HOW TO NAME YOUR BAND PT II: EXAMPLES OF GOOD AND BAD BAND NAMES
Updated: May 27, 2021
So in the last post I ranted about what makes a name good or bad. After too much deliberation, here's a long list of good and bad names (in my opinion, obviously).
Note: I'm not judging the music, just the names.
GOOD BAND NAMES
LONG AND CRAZY NAMES (4+ WORDS):
Eddy Current Suppression Ring: Four seemingly random words, yet they actually describe a real thing.
Black Moth Super Rainbow: Four probably random words, yet they converge into one insane mental image.
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti: "Crazy Name's Crazy Thing" is a strong format (see Monty Python’s Flying Circus). Too bad he was, deservedly, #cancelled
Stranger Than Aunt Bertha's Breath: This is also the absolute limit of acceptable weirdness in a name. Beyond this, you’re drowning
Queens of the Stone Age: "This of the That" names don't always work (e.g. Teeth of the Sea), but this one does, probably because of the counterintuitive pairing of queens/stone age.
Half Man Half Biscuit: Perfect, and WTF as hell - the absolute limit of acceptable hilarity. It’s so hard to imagine a man-biscuit, but boy I love trying!
Curse These Metal Hands: Probably the only ‘entire sentence/phrase’ name I’ve ever heard that I wish my band was called, and it comes from a fictitious band in the immortal sitcom Peep Show.
Inappropriate Tough Guy Behaviour: an extraordinary phrase, made all the more so because they actually thought to use it as a band name. Heavenly.
Shitloads of Fuck All: some British industrial noise band I stumbled on back in the MySpace days. What a name.
SOMEONE AND THE SOMETHINGS:
Someone and the Somethings names can be so boring - see 98% of all early-to-mid-sixties bands. It usually boils down to Some Guy and the Who Cares - but that’s actually a pretty good name. *Adds to list*
Lothar and the Hand People: This might be my favourite name ever. So many questions (but really just two: Who is Lothar? Who are the Hand People?) It’s like a mid-twentieth century sci-fi paperback ran away from the book shop to join an insane cult. God, I wish I thought of this name first.
Echo and the Bunnymen: Bill Drummond from the KLF was obsesd with this band’s name for its mysterious connotations. I agree - it’s creepily occultish, yet soft and cuddly, like a non-murderous pagan ritual.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard: So stupid that it should be a terrible name, but they steer into the crash and come out unscathed. Go hard or go home.
THE PSYCHEDELIC 3 WORD CLASSIC (ADJ NOUN NOUN):
Neutral Milk Hotel, Blue Oyster Cult, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Unknown Mortal Orchestra: Honestly I’d have joined any of these bands just based on their names.
OTHER WEIRD NAMES THAT DON’T FIT UNDER ANY OTHER HEADING HERE:
Let's Eat Grandma: A nerdy joke about comma usage, which sounded to me like a funny-yet-awful moment in a post-apocalyptic famine. It’s just perfectly commercially suicidal, especially for a modern pop band - to gamble your prospects on such an idiotic joke is high art.
Einsturzende Neubauten (“Collapsing New Buildings”): A creative description of the band's sound and/or philosophy, which sears a striking image.
Bananagun: It’s fun, it’s stupid, and yet I can totally imagine perfectly serious music being released under this name. They’ve one-word-ified a gag as conceptually stupid as putting an orange peel in your mouth and then smiling, and ‘weaponised’ it. Ten stars.
CLASSIC TWO WORD NAMES (MOSTLY ADJ NOUN):
Ultimate Spinach, Flaming Lips, Royal Headache, The Electric Prunes: when you combine the monolithic adjective with the trivial/everyday noun you generally end up somewhere both funny and awesome. Again, I’d have joined any of these bands without even hearing them. These all fit nicely on my ‘Nirvana-Pavement scale’ (even though they're not all indie rock).
Astral Skulls, Velvet Underground, Modest Mouse, Nine Inch Nails (I count "Nine Inch" as one word), Meat Puppets, Blood Orange, Silver Jews (which works best if you're Jewish), White Lung, Fiery Furnaces, Dead Kennedys, Anal Cunt: Strong adjective, strong noun, strong name. A+ band naming.
