all slightly coastal or maritime-themed. So we were looking in books about knots and, I dunno, guides to natural history of the seashore. And we tried quite a few out and they all failed, and this [Stornoway] was the only one that stuck, and it was reinforced by the fact that if you see at the BBC weather forecast, Stornoway is up there...so we get this wonderful free promotion every time there's a weather report."
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