Let’s face it: Being a musician can be tough. You have to write music, find the right people to play with, get yourself heard, craft a professional sound, record some tracks, book your own tours, etc., etc. And yet, the challenge that I hear cited most frequently by aspiring musicians is how hard it is to come up with a band name. The music side is easy. But coming up with a novel name that captures their unique take on 80s fringe crooner metal? For some reason, that seems to be impossible.
But even though deciding between The Red Scare or Camouflage! may seem like a silly thing to get hung up on, the truth is that it’s often the very first step you’re taking in sharing your art with the world. And that can be a really scary thing. Being a musician takes a lot of courage — offering up your creative output for judgment and then standing by it — and it starts with choosing a single, simple, memorable monicker that people will know you by.
What follows is a list we made to help aspiring artists come up with the perfect band name, whether you’re hoping to be the next U2 or more of a Death from Above 1979.
The Plural Nouns
This is the most common approach we encounter today, especially for indie bands. Basically, you take a noun, something simple like faun or photograph or book, make it plural, and put a “the” in front of it. The Fauns, The Photographs, or The Books all make perfectly acceptable names, especially for cute four-person indie bands writing 3-5 minute songs.
Alternate Take: Add an Adjective
If you want to take that approach one step further, simply add a descriptor before your noun. This will allow you to break outside the box a little bit, but without getting into crazy sentence-long-band-name territory. Let’s face it, The Dirty Projectors just wouldn’t be quite as interesting if they were just named The Projectors. Other examples: The Lovely Feathers, The Flaming Lips, The Ultramagnetic MCs, and The Sappy Songbirds (OK, that last one is made up — free gift). If you’re overwhelmed with options, try giving yourself a constraint: the combinations have to be surprising, alliterative, or written in Shakespearean iambs!
The Stripper Approach
When I was a kid, there was this game we’d play that you could find the perfect stripper name by combining your first pet’s name with the name of the street you lived on. I don’t know why we wanted stripper names, but this did actually unearth some pretty good names. I would be Cleo Bond, which I could both imagine on the marquis at a burlesque show or as the name of the hippest new indie act playing the Music Hall of Williamsburg. My bandmate Jeremy would be in Napoleon Hickory.
Wordplay, Puns, and Spoonerisms
These are always my favorite to think up, even if they don’t usually work out. A band name like Foxygen is a great example of really effective wordplay. Or Socktopus. Some people do this with celebrities’ names, such as Gnarls Barkley or Gringo Star, though if you go this route, please avoid doing something creepy like Bono Must Die. Celebrities are people too.
A spoonerism is what happens when you take two words and switch the first letters, like “step carefully” would become “cep starefully” or “king richard” would become “ring kichard.” Com Truise is probably the most successful example I can think of off the top of my head.
In fact, it seems like pretty much any game that helps you think of word combinations could inspire the next brilliant band name. Here are a few other quick suggestions:
- Nonsensical Rhymes. What about the Bone Zones, Hairy Mary, or the Crab Tabs? I could sit here and come up with these all day.
Play a Game of I Spy. I spy with my little eye something the color red. New band name = Red Paint. Even better if you play this with an actual child.
- Full Phrases. A lot of the more pensive bands go in for long names that evoke a certain feeling or sentiment, such as A Winged Victory for the Sullen. These names are especially good for instrumental bands where the names offer a certain story to the music.
- Mystery Symbols. I still remember the first time I encountered !!!. Not necessarily a mystery symbol, but only people who were “in the know” knew how to pronounce their name (it’s “chk chk chk”). Good for giving someone an immediate feeling of being an insider once they figure it out.
Things to Avoid
At the end of the day, pretty much anything can be made into a band name. In fact, the only approach we’d suggest avoiding is doing whatever everyone else is doing. A few years ago, everyone seemed to have the same band names: either “wolf” (Wolf Parade, We are Wolves, AIDS Wolf, Peanut Butter Wolf, etc.) or “crystal” (Crystal Castles, Crystal Sculls, Crystal Fighters, etc.). These days, I’d probably avoid the celebrity name thing, as I’m hearing a lot of that, but it’s up to you to judge. For more explanation why, check out our article “What Makes You Different”.
My final piece of advice? Just pick something. At the end of the day, whatever name you select is going to take on whatever meaning you give it over time. So rather than sitting around all day debating it, just choose whatever you can agree on today and start playing shows. Believe me: the hard part is everything after the band name!
Have you found an approach that worked for you? Share it in the comments below!