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What’s the game with the name?


There is a theory that a band’s name doesn’t matter. The Beatles (lame), Arctic Monkeys (nonsensical) and Little Mix (infantilising) are all appalling names which don’t seem to have impeded their members’ reputation, celebrity or bank balances. This argument holds that if the music is good enough your band will make its own weather, however stupid the name.

Anyone who believes this should heed the cautionary tale of California rock band Jimmy Eat World. In the five minutes it took them to come up with their name, they paid no attention to the letters. “Advice for new bands,” they tweeted in 2018. “When coming up with a band name, make sure its acronym displayed really large on your artwork or T-shirts won’t be complicating matters.”

Last August, British Sea Power, an indie act preoccupied with trees, birds and tide times, announced they were removing the “British” from their name due to “a rise in a certain kind of … isolationist, antagonistic nationalism” with which they didn’t want to be associated. they were unlucky that the words “British Sea Power” have only recently come to suggest antagonistic nationalism.

Last week it was Bono’s turn to reflect. In an interview with a podcast, he explained he didn’t like the name U2. When the band chose it, he explained, they thought it would conjure “futuristic” images of the spy plane and the U-boat. It didn’t work out like that perhaps because the U-2 was a spy plane from the 50s and the U-boats were submarines in the second world war and therefore not especially futuristic. Instead, Bono said, the name turned out to “imply this kind of acquiescence”. As in: “You, too, would rather listen to something else.” Some bands do change their names, but they tend not to be at the top of the charts. If you achieve lift off, why kill the golden goose, even if that goose is called The Pigeon Detectives?

Brands, on the other hand, can change their name as often as they like, and do. It’s rarely an improvement and often it’s a disaster. When it comes to consumer goods there is usually a backlash, such is the pathetic emotional investment we make in these things, as though Opal Fruits were enshrined in Magna Carta. If you ever need to identify a dad in a group of men, say you are planning to do a marathon and wait to see who replies: ”They call it a Snickers now.” Britain became a surveillance state without a murmur, but if a conglomerate tries to rename a bag of sweets there’ll be a riot faster than you can say “Change.org”.

Sometimes firms want to distance themselves from previous practices. Many people have forgotten that the eco-activists “BP” used to be an oil company, of all things, trading as British Petroleum. Royal Mail hoped that rebranding as “Consignia” would un-invent email and herald a return to their glory days. When Weight Watchers flipped to WW, for “Wellness that Works”, its members came down hard on them, although not as hard as they would have before they joined.

Tech companies change their name when they need to disguise the extent of their power. Google became “Alphabet” at the same time as discreetly sidelining its famous “don’t be evil” motto and replacing it with the more flexible “do the right thing”. Facebook have changed their name to Meta to help promote the metaverse, a concept that is being forced by a clutch of conniving executives on to a reluctant populace, like Rita Ora or Veganuary.

Ultimately, there is something endearing about all this name changing. Even the worst institutions in the world are still run by small gangs of nerds trying to come up with something cool. Perhaps bands and brands alike ought to take more inspiration from teenagers. Every school musician knows that coming up with a band name is a more urgent priority than being able to play instruments, sing or write tunes. Songs are important if you aim to perform songs. But the only reason to be in a band at school is to look cool and attract sexual interest. A name gets you most of the way there.

A friend of mine spent several years in a band called Spanish Hazard. This being the early 00s, they were a ramshackle indie outfit wearing skinny jeans and winkle-pickers who had once supported the Finnish Eurovision winners, The Rasmus. It hardly mattered that Spanish Hazard were entirely made up and never wrote a song let alone played a gig. If only U2 had had the foresight to have been fictitious it could have saved Bono a lot of trouble. The listening public, too.



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