How To Pick A Band Name

Tim Brennan

“Oh wow, that's so cool that you're in a band. What are you guys called?” If you don’t have a band name, are you really IN a band? You've got to get a band name. One that will announce to the world that you are awesome. So how do bands get names? Typically you will have a “band meeting” that will devolve into silliness and inside jokes, and with luck, a vote will be taken that will determine the name you will be called for the next 40 years. 

The typical scenario at this band meeting is that several members will have thought of the perfect name. You may think the name you are going to present is so great, a chorus of angels flanked by horn-blaring cherubs will appear to accompany your announcement. You are convinced the name you have in mind is so awesome that the band will be called by Spin Magazine for a cover photo shoot the second the other guys agree to your awesome idea.

So you casually mention the name among all the others being considered. You know, slip it in, kind of nonchalant, and play it cool. Perhaps the name you have in mind is “The Difference,” a name so common, yet one you’ve never heard any other band use in your whole life. It’s a name that immediately sets you apart, because even the name says you are different than the rest. You have a great idea for a logo. You can’t wait for the rest of the guys to say, “That’s it! You’re a genius.”

But all they do is shrug and offer another name. “What?” you think, “They didn’t love it?” They didn’t even write it down.

Then someone says “Galaxy of Nervous Kittens,” and everybody laughs. Someone else suggests a kitten in a spacesuit being thrown out of a rocket. Another guy finds hilarious kitten photos on the internet. I've heard the internet has photos of kittens. You can’t believe it. The guys are going with Galaxy Of Nervous Kittens when your band name was so much more awesomer.

A vote is taken and Galaxy Of Nervous Kittens prevails. You can’t believe it. How can you tell the girl you like that your band name is Galaxy of Nervous Kittens? Uggh. Your idea was soooo much better.

Resentment builds. You’re embarrassed by the band name. A friend asks you to join his band and you’re happy to move on. Maybe your new band will like "The Difference."

Soon after, you see t-shirts with G.O.N.K. around town. Posters for a new band called GONK, in all caps, is opening at your favorite club. Their logo includes a cat in a space helmet. Oh no. Not them. A car passes with the bumper sticker “Honk If You GONK” and it seems like the world has gone bonkers. “People actually like a band named Galaxy of Nervous Kittens?” you ponder while going to your third band audition in two months.

What happened?

Most band names are stupid. That’s what happened. Accept it. Galaxy Of Nervous Kittens is a stupid name. So is The Difference.

A name does not make the band. A band makes the name.

The Beatles? One of the stupidest names in rock. A bad pun. One of the greatest rock bands ever.

Hootie and The Blowfish? Way stupid. Ask the members who have had to live it down for decades. Millions of records sold make that a whole lot easier for Darius to suffer the questions about the name. There are tons of examples of bad band names that sold a ton of records. In the end, it comes down to the music.

So pick a stupid name and live with it.


However, here are some ideas to make your name less stupid:

1.     Think of how it will look on posters.

2.     Avoid punctuation. A very good local act was named Jump, Little Children. On show listings, it looked like two bands: Jump and Little Children.

3.     Avoid topical names. During the Clinton era sex scandal, several bands tried to call themselves Monica’s Blue Dress. If today you can’t remember why that was significant, neither can most people.

4.     It has to be original. "The Difference" is the name of a band in almost every city at some point. Check the internet. You’ll find out most band names you think of are already used. Not just band names, but other uses. Call yourself "The Internet" and then try to do a Google search - your band will not come up in the results. I really like a band in Charleston called Co. But every time I search for them on Google, I come up with a hundred different results. 

5.     Easy to say and understand over crappy PA systems. For example, I knew a southern group who called themselves Haint Blue. It’s a specific color of homes historically common in their area. However nobody could hear “Haint” on a mic and people thought they were “It ain’t” or even worse, “Taint blue.” Not sure why Taint Blue is worse? Then look up the Urban Dictionary definition of “taint.”

6.     If you have to explain the name, you want to use another. Don’t spend time explaining the name. It’s just a name. If people are constantly pressing you to explain it, that is their way of nicely saying they don’t like it.

7.     Remember that what seems cute, funny, or cool now is something that may be attached to you for years. 

If your band is named after the singer, it means several things:

·      Everyone else is replaceable.

·      Everyone will assume the singer writes everything.

·      The singer has to realize that everything about the band is a reflection on him or her. Good or bad. If Ike McCoy's bass player gets arrested for child porn, the word spreads that "Ike McCoy's Bassist is a pedophile," and that gets morphed into, "Ike McCoy is a pedophile." Your drummer gets into a fight at a club, the same thing hapens - it's not the drummer's name that gets blasted but the name on the poster. (Speaking of posters, if your personal name is on a poster that gets fined due to local ordinacnes, it is pretty easy for the authorities to find out who to look for.)

·      If a singer is going to play out solo some times and with the full band at other shows, seriously consider having a “(Singer Name) and the (Band name)” kind of name so people know whether to expect the full band or just you. I've gone to see local "bands" who perform originals under the singer's name, only to find one guy with a guitar doing covers. 

When all is said and done, and you’ve secured a band name that is not being used, not too similar to anyone else, looks good on posters, allows you to get a memorable web site address, and possibly even a cool logo, then forget about it. The name is probably still stupid, but it’s yours. All yours. Simply get beyond the name, and get the band rolling.

The band will make the name. The name won’t make the band. 

Images via broadwayworld, spinmagazine