May 9-15, 2007

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What.was.she.thinking?: Maybe some day india.arie will come back to ordinary punctuation and the joys of the upper case.

Band Bads

Our primer on how to avoid the fate of a horrible band name

By Sara Bir

Names go through cycles. I was born in an era of Saras; at school, only the Jennifers outnumbered us. Today, my heart goes out to the legions of tiny Madisons and Ethans in America. After all, naming is intimidating. The self-image of the future is at stake, something my current data-entry job reminds me of periodically. Today, I encountered one Rod Glasscock, whose coordinates I typed into a spreadsheet with a mixture of pity and marvel. What were his parents thinking?

While expectant parents can look through baby-name books, no such tool exists for new bands, whose names must be utterly unique. And, just as the hierarchy of popular first names has shifted, jettisoning Mary and David for Mackenzie and Dylan, the province of band names has become a bizarre postmodern landscape of calculated irreverence and self-awareness cloaked in faux guilelessness. In other words, bad rock-band names, which have always existed in spades, are more prevalent than ever. I don't care if Fall Out Boy's name did originate from a Simpsons episode, it's still a terrible thing to call a band. So is My Chemical Romance, Taking Back Sunday, My Brightest Diamond and any other construction of words that dangles expectantly as a fragment of an eternally unfinished sentence.

It does not have to be that way. As a public service, here is a 100 percent free band-name style guide. New bands, when you have that all-important meeting to decide what to call yourselves, simply refer to these guidelines and avoid what might be decades of life stuck with a name your thought was cool when you were 15 and easily amused.

  • A simple noun ending with an s is always a good bet; it is classic and elegant. However, after almost six decades of constant popularity, this construction has left very few objects unclaimed: Seeds, Slits, Sundays, Specials, Samples, for example, are all taken. Still, do not forget that the world is full of nouns. Look harder.
  • Spelling words incorrectly on purpose usually results in neither cuteness nor cleverness. What worked in the early 1960s (Beatles, Byrds, Cyrkle, Monkees) will come across as cloying in 2007 unless your band plays very stylized '60s psychedelic garage rock. (Note that hip-hop is exempt from this particular element of style, as well as from most rock band name guidelines in general.)

  • Letters intentionally set in lowercase or letters set in all uppercase will deeply perturb the grammar/typography nerd at your local alt-weekly newspaper. You want these people on your side. Also avoid abusing punctuation marks. Sun O))) and india.arie and ADULT. feel completely ridiculous to type and look equally ridiculous in the context of, say, a New Yorker profile; they may just go and cover Feist instead. Don't nip your best press opportunities in the bud just to indulge juvenile notions of nonconformity!

  • Don't be a jackass and go and name your band something that's virtually impossible to pronounce, like "!!!" or "OOIOO." Any name that takes more than five minutes to explain to your mom is a bad idea.

  • Place names--Boston, Europe, Chicago, America, Kansas--aren't just for power balladeers and soft-rock staples anymore. An atlas is a veritable goldmine of band names, from interstate off-ramps (Sleater-Kinney) to obscure towns in Maryland (Timonium).

  • Don't name your band after anything that could be construed as a reference to poop or semen. True, both Hot Snakes and Pearl Jam have legions of devoted fans, but come on. Yeech! Likewise, avoid drug references, unless you are in a Black Sabbath cover band, in which case Sweet Leaf is a totally awesome name. So awesome, in fact, that it is taken. Sweat Leaf, however, is not and should remain so.

  • These days, a peek at the originality of a potential band name is only a quick Google away, but lawsuits can strike even the most thorough researcher. Smart bands eschew conflict by altering their names somewhat and emerging, triumphant, with a better name: Dinosaur to Dinosaur Jr., the Champs to the Fucking Champs.

  • Dumb bands change their name midway through their careers for no apparent reason, except for a change of pace. Brooklyn's Kilowatthours, for instance, switched to Up the Empire a few years ago. Why ditch a perfectly fine name for a perfectly stupid one? Were they put into band witness protection?

  • "Wolf" and "Bear" are the Emmas and Jacobs of today's band names. Grizzly Bear, Big Bear, Panda Bear, Polar Bears, Peanut Butter Wolf, AIDS Wolf, Wolfmother, Wolf Eyes . . . Just to be safe, your band may want to lay off the mammal names. Reptiles and insects are still a good bet.

    Band names are silly by nature. Go ahead and name your Hot Topic-shoppin' emo band something like Sally's Last Nightmare or name your mock-metal band Can Opener. Be serious about the music, but don't take your name too seriously.

    Somewhere, someone--me, probably--will find a way to make fun of it.

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