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So you wanna be in a rock band?: What’s in a name?

Rose Cora Perry | Interrobang | Lifestyles | November 13th, 2006



Think back for a moment to highschool English class (yes, I know it may be painful for some of you) when you studied Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, and came across the legendary line, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet,” (2.2.1-2.)

Although it’s true that the rose, the object in question, would not physically change if it were to be renamed, the meaning associated with it would be altered. When the term “rose” is mentioned in conversation, various connotations and symbols with which it’s associated come to mind. If this word were to be replaced with another, those meanings could potentially be lost.

Words are more than just letters strung together to create sounds. They evoke emotion and/or action. Therefore, putting serious consideration into your band’s name selection process is essential.

Your band name should be catchy, easy to pronounce, universally understood, but most importantly, it needs to mean something to the band. One of the frequently asked questions in interviews, is “What is the story behind your band name?” or “What does your band name mean?” If there is no rationale behind the choice of your band name, the media may get the impression that you aren’t taking your music career very seriously. Though there are some bands that chose names for their humour or shock value, I honestly believe that there should be something more to it. Comedic value and controversy will only go so far, and being left to explain a lame story regarding your band’s name selection, year after year, will get old fast.

When it comes to band name selection, looking through a dictionary, or thesaurus can often assist with brainstorming, but be wary of deciding upon something without researching first to see if there’s already an established act that goes by that name. If you want to avoid band name hassles, the Internet can definitely help. Conducting a preliminary search in various band directories is a good starting point.

Keep in mind that there are several bands that share the same or similar names. The only time when this will become an issue is when, for example: Band A from Canada decides to tour Europe where another act named Band A resides.

In such a situation, the Canadian Band A legally would be required to adopt an alias when touring that region, or in extreme cases, may be required to forfeit their rights to their band name altogether if reasonable evidence can prove that the European act was established previously, and holds the registration rights to the band name. I’m sure some of you remember the infamous Bush X incident some years back, in which they were required to drop the “X” out of their name because of this very situation.

Unfortunately there is no such thing as a law that can copyright a name, whether it be the title of a book, a movie heading, or a band name. However, band name registration, the next best thing, is widely available. There are fantastic sites such as bandname.com, which allow musicians to register their band name in a worldwide directory for a minimal fee.

As the website notes, “establishing prior usage is a key component in protecting your name and unwelcome legal challenges. The Worldwide Registry notifies artists and labels where potential territorial name conflicts exists and registers your historical claim to ‘name’ usage”. Although sites such as one this exist, unfortunately not every band utilizes them or is even aware of their presence. Irrespective of this, I do recommend registering your band name through some avenue because if you ever find yourself in a legal battle, having a paper trail will definitely add credibility to your argument.

As an extension of your band’s name, “tag-lines” (similar to slogans) are often used in association with promotional purposes. These tag-lines are either derived from notable press quotes or they are a summation of how the band wants to be identified by the public. Short and sweet will really win the ticket here, as well as creativity, but be careful not to go overboard. Do not state that your band is the best thing since sliced bread. The premise behind tag-lines is to make your band identifiable: to associate a catch phrase with it, that makes you stick out from the rest.

A common practice is to draw a comparison between your band and a well respected/ renowned act of the past with an added twist. If you are unfamiliar with this practice, I can offer you a personal anecdote. My band Anti-Hero has been tagged “The 21st Century Answer to Nirvana” by CoverZone Magazine, USA. The editor of this magazine made an allusion to Nirvana because she feels that our music speaks to youth culture and their concerns, does not follow suit with the current popular trends or conventions, and is unapologetic in its hard-hitting honesty much like Nirvana was in the early 90s. Whether you agree with this comparison or not is up to your discretion, however, it’s become a great promotional tool for us, and we’ve found more often than not, that fans and reviewers alike feel we live up to the reputation.

Establishing a unforgettable name and solid tag-line is really half the battle to managing your band’s image, so leave something with people that they can remember and tell to all of their friends.

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