What Do You Call the Study of Band Names?

[This is something I wrote for Nightflight.com. Go there for more interesting music articles from a wide variety of authors. – AC]

Some time ago during the research and writing of my long-running alt-rock radio documentary, The Ongoing History of New Music, I decided to revisit one of the more popular topics: How did [band X] get their name? But as I was starting to write the script, I suddenly had a thought. What, exactly, do you call this sort of research pursuit? Is there a word for the study of the origins of band names? I had to find out.

First stop was etymology, which is the well-trod investigative path of the origins of everyday words. Kitten, for example, has been traced to the Middle English word kitoun, which is a mashup of kiteling and/or kitling (the young of any animal, but especially a cat) and chitoun, a variant of chaton, a French word for a young cat. Kitten first emerged in Western Europe and what is now the UK sometime after 1350.

Next on the list was onomastics, the study of the origins of names, something that will be very familiar to anyone who has ever bought one of those what-do-I-name-my-baby books. I learned that my name, Alan, is even older than kitten. It was first used in Brittany as far back as the 6th century and either meant “little rock” (not bad) or “handsome” (debatable). Or the name may have come from the Alans, a tribe from Iran that migrated to Europe in a migrant crisis of the 4th and 5th centuries.

Finally, I ran across the term toponymy, which focuses on the study of place names, a word which was coined sometime in the 1870s and has been in use by geographers ever since.

However, nowhere did I find any reference to any term that involved determining why, say, the Talking Heads are called the Talking Heads or why “The Beatles” is spelled the way it is. It was time to invent a new word for the English language.

I figured I was just the guy to do it. If not me, who else?

Continue reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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