I remember the first time a band name caught my ear, before I’d even heard the music. It was the Spice Girls.
Now hear me out, I know many readers will be judging such a statement, but I was an impressionable 10 year-old who was discovering the world of popular music. The name was different to the single-worded band names of the Brit Pop era like Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Suede (names that didn’t really make sense to me), and of course the band WAS different to those.
If you think about it, the Spice Girls demonstrate how a name can describe and reflect the culture of the band; their individual identities make the band unique, they came to a male-heavy pop scene and claimed their female identity. For me, it was exactly what I needed at that time. My ears pricked up at the word ‘girls’ – a girl band? That’s different. Spice – that sounds quirky.
So, what makes the perfect band name? How can you sound unique, whilst reflecting the culture of your music? How can you grab your audience’s attention before they’ve even heard your music? I’m going to try to work out the perfect formula in this article.
Stage one: Subject.
First of all, you need to decide what KIND of name you’re going to have – i.e. the subject of the name. From extensive research, I have concluded that band names fall into the following categories:
Let’s break it down.
This is a fairly obvious one. Name your band after an obvious or obscure reference to your favourite band. This works not only to capture the right audience for your band, it reflects your sound, as well as jumps on the popularity of someone else making you almost recognisable already. (On a side note, Almost Recognisable is the name of my cover band…)
Examples: The Ordinary Boys and Morrissey; The Hollies and Buddy Holly, Death Cab For Cutie and Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band; Badfinger and The Beatles.
An avenue (pun intended) a lot of bands go down is name themselves after a local landmark or place that means something to them. It gives identity beyond the music, it also resonates with a local audience. Let’s face it: the UK has some pretty cool place names.
Two Door Cinema Club - named after a local cinema, the Tudor Cinema, which was mispronounced by a band member
The Four Seasons - a bowling alley the band used to rehearse in
East 17 - the postcode of Walthamstow (E17)
Maximo Park - despite their North East roots, the band took their name from a park in Miami (the Newcastle of Southern Florida)
Linkin Park - named after Lincoln Park near to where the band lived. They had intended the spelling to be correct but the lincolnpark.com domain was too expensive to purchase
The Hoax - The Wiltshire blues band needed a name pronto for their first gig and saw a local headline about the famous crop circles of the area being a hoax.
A lot of bands find influence through their studies of historical events, or perhaps they just find words and names from the past interesting. For me, there’s an element of creativity AND pretentiousness from naming a band after an obscure historical or cultural event.
Franz Ferdinand - The Archduke whose assassination triggered the start of the First World War
Bastille - so named because 14th July is not only Bastille Day, but also lead singer Dan Smith's birthday
Tigers of Pan Tang - The Whitley Bay heavy metal band took their name from the fantasy world of Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melniboné
Kasabian - after Linda Kasabian, a member of Charles Manson's 'Family' who famously drove his getaway car
Duran Duran - Dr. Durand Durand was the villain in the film Barbarella and as the band played at Birmingham's Barbarella's nightclub, they decided to reference the film in their name.
Name/Nickname of band members
This could be an obvious one. But I’m sure we all have fairly creative nicknames for friends who, if heard wouldn’t make any sense to an outsider, but sounds interesting. (One of my nicknames is Wearby). Aside from bands that contain members’ actual names - there are plenty of creative examples of bands named after members.
The Spice Girls - Geri halliwell thought of 'Spice' as the girls were so different but a US rapper had claimed that name, so their manager called them Spice Girls
The Band - Originally called The Hawks but changed to the generic name after playing with Bob Dylan in the '60's during his electric transition. Critics of Dylan's new direction referred to The Hawks simply as 'the band' so they decided to own it
The La's - Originating from Liverpool, 'la' is Scouse for lad or mate
Young Fathers - All three members have their father's names
Weezer - this was the rather harsh nickname of a band member who suffered with asthma in school
Oasis. Named after the Swindon Leisure Centre. That’s not a bad thing (it’s got a great wave machine). I could easily see a band called City Pool.
Stage two: Structure.
Now you have the subject in mind, you need to decide on the structure of the name. You have several considerations:
Bands that have a ‘the’ at the beginning of their name is a common occurrence in rock and roll, Made popular in the 60s with The Beatles claiming inspiration from Buddy Holly and the Crickets, The Rolling Stones taking their name from a line in Muddy Water’s Manish Boy. There’s no real reason why you would want to put a ‘The’ in front of your name or not, but if your sound is more rock or country, it’s likely that you’ll be using it.
When you look at band names like Florence & The Machine, or Hootie and the Blowfish, there’s a nice rhythm to ‘and the’. Stemming from lead singers and their backing bands – Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Three, Rachel Unthank and the Winterset, Ryan Adams and The Cardinals, you’re actually explaining the structure or hierarchy of your band.
Or you have the likes of Mumford & Sons, who used ‘and’ to make the band seem like a family company, reflecting their alternative styles.
Are you a collective of things like the Stone Roses or The Animals? Or are you a singular unit like The Coral or Queen? Bands that are plural will most likely get a ‘the’ put in front of their name (like the Spice Girls).
Do you want to stand out from the crowd? Then use quirky spelling! Lynyrd Skynyrd is the classic example of this (named after Leonard Skinner). Replacing a vowel is the common way to make your band name stand out, for example The Byrds. The likes of Chvrches (pronounced Churches) used that spelling so they would stand out in online searches.
There’s also the route of using a number instead of a letter, like boyband 5ive or Deadmau5; or using a symbol like B*Witched, ∆ (Alt-J) or Ƭ̵̬̊
So, what makes a great band name? That depends on who you’re talking to. In my research for this article, many people I spoke to had their favourite bands and the reasons behind their name, but to find a common formula for one that works, the music has to be good. And whilst there are names out there that catch the ear before the music like the Spice Girls did for me, there are plenty of ‘mundane’ band names that aren’t mentioned here but whose music catches the ear regardless.
In summary? It’s all about the music.