Hypothetical band names get bandied about all the time in a musician’s social spaces. How many times have you been in a conversation where someone strings together an odd combination of words, and another person blurts out, “That’d be a great band name!”? But how do you pick one you really want to live with for the lifespan of your band? And how do you pick one that sets you apart from the crowd? And, perhaps most importantly, how do you pick one that people will easily find when they type the name into a search engine? It’s all about the SEO, baby!
There’s been a rash of bands that give themselves totally generic names, almost thumbing their virtual noses at the increasing necessity of standing out online. Take for example the inspiration for Panic! At the Disco, which took their name from another band’s lyrics (not the Smiths’ “Panic,” but from the more exclamatory “Panic!” by an indie band with a generic moniker that is almost a commentary on searching online to find your band’s name: Name Taken).
For some, it’s quite straightforward: Vampire Weekend comes from a film project by lead singer Ezra Koenig. The Chainsmokers got their name from their favorite extracurricular activity. Band member Alex Pall told ABC News, “I enjoyed smoking weed and you know it was just like such a ‘yeah the domain’s open.’ I don’t have to have any like underscores.”
And check out this one: 2 Chainz originally went by the name Tity Boi because he was a breastfed only child. He reportedly changed it to 2Chainz in homage to his love of jewelry and in order to be more “family friendly.”
If you find yourself having to come up with a name, take a few lessons from these successful acts’ stories as you consider what you want people to call you onstage. And consider these guidelines:
1. Avoid Generic Band Names
You know what SEO means, right? Search Engine Optimization: Optimize your band name for the search engines! Don’t pick something ungoogleable!
Sure, there are a bajillion exceptions to this rule. There’s the band Girls, and there’s Women, Tennis, Future, and Real Estate. Heck, there’s even an Oklahoma band called Various Artists. But as you’re starting out, one of the keys to building up a following is making it as easy as possible for new fans to find and follow you online after they’ve caught your act. So avoid choosing a single everyday word for your band name. And if you want a single-word band name, swing the other way by choosing something less common. Take for example: Oxford, England-based Foals. They were reportedly named as such after a friend commented that they looked “like a bunch of foals, like stinky, smelly.”
2. Don’t Get Too Creative with Your Spelling
Again, it’s about being easy to find online. So, sure, misspelling on purpose didn’t hurt Linkin Park — which was a riff on the name of a Santa Monica park near the studio where they recorded. And it didn’t make any trouble for Lorde. Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor gave herself that name due to her fascination with aristocracy, adding the “e” to make it more “feminine.” The Weeknd’s Abel Tesfaye misspelled his name simply to avoid getting mistaken/sued by Canadian band the Weekend. But overall it’s best to keep your band name out of Wyld Stallyns territory.
Take 21 Pilots, for example: they don’t get into funky spelling but the name stands out for specificity of their number. The name is a reference to All My Sons by Arthur Miller, a play in which a man commits suicide after sending faulty airplane parts, which in turn causes 21 pilots to die in flight. Bleak stuff, yes, but also memorable stuff.
3. Don’t Riff on Another Band’s Name
Okay sure, it’s understandable if you’re so inspired that you want to name your band Lizzo’s Daughter because the “Juice” singer is your jam. However, marrying yourself to the legacy of another artist will seal an association you’ll never be able to escape, whether or not you continue to embrace Lizzo as your central inspiration for years beyond or not. Instead, try taking inspiration from how your favorite artists approached naming themselves. Father John Misty’s Josh Tillman said he chose his stage name after thinking of his favorite singers: “All my favorite singers have kind of showbiz names, like Nina Simone or Serge Gainsbourg or [Josh] Groban,” he said, mentioning the last one in jest. But even the “God’s Favorite Customer” artist ended up having regrets. He remarked that he “looks more like a ‘Dr. Fun’… I regret every day of my life not going by ‘Dr Fun.’ I’d be on Good Morning America right now.”
4. Use More Than One Word in Your Band Name
This is another way to increase the likelihood that you’re found online when someone searches for you after they’ve caught your act. For example, Mike Hadreas’ moniker Perfume Genius could’ve been Perfume. But thankfully, the Seattle artist added to it, without overdoing it. “It was just some random gibberish my friend came up with while we were watching the movie Perfume, starring Ben Whishaw,” he told Into the Gloss in 2017. “I’m kind of glad—I think I would have picked something really pretentious if I would have thought about it too much.”
5. Do Your Research
You love the band name you’ve come up with, and—amazingly—all your bandmates agree on it, too. But before you commit, make sure that the domain name is free and that the name isn’t already taken on sites like Bandcamp and Soundcloud. Belcalis Almanzar named herself after Bacardi rum. But the rapper who became Cardi B learned her lesson when she first attempted performing under a famous name that was already taken. “You know what, my sister’s name is Hennessy, so everybody used to call me Bacardi,” she told Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show. “Then it was my Instagram name, Bacardi, Bacardi B. But for some reason, my Instagram kept getting deleted, and you know what, I think it was Bacardi that had something to do with it. So I just shortened it to Cardi B.”