Perhaps nothing needs to be as unique to any band or business as its name. And the name must be memorable. While having a longer name doesn’t necessarily mean people will forget it, nearly every successful band has been wise enough to choose names of only one or two words (and businesses would be wise to learn from that).
Spelling helps, too, whether intentionally misspelled (Led Zeppelin, Def Leppard, Linkin Park) or simple to spell (Rush, Yes, Kid Rock, 311, U2). “I like our name because it’s easy to spell,” said Ric Ocasek of the Cars. Likewise, guitarist-vocalist Paul Stanley is credited with coming up with the KISS name because it was easy to remember and spell. (To make it more prominent in text in the era of the typewriter, they spelled it in all caps.) After all, if your name isn’t easy to remember and communicate, how will it be easy to spread the word?
In fact, more-complicated names will often evolve to shorter ones as people naturally seek to make them easier to say and remember, such as FedEx (once Federal Express), IBM (International Business Machines), and Nabisco (National Biscuit Company). Fans often refer to Led Zeppelin as simply Zeppelin, Black Sabbath as Sabbath, and Iron Maiden as Maiden. As with IBM, popular, long band names often became acroynms—Electric Light Orchestra (ELO), Bachman-Turner Overdrive (BTO), and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer (ELP). More often, however, bands with long names simply don’t last. For every They Might Be Giants or Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, there are many that never made it (and still, both bands’ names are often shortened to TMBG and CYHSY).
Sometimes, it’s hard to come up with a name, though. And with the dominance of the Internet making a good domain name important to your brand effort, you need a name that’s truly unique in order to find a dot-com name that’s not taken. Look all around you for inspiration. Names often come from the most unlikely sources, but if you don’t keep your eyes open, you won’t see it even if it’s right in front of you. Here are some sample rock band names and their inspirations:
- Lynyrd Skynyrd — Based on a high school teacher named Leonard Skinner.
- Spandau Ballet — Graffiti on a bathroom wall.
- Grateful Dead — Jerry Garcia saw the two words next to each other on a page and they jumped out at him. (LSD can cause that to happen.)
- Pink Floyd — Despite rumors that it’s a phallic euphemism, the name actually came from two blues musicians: “Pink” Anderson and Floyd Council. Interestingly, Pink Floyd originally went by the name Meggadeth, almost twenty years before the metal band Megadeth.
- Fleetwood Mac — In 1967, guitarist Peter Green and drummer Mick Fleetwood decided to start a band in place of the one they were in and wanted the bassist, John McVie, to join them. McVie wanted to remain in their existing band, however, so they successfully enticed him by naming the new band “Fleetwood Mac.”
- Seven Mary Three — It’s been misinterpreted as having a Biblical meaning, but it actually came from the 1970s’ hit TV cop show CHiPs. Officer Jon Baker’s unit number was 7M3, called on the police radio as “7 Mary 3.”
But be careful your inspiration isn’t unattractive, difficult to remember or say, or already taken:
- In the film That Thing You Do, the Oneders had to change their name to the Wonders because their manager (played by Tom Hanks) was finding that people didn’t know how to pronounce it.
- The Doobie Brothers were originally named Pud.
- Audioslave found out their name was already being used by another band in England, so they paid the English band $30,000 to use it. Ironically, they were later panned by critics for having an “assinine” name that was “one of the dumbest” in recent history.
- Chances are, Sex Maggots wouldn’t have become a multi-platinum band if they hadn’t changed their name to Goo Goo Dolls.
- And grunge may not have taken the rock music scene by storm in the early ’90s if the bands Mookie Blaycock and Pen Cap Chew hadn’t renamed themselves Pearl Jam and Nirvana, respectively.
So, what’s in a name? Sometimes everything.