From ABBA to ZZ Top, All the Good Bands Names Are Taken

Well, not all the good names, of course, the English language is resilient. Still, why can’t band names be re-used like movie titles are re-used?

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When former Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones recently formed a new rock band, the music flowed easily. The struggle: inventing a name for the group.

Between takes in a recording studio, Mr. Jones brainstormed about names with his new band mates, including former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, then checked them online. Their first choice, Caligula, turned up at least seven acts named after the decadent Roman emperor, including a defunct techno outfit from Australia. Eventually the rockers decided on Them Crooked Vultures. The words held no special meaning.

“Every other name is taken,” Mr. Jones explains. “Think of a great band name and Google it, and you’ll find a French-Canadian jam band with a MySpace page.”

The available supply of punchy one- or two-word band names is dwindling. So, many acts are resorting to the unwieldy or nonsensical.

Among more than 1,900 acts expected in March at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas, are bands with the names And So I Watch You From Afar, and Everybody Was In the French Resistance…Now! The f-word1 is part of 100 band names in a media database maintained by Gracenote, a unit of Sony Corp. that licenses digital entertainment technology.

For the generations of musicians who have taken up guitars and drumsticks, picking a band name has been as crucial as teasing out a distinctive style—and usually the name comes first. For a lucky few, a word or phrase can become iconic. The Beatles, before they were legends, were briefly the Silver Beetles, a nod to Buddy Holly’s Crickets. Jerry Garcia discovered the name Grateful Dead in a dictionary.

[Click to continue reading From ABBA to ZZ Top, All the Good Bands Names Are Taken –]

My band2 has staked claim to the name Sir Swanksalot and the Swanksalot Orchestra. Just FYI.

Though we haven’t yet made it into the Allmusic database

There are about 1.4 million artist names, including 29 individual musicians named John Williams, in the database of Rovi Corp., which owns Web sites including and licenses editorial content to Apple’s iTunes and other music services.

Last year, Rovi added an average of 6,521 new names a month to its database. And the repeats are piling up.

  1. Frak, I’m guessing []
  2. consisting of me, a couple of Macs, and a couple of guitars. No good songs yet, but we’re trying. Well, we promise to start trying one of these days… []

2 thoughts on “From ABBA to ZZ Top, All the Good Bands Names Are Taken

  1. Beth says:

    I remember a friend’s band from back when who were playing at the Backroom during SXSW being contacted by a manager of an unknown Swedish band b/c they shared the same name; the mgr. threatened to sue if they didn’t make changes. Still, not sure why Unknown Band Austin and Unknown Band Sweden couldn’t co-exist with their shared bad band name when neither ever did more than dive gigs. Well, to my knowledge -the Swedes could be huge in Germany along with Hasselhof, as far as I know.

    Looking forward to the Swanskalot Orchestra release. I’m already imagining the liner notes.

  2. Brother Howe says:

    Having tried to think up band names in the past, I totally agree with John Paul Jones. It’s easier to come up with something personal (like your name or a takeoff of your name, like I did) or just put random words together that sound cool (like Them Crooked Vultures or The Dead Weather, etc.).

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