Really Think It Through – When Band Names Go Bad

Coming up with a band name can sometimes be even harder than making music. It needs to be memorable and catchy, but also representative of your style and attitude. Well OK, many bands choose to stray from the ‘formula’, but the last thing you want to do is shoot yourself in the foot. If your name is too controversial or confusing nobody’s going to want to say it, let alone play it on the radio. Or even worse – you might have to change it partway through your career.

Resetting band names has the potential to really hurt a following. People easily lose track of changes, especially in the modern information overload. But regardless, some groups choose to change their names for personal reasons. Folk-punk group Andrew Jackson Jihad changed their name to AJJ in February of 2016, citing some pretty compassionate thinking: the band didn’t feel comfortable appropriating the term ‘jihad’ when they weren’t Muslim, and didn’t feel like touting the reprehensible figure of Andrew Jackson any longer. Other times, name changes may just come out of frustration. Toronto punk group Topanga changed their name to PUP in 2013 after Disney revived Boy Meets World in a move the band was not too happy about. “Topanga is now just a washed-up character in some kind of Jonas Brothers/Hannah Montana horseshit,” their announcement read.

Had AJJ and PUP not preemptively changed their names, the world might have pushed them towards it anyway. In the case of Topanga, well, companies have sued over far less. Case in point with Death From Above 1979. The act used to simply be called Death From Above. However, that was also the acronym for New York-based label DFA Records. LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy and the rest of DFA Records threatened legal action against the band version of Death From Above, who stuck the 1979 at the end of their name to keep everybody happy. And in terms of cultural sensitivity, AJJ very well have met with the same public outcry as Calgary group Viet Cong. They faced a lot of pressure to undergo a name change after several members of the Vietnamese community took offence to their historically-charged moniker. Viet Cong agreed to change their name in 2015, and after some deliberation eventually agreed on the label Preoccupations.

Even now, tempers flare over band names – sometimes across international boundaries. Canadian throat singer Tanya Tagaq has been involved in a few Twitter disputes over the past few months over groups’ titles, in an effort to charge perceptions of Indigenous peoples in popular culture. Last month Tagaq convinced Brooklyn indie group Eskimeaux to change their name, now calling themselves O. The group’s singer Gabrielle Smith wrote in a statement, “talking to Tanya about this was what ultimately helped me make up my mind to change the band name. She and I have had really different struggles, but they don’t serve to diminish one another.” And just earlier this week, Tagaq engaged with another international band in an attempt to convince them to change their name. This time she’s been Tweeting at Get Inuit, a British pop group.

Just another thing to worry about when naming your band, right? Some people may complain that Tagaq’s requests are reflective of political correctness run rampant, but listening to both sides of the story really puts the issue into perspective. Smith’s insight into the matter shows just how important mindfulness is. “The band name is the gateway to the project and I never set out to make it controversial, hurt people’s feelings, or bring up a kind of hardship I haven’t personally had to endure,” Smith’s statement read. That makes sense – a band’s name should entice new listeners, not potentially offend them and scare them off. And Tagaq’s response? “Gabrielle has taught me that people can be open and respectful when mistakes are made. I am very pleased with this outcome of the band name change and our impending friendship. Pleasant surprises,” Tagaq wrote.

Of course, some bands purposely aim to offend: Dead Kennedys, Fucked Up, Diarrhea Planet, Joy Division, Propaghandi, the list goes on. There’s definitely a kind of person that thrives off causing uproars. But when pressure bears down from lawyers and audiences alike, the last thing you want to do is be forced into making a snap name change. Giving band names a good long think is usually easier and can avoid an unnecessary stink.

Mathew Kahansky

Once upon a time, Mat studied journalism. That's how he became Alan's one-time intern and current-time contributor, and the rest is ongoing history - get it? Mat also studied biology and music, so he has a strangely specific knowledge set that doesn't really apply anywhere other than useless fun facts. He currently works for a music tech start-up in Halifax, and is a big fan of the em dash.

Mathew Kahansky has 285 posts and counting. See all posts by Mathew Kahansky

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