Pink Floyd: The perfect name. It says everything, yet nothing. It combines two random blues musicians’ names. Why? Why not. Producer Joy Boyd, quite harshly, summarised this idea by comparing them and The Soft Machine in his great book White Bicycles: “The Soft Machine … didn’t convince me. The name, taken from a William Burroughs novel, epitomized their problem: it was trying just that little bit too hard. The Floyd’s mysterious plundering of the Carolina backwoods for theirs was more opaque and offhand”.
Dinosaur Jr.: A perfect meeting of the aforementioned mystical and mundane, and so much more than the sum of its parts. They were called Dinosaur and then altered it due to another band having the name. Imagine if they were just called Dinosaur.
Confidence Man: I thought it was just stupid at first but then remembered it’s “con man” unabbreviated. Now I think it’s both stupid and clever.
Flying Lotus, Forest Swords, Fever Ray, Death Grips, Future Islands: Simple pairs of words that are awesomely abstract and leave an unclear but enigmatic mental picture.
The Grateful Dead: I know I said I wasn’t going to pass judgment on anyone’s music here, but this name was truly wasted on this band.
Guided By Voices: It’s hard to articulate why this name suits the band so much. Probably because they foreground the vocals, but I think the use of passive voice says a lot about the oddly indirect route their ideas always take, and the sentence fragment-ness of it, like their music, sounds like the idea was somehow unformed until the moment you pressed play. It also suggests that they live according to a voice only they can hear, which describes the source of inspiration for a prolific yet obscure artist pretty well.
Black Sabbath: It’s just really cool, and functioned as a manifesto for the scary and gloomy sound. It’s so good that it’d be tragic if they’d called themselves anything else.
ONE WORD NAMES:
Every great one-word name now has poor SEO - Liars, Goat, Anthrax, Queen, Nirvana. The internet has eliminated good one-word names. If you use a one word band name, you will have to settle for obscure jargon, contrived misspellings, and/or a crap name.
BAD BAND NAMES
Note: again, not passing judgment on the music, just the names. (Cheer up, self-Googler - even I made the list!)
Of Montreal: "Of" is a weak word to open with. By the second word, it's already too late.
Sunburned Hand Of The Man: Might be a ‘drugs’ name, but invoking The Man just isn’t a good idea.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor: It all goes wrong with the exclamation mark... and the “Black”.
Any name starting with "Thee, These, Them": it's just a decoration for an otherwise dull "The" name.
Olivia Tremor Control: the poor man’s Neutral Milk Hotel (in name, not music).
Congratulations On Your Decision To Become A Pilot: There's very little chance this band has/had anything going for it other than a long and obscure name. Honestly, I’ve only heard this one because it's in online lists of crazy band names, so I guess that's all they're known for. In their defense, it's not as hateable as I feel I should be.
...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead: A sentence fragment can work, e.g. Guided By Voices, but this one doesn’t. It does suit the level of mysticism, pomp, and uncompromising artistry of the band, though.
Gorky's Zygotic Mynci: Good band, but this is just WAY too complicated. Any one of these words on its own would have been too much.
Architecture In Helsinki: Working a bit hard to be eccentric. It’s like if the guy from Muse was a band name.
We Were Promised Jetpacks / We Are Wolves / We Are Scientists: We Don't Care (I don't, anyway. I just want to know the band's name, not listen to a story about what they are, or were promised)
The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die: Unless there was a gun pointed at them, there was really no excuse for accepting this as their name.
Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly: Wow. This band/artist is just punishing themselves.
Casiotone For The Painfully Alone: Built-in rhymes are no good, unless you're going for a joke name.
Jimmy Eat World: 1) Always check for accidental acronyms. 2) If it's not an acronym, then why any of these words?
Wilco: Sounds like they read something off the side of a truck and I am already bored of thinking about it.
A Friend Of Mine (I was in this band), A Perfect Circle, A Flock Of Seagulls, A Day To Remember: ‘A Pretentious Name Starting With A’ (see also A Place To Bury Strangers; not a bad name, but working a bit too hard)
[This Name] And/Or [That Name] was a band I once played a gig with (redacted to protect the guilty): if you can’t commit to a single name, you can’t commit to a single vision either. Just pick one. SPECIFY, MAN.
