The Name Game
Ask any nervous new parent and they’ll tell you everything is in a name. Some poor kid has to wear that thing for the rest of their life. An adventurous parent could end up condemning you a lifetime of mispronunciations, schoolyard taunts, and ‘unique’ as a euphemism. Alternately, mum and dad play it safe and you’re consigned to disappear within frequent appearances on the annual ‘Most Popular Baby’ name lists.
Choosing a band name presents a similar gauntlet. You’ve formed a formidable outfit, made some sweet tunes, and now you’re ready to send your baby out into the world; you need to rally behind a name, something that exudes power on an LP cover, something the arena crowds will scream, something that looks good on the cover of the Rolling Stone.
There are a lot of things to consider before you hit play – here are a few good places to start.
Do a pre-flight checklist
You may have landed on the greatest band name known to man, but before you start composing your introductory email to the editor of NME, you might want to do a quick check to see if your name will survive the web. This may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many bands commit without thinking through a few simple steps.
Is it taken?
Sharing isn’t caring. Choosing a band name that already exists can get you in deep water. Save yourself a lawsuit and do a quick search to make sure you’ve got a unique name.
Is your band name web-proof?
Do a quick Google search for your proposed band name –is there a suitable domain name available? Also, keep in mind that the simpler and more generic the band name, the harder it will be to find on the internet. It’s pretty hard to stand out in a Google search when your band’s name is White Sugar, or Cat Video.
And while we’re at it – are you planning on getting tricksy with your spelling? This can be a wet blanket for Google too. You may have been on to something when you named your band SyneWayvv, but that record label official who heard your name shouted across a loud dinner table is going to have a hell of a time searching for it the next day. Can your band name be easily spelled? Or pronounced? You don’t want to get so complicated that your debut album has to be phonetically titled.
Are you Facebook official?
It’s the 21st Century. Mostly, people will find you first on social media - they’ll troll for you on Facebook or Instagram. Make sure you can grab social accounts that work for your band name, and are consistent across all of them. This is a pretty hard ask, but one of the most important marketing decisions you’ll ever have to make. You want a straightforward representation on social media, without having to mangle your name. Remember that time in the mid-nineties when you were trying to nab that James@hotmail.com email address, but had to settle for JamesB_1982_@hotmail.com instead? It’s a bit like that.
Be creative (but not too creative)
We get it, you’re original – and there’s nothing wrong with wanting a name that pops on a poster, but sometimes the pendulum can swing too far. Just ask Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head, Let’s Get Out Of This Terrible Sandwich Shop, We Butter The Bread With Butter, or Crispy Ambulance. You’ll get some laughs, but just think: someone’s got to wear that on a t-shirt one day.
Make sure it means something (to you)
The 90’s rock band Toad the Wet Sprocket grabbed an obscure Monty Python joke line days before their first gig because they needed a name. Their vocalist Glen Phillips later called it “a joke that went on too long”. Sure, choose a quirky name, but realise that it counts as a part of your band’s overall narrative – it helps to be able to spin a good yarn about what the band name means; is it a tribute to your favourite band? What does it say about your influences? What feeling do you want it to evoke when people hear it? What do you stand for?
Do some word association
In a 1992 essay, Adrienne Lehrer, a linguistics professor at the University of Arizona categorized a bunch of iconic rock band names into the following popular classifications:
Death-related wordplay (Grateful Dead, Megadeth, Dead Kennedys), names relating to dangerous animals, drugs and weapons (Poison, Venom, King Cobra, Scorpions, Guns N’ Roses, Iron Maiden) and linguistic puns (The Beatles, Little Feat, Quiet Riot)
Granted, that wasn’t the most rock n’ roll thing to do, but it does go to show that being clever with language has served a lot of bands well through the ages. Sometimes it helps to think of your band name as a shopfront – it’s the very first impression you’ll make, before you’ve even strummed a note. A great pun, some snappy wordplay, it can convey a lot as far as your style and sense of humour – it’s also memorable. Try not to settle for anything too literal; while the Jim McClean Folk Trio may tell you exactly what’s in the package, it won’t stick in your mind like Ringo Deathstarr. As per Lehrer’s conclusions, there’s also something to be said for borrowing from classic concepts and imagery in order to convey a sense of timelessness.
Of course, there are exceptions to these rules; there are a bunch of bands out there who have managed to inhabit perfectly ridiculous and impractical names over the years – just ask Pearl Jam, or !!! – but these are outfits who spent decades gaining the recognition and back catalogue required to impart significance to their monikers. You may join their ranks in 20 years, but with a bit of due diligence, you may be able to make that path a whole lot easier.
And if all else fails
...head for the band name generator.