When Shakespeare asked “What’s in a name?” in Romeo and Juliet, he was driving at one of the central paradoxes of identity: a name has nothing to do with who you are, and at the same time, a name has everything to do with who you are.
Choosing a band name, as unrelated a task to musical talent as it may be, can still be one of the hardest jobs a new band faces. Like the title of a book, it can determine the interest people have in listening to an album, and as your career progresses, the name you choose will develop meaning and relevance that can turn you into a legend, or into a massive joke.
Luckily, the music industry is full of bazillions of band names, good and bad, for us to look back at and learn from. Here are a few guidelines on choosing a great band name that should help you stay out of the history’s bad books alongside Hootie & The Blowfish, and 30 Odd Foot of Grunts.
1. Don’t deliberating misspell your name! Bands like Def Leppard, Korn, and Limp Bizkit have all earned big LOLs for stupid spelling, especially once their careers started to go south.
2. Don’t tag an extra letter on to the end of a name! Take Color Me Badd, Puddle of Mudd, and Ratt, for example. How are you supposed to truly love a band with a name like that?
3. Avoid replacing words with numbers and letters! Maybe this is only something that happened in the 80s and 90s (Boys II Men, 5ive), but this is 1 awful trend that I never want 2 C make a comeback.
4. Avoid acronyms, and acronym-like spellings! From W.A.S.P. to NSYNC, this naming convention has repeatedly become synonymous with bands that suck, prompting B.O.B. to change his name to Bobby Ray the moment he realized that he was actually going to be famous.
5. Never base a name on people or things that are more famous than you! Whether you’re doing it to pay tribute, be ironic, or piss people off, this kind of gimmicky name is only clever the first time you hear it (BuckCherry, Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head) and it sucks away any chance you may have had at achieving artistic credibility.
6. Don’t pick something copyrighted! Even though these type of names can sound great, like Final Fantasy, the problem is that as you slowly build a name for yourself, you’ll come to the attention of the copyright holders, and the next thing you know, you’ll be Owen Pallett, and people will be saying, “Who the fuck is Owen Pallett?”
7. Don’t Name Yourself After Places That You’re Not From! The problem with having a band name like Barcelona or Of Montreal is that millions of people are actually from Barcelona and Montreal, and millions more have very deep connections with those places, and none of those people are impressed when they find out you have nothing to do with their beloved city.
8. Don’t pick a name that implies that you are awesome! Or that you are really new, or really fresh, or really badass. If you’re going to be called New Found Glory, you better be glorious. If you’re going to be called Godsmack, you better blow my mind with ze horreur. And if you’re going to be called How To Destroy Angels, you better be an amazing new project by an already established superstar, and even then…even then…
9. Don’t pick a name that makes people feel stupid to say! There’s nothing worse than trying to talk about a band with a stupid name, a la Goo Goo Dolls or Les Savy Favs. If people are avoiding saying your band name, that’s kinda bad for the old PR.
10. Pick a name that sounds like your music! There’s nothing worse than a band name that overpromises on what the music is actually going to sound like. Hoobastank, for example, is one of the most-mocked band names of all time, but only because their music is watery, generic pop. If they brought some hardcore funk, ska, or punk-influenced reggae to the table, it would be a different story.
11. No one-word, one-syllable band names! This one’s a bit controversial, because some names, if their bang-on what you’re trying to do, like Queen, or Ween, can be great, but as a rule, trying to imply that your band is the very embodiment of, say, Rush, or WHAM!, or Live is an automatic overpromise.
12. Don’t pick something stupid because you think what you’re doing is stupid! A lot of musicians are self-conscious about acting like they actually care about what they’re doing, and so they name their band something like Kajagoogoo or The Butthole Surfers. The problem is that this approach makes it hard for other people to care about what you’re doing, too.
13. Don’t be So-and-So-and-the-Somethings! Use your own name in this configuration, and you sound like an egomaniac. Use something random, like Hootie, and you’ll be known by that goofy moniker forever.
14. Don’t make it a joke! A funny band name, like The Squirrel Nut Zippers or The Cherry-Poppin’ Daddies can only remain funny the first hundred times you hear it. Then it makes you insane with rage.
15. No catch phrases! A catch phrase band name like The Cool Kids or the famously bad Enuff Z’nuff will date your band faster than a single about the life of a Hollaback Girl.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. If you can find a name like Nirvana, that is simultaneously pompous (#8) and self-deprecating (#12), and you happen to be insanely awesome, then you’ve got a winner. Finally and most importantly, whatever name you choose, make sure it comes with a great back story. It doesn’t have to be true, just interesting, and meaningful, and complicated. What’s in a name? Nothing, and everything.