You Say Party! We Say Die! = I say you’re just being an annoying twerp.
The Superjesus, Superchunk, Superheist, Supertramp: "Super" is just way overused.
!!!: Nice gimmick, but nothing more. Forces fans spreading the word to also give an explanation (“No, that’s their name, like, three exclamation marks”)
That One Guy: Terrible gimmick, nothing more.
Ou Est Le Swimming Pool: Why?
The Band: Jesus guys, try. I mean, someone was gonna take this one first, but all they got for it was forgettable-ness. Forgetability. Whatever.
No Use For A Name: It’s a lie! They have just as much use for a name as anyone. That's why they have one. A non-name is still a name; you can't get out of this! Even Mr. Unpronounceable Squiggle was still called "The Artist Formerly Known As Prince".
Liquid Tension Experiment: One of the endearing things about prog is that, for all their highfalutin artistic aspirations, they gleefully undermine themselves with silly in-jokes. However, you go too far and you end up called Liquid Tension Experiment.
Fuck/Cunt/Shit i.e. just about any name including swearing. It’s the cheapest imitation of rebellion, like jumping on your bed to show you’re anti-establishment. Take that, Mum and Dad!
The Joy Formidable: "The Name Pretentious”
Planes Mistaken For Stars: great rule of thumb: DON’T BE DEEP! The equation goes something like this: Deep = ‘Deep’ (in inverted commas) = Shit.
Young Fathers, Sonic Youth, Cold War Kids, New Kids On The Block, Teenage Fanclub, Youth Group, etc: comes off as a contrived attempt to appeal to ‘the kids’, or a deflection from one’s actual age. Don't be ashamed (or proud) of your age, and don't buy into ageism.
How To Destroy Angels: “How to” = a big no-no.
Mortification: This extreme metal band may think it means dying/causing death, but they’ve basically called themselves 'Embarrassment'.
Selena Gomez and the Scene: Fine, right up until the last word. Imagine saying "Hey, we're the Scene"! The shame!
Seeker Lover Keeper: It just sounds like a massive toss. Nothing against them otherwise.
Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs: Totally verbose tautological LAMENESS.
Skin Yard: All they had to do was to pick two random words. An online generator just gave me Hostile Royalty, Global Specimen, Coffin Adoption and Vertical Harm, which are all better. They may not have had online generators back then but they did have random words.
Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark: Would love to have been a fly on the wall when this name was chosen. To be fair, they were very young when they chose this absolute shitter of a name.
Noiseworks, Sonic Youth, The Soundtrack Of Our Lives, The Music, Hot Water Music, Reigning Sound, Soundgarden, Audioslave: Your name does not need to clarify that you are a band who make sounds and are music-related. This is a given.
This Will Destroy You: This is grabbing me by the collar while shouting its own name through a megaphone. Names should invite, not insist.
Gay Dad: Words that sound good out of context, but I imagine that the words “I was in a band called Gay Dad” get harder to say with time. I’ve thought of similarly 'hot potato' names - two random, groovy-sounding words, if taken out of context, but sadly, band names have to coexist with reality, and unless ruining people's day is what gets you out of bed every morning, don't embrace the potentially-offensive.
Allo Darlin’: This name makes me feel like I’m being forced into putting on a cloying British accent, which - like those strangers across the street who asked us to look after their dog for a week - is just asking too much. But you end up doing it because you can't see a way out of it.
Korn, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, Crazy Town, American Head Charge, Sevendust, Taproot, System of a Down, Puddle Of Mudd, Staind, Mudvayne, practically every nu metal band name ever: It’s almost not even worth noting, given that everything about this genre was a black hole of shit, but these names are QUITE terrible.
The final thought:
Compiling these lists has made me realise that my rigid rules as posited in the previous post aren't so applicable, and that some good/bad names fall way outside my parameters. It's an art form, like any other, and you can't fully map out the right or wrong way to do it, I guess. Like music, if it sounds good, it is.