Coming up with a great name for yourself or your band can be a massive headache. Add to that the fact that it has become increasingly hard to pin down a good name that isn’t already taken.
There is also a myriad of legal variables to consider, which sucks all of the fun out of artistry.
This humble guide aims to give you some insight when searching for the perfect name to represent your music.
1. Does it reflect your message or your style?
It was obvious what Rage Against the Machine represented based on the name alone—aggressive music in direct opposition to systematic oppression.
If I am browsing artists on Bandcamp and click on an artist called “Eviscerated Corpses”, I fully expect to hear blast beats, guttural vocals and speed-picking.
Directly calling to mind a certain genre or a specific mentality may not be what you want, though.
Other artist names are more abstract, like “Chon” or “Animals as Leaders“, which leaves the imagination open to a world of different sounds and a fusion of genres.
Having an abstract name can allow for a unique combination of influences, and plenty of room to grow and evolve under that name.
2. Is it taken or too similar to another artist?
If the name you really identify with is similar to another artist, ask yourself two things:
- Is it phonetically similar?
- Are we in the same genre?
If you’re in a punk band and you want to be called “The Misphitz“, although it isn’t spelled exactly as the legendary “Misfits”, it is phonetically the same and would prove indistinguishable in speech. Chances are good that Jerry Only will be greasing down his devil-lock and coming to put the pressure on you.
Sometimes, the name you want is taken but by an inactive artist—one of my personal pet peeves!
For instance, a name I had considered in the past was taken by a 15-year old kid in the countryside of Montana who released one guitars-only demo track recorded on a PC microphone.
The artist was not active, had no other instances of himself or his work anywhere on the interwebz.
This lad most likely thought it would be cool to do music, wrote a song, didn’t become a rock star instantly, and forgot all about music. Such a scenario would say to me that the name is up for grabs.
Use your best judgement.
What sucks about the above situation, is that he had claimed the bloody Bandcamp URL!
With the thousands of artists emerging and connecting worldwide, a naming similarity is unavoidable. Be conscious of who else is out there and do a bit of research before committing to your artistic identity.
If you find another artist or band with your name, and they are still emerging but active, some sort of musician’s code of ethics tells me to leave it alone, as that band is working very hard to establish themselves.
3. Does it include a trademark or global brand?
This might be sort of obvious, but musicians have gotten in trouble with this in the past.
Using a trademarked name in your band/artist name is a very big no-no. Calling yourself “Pepsi”, for example, would be a really bad idea.
Even including the name would be a bad idea.
Pepsi is such a ubiquitous brand name backed by a monstrously-sized corporation that you can’t touch it. Just stay away.
Don’t use or incorporate names like Star Wars, Nike, Chevrolet, etc.
Any trade-name that is so well-known it’s damn-near encoded in human DNA, or a “household name“, is strictly off-limits!
There is some wiggle-room, however, if the trademark is not a globally-recognized, mega-brand.
Maybe you’ve taken on the name Deep Blue, but there is a local pool-supply company in Florida called Deep Blue LLC.
This would most likely pose no threat to you.
First, the pool-supply company is not a global brand, and secondly the services/goods offered are vastly different (skimmers and chlorine tablets vs. music).
If you can get some free legal advice, by all means do so. I’ve looked into this stuff to the best of my abilities, but I ain’t a lawyer.
4. Is it fairly easy to spell and pronounce?
Not everyone out there is a spelling-bee champ, but your band name needs to be easy enough for someone to type into a search field if they’ve only heard it spoken to them.
An extremely convoluted band-name is also a more forgettable one—when your band/artist name can’t be grafted onto anything pre-existing in a person’s mind, it is quickly swept away in the day-to-day stream of information.
If you’re picking a name from a foreign language, try to choose one that would be hard to butcher.
I have yet to hear anyone mispronounce the band name Gojira, although it is the Japanese name of Godzilla.
The plus side of an exotic name is that it could be just novel enough to be memorable!
You simply have to make sure that people can type it well enough to search for you, and to pronounce it well enough to mention you to a friend in spoken conversation.
5. Does it resonate with your potential fans?
Who do you think is going to like your music?
If you play very aggressive, brutal metal—like the soundtrack to the apocalypse—and you’re all about connecting with those who embrace this sort of chaos, then think about this demographic for a moment.
What else do they typically like?
Think movies, books, video games and other sub-cultural staples.
You’ll probably come up with some commonalities that you, your friends, and potential fans all share in terms of taste.
Horror movies. Mythical Lovecraftian monsters. A predilection for the morbid and grotesque. Warcraft. Who knows what else?
This can at least give you some sphere within which to search for a fitting name!
Band or artist names, as well song and album titles, in the genre of modern prog-metal and djent usually play on the more “intelligent” or “intellectual” demographic of metal enthusiasts, by alluding to technical, scientific or fundamental-level things.
Intervals. Periphery. Amorphis.
You’ll see plenty of nods in this musical sphere to mathematics, physics, cosmology, and higher-awareness sort of things that go hand-in-hand with the complex time-signatures. meters, and scales that make up progressive metal.
Having a band name that reflects the sub-culture of your own circle and your target audience is like having a big banner hoisted that says “I’m one of you!”—you’re instantly relatable and have piqued their curiosity.
6. What About Using Your Own Name?
Maybe mom and dad already solved the naming issue for you?
You can certainly use your own name, which is something most artists did in the dawn of the music industry.
But what if your name is some total misfortune like Percy Clutterbuck?
That might work for a Portland-area indie artist, singer-songwriter type, but that may be far removed from your genre.
Perhaps your name isn’t as silly as some Harry Potter supporting character, but it just doesn’t sound very cool.
Keith Prater is my name. It’s a fine name for an ordinary fella’, but as an artist it doesn’t represent my vision or the characteristics of my music.
On the other hand, Keith Merrow’s name works as a metal artist.
It just sounds cool, and it may have something to do with a sub-conscious word-idea connection—merrow, marrow, bones, skulls, skeletons—see where I’m going? It connects, however tenuously, to the metal world.
Aside from the fact there are a gazillion Bob Smith’s out there, your own name just might not have the right ring to it, or make sense with what you’re doing.
It Still Sucks
If you’re struggling to find the right name after all of this cool advice, that’s ok—this process can really suck!
Try some word association exercises to see if any Jungian subconscious gems begin to surface.
Ask the Ouija board, see a psychic, plow through encyclopedias, watch Japanese anime, or even browse the tool-shed and stumble upon a can of Sevindust insecticide like the band Sevendust did.
The name may simply find you.
Once you have a potential name, try it on!
If you’re capable in Photoshop, make some rough album covers for your tracks in iTunes, and maybe even some mock-ups of t-shirts with your band/artist name on them.
Bounce the name off of friends, family, co-workers, and more just to gauge their initial reaction.
Once you nail down a name, and you’re serious about moving on, go ahead and claim URLs for the popular platforms; stake out a Bandcamp, Facebook page, YouTube channel, Soundcloud, etc..
A Name is a Name
At the end of the day, any name is what you make of it, as the band Korn proved in the 1990’s.
However, because the public is so inundated with bids for attention these days, and there are so many brands swarming around at any given time, you have a lot more to consider when choosing your handle.
Best of luck!
Let me know in the comments what your favorite band name is, and which band names you think totally fail!