The Do's and Dont's of Naming Your Band
  • WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 2013

  • Posted by: Dorit Finkel

I know I'm not the only one who's been feeling frustrated with the lack of original band names of late. The plethora of animal-centric monikers is dizzying and tiring at this point (for the sake of space, let's take deer: Deerhunter, Deerhoof, Deer Tick, The Antlers, Crystal Antlers, Deer Tracks, and arguably The Dears), and then there's the recent upsurge of bands that feel the need to declare their youth (The Youth, Youth Lagoon, Young Empires, Young The Giant, Reptile Youth, Young Buffalo). A few years ago it was all about the exclamations (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Oh No Oh My, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Yeasayer), and there seems to be no end in sight when it comes to tree-related titles (Scattered Trees, Neon Trees, Taken By Trees). Why does this happen? And what makes an original band name?

Well for one thing, don't use a band name that has a word that's already been done to perfection (don't use "Youth" because Sonic Youth did it better; don't use "Magnetic" unless it's a specific shout-out to the Magnetic Fields). Enough with the cutesy nature names. And another piece of advice: know your history! This got us thinking about band name trends as a repeating phenomenon in rock. Let's look at a timeline:

1960s: The ____s.
Examples:
The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Stooges, The Temptations, The Beach Boys, The Doors
This trend has lasted and lasted, with a resurgence in popularity during The Strokes' heyday in the post-millennium throwback to 60s garage rock. With its infinite possibilities, it's still a viable options for bands, though it's best to pick something either very unexpected, something that relates to your music (ironically or not), or something really cool. The Vines, The Hives, The Shins = nope. The Black Keys, The Magnetic Fields, The Pixies = doing it right.

1970s: Locations.
Examples:
Chicago, Boston, Kansas, America, Berlin
What was the deal with this? It seems like bands were just going around claiming cities and countries with their band's flag for the sake of it. More recently, we have Beirut, Barcelona, Of Montreal, and Phoenix, but it hasn't gotten to the point of madness. Which is good, because locations seem like kind of a cheap way to overemphasize your music's importance.

1980s: Big statement nouns.
Examples:
Genesis, Queen, Heart, Rush, Poison, Foreigner.
These were best implemented when they were tongue-in-cheek, and almost embarrassing when they weren't. To a lesser extent, we also had the ironic military names (B-52s, U2) and half of people's names (Madonna, Van Halen, Bon Jovi). I might also mention that in the 90s, there were bands who did the "big statement noun" thing a bit ironically, bands like Air, Blur, and Nirvana. Still a viable option unless you're banging your listeners over the head with the "clever irony" (see: fun.).

1990s: Two unrelated words.
Examples:
Pearl Jam, Blind Melon, Smashing Pumpkins, Flaming Lips, Screaming Trees, Sonic Youth.
As a nod to the messiness of the grunge movement and perhaps the confusing post-80s mega-consumerism, there were a lot of adjectives thrown in with nouns, which resulted in band names that made you feel a bit uneasy while still being funny. (The less endearing trend of the 90s was word-number combinations like Blink 182, Sum 41, and Matchbox 20. Thank god that's over.)

2000s: Urban Outfitters
Examples:
Wolf Parade, Young Natives, Owl City, Said The Whale.
As I've mentioned, there have been plenty of bands in the past decade who wanted to sound, in both music and name, like they'd just stepped out of the 60s. But the more pervasive trend has been "Urban Outfitters" bands, so named because it seems like they just walked around the hipster version of Gap and named things they saw: feathers, trees, anything Native American, children's books, owls, deer, wolves, bears, you get the picture. My question is: why hasn't this trend tired itself out yet? Just because something reminds you of that one vacation you had in Yosemite doesn't mean your band (which, incidentally, sounds like a combination of Grizzly Bear and Fleet Foxes) should wear that name. When you have to clarify that you meant Tiger, Tiger and not Tiger! Tiger!, you know that we, as a community, have a problem.

2010s: ?
Since we've started off the decade with a lot of reruns, I'm going to make some predictions as to the next big band name trends.

Facial hair: mustache-laden toys are all over the "indie" gift shops, and beard-laden boys are all over the music scene. It seems only logical that facial hair band names would come next. How about these?
The Little Beards
Mustache Sweater
Eyebrow Now!

Strange abbreviations: along the lines of MGMT, LMFAO, and DIIV, whatever that is. Have fun with it!
S.O.B. - Sons Of Britches
WTF - Wet Tissue Fight
XXX - (self-explanatory)

Plays on literature: after Pride and Prejudice and Zombies became a trend in Barnes and Noble, right next to Little Vampire Women and an entire table of Fifty Shades of Gray knock-offs, the book world seems ripe for the ironic picking, given a bit of log-cabin flavor. For instance:
Fifty Shades of Clay
The Okay Gatsbys
Portland's Complaint
Drapes of Wrath

Using these tips, you should now be able to eliminate at least a few potential band names, or at least look for inspiration in places outside the zoo.

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