Author: Zuniga, Henry

The Name Game

In a recent post, CBA member Rainy Escobar asked for members’ ideas about what to name her new band. Several of the suggestions were very clever, and it became very hard to decide upon one. Finally, it was put to a vote on our message board. I’m proud to say that my wife Nancy contributed the winning name, The Rainy Day Ramblers. I hope that the name works well for this new and exciting band.

So, what’s in a name? Can the right name have an impact on the success of a band? Can a band choose a name that keeps them from being noticed? Even the “Bard,” William Shakespeare, had an opinion on the subject of names. Almost all of us are familiar with the line from Romeo and Juliet: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Certainly there is a bit of truth to this. Names are just a few letters thrown together as a means to identify the things around us. Our early ancestors had to develop language and eventually ways to write the words that they chose to identify things, including roses. Thus, a rose could have been called a stone, or whatever, and we would still accept this as the name of the aromatic, thorny flower.

Today, we all know the proper and generally accepted names of most things. Cars will always be cars, etc. But what should you call something like a new band? A band is essentially a group a people playing music, but to call it the “Music Makers” would be very ambiguous, to say the least. A new band has to decide upon a name for itself that will do several things. First, and foremost, I believe that a band’s name should intrigue the imagination of strangers. By this I mean that it should be unique enough to make those unfamiliar with it want to know more about it. Here’s an example: I was just a boy when the Beatles became superstars in rock and roll. I, and I believe many other people, thought that the name was picked because many of the bands of the day were using names of natural things like such as turtles, and birds. I recently learned that the name was reflective of many things and in fact was a double entendre’. While it was in keeping with the use of nature as a gimmick, it also represented the “beat” generation, and it was hoped that people would be intrigued by the misspelling of the word and investigate it more thoroughly. The clothing and haircuts were also nods to the beat generation. As we are all aware, the Beatles would eventually discard the suits in favor of the relaxed, psychedelically influenced fashion of the hippie era, but, as rock and roll evolved, the name of the fab four did not. The 'seventies generation scoffed the cute names of the 'sixties bands and were drawn to names like Bad Company, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath. Is it possible that the Beatles name was a factor in the bands’ demise? You could make a case that the possibility exists.

So, what does this have to do with bluegrass music? Well, I believe a lot. To begin with, the very use of bluegrass to describe the new sound that Bill Monroe introduced to America was a stroke of genius! Not only did it give a name to the sound, it made it regionally identifiable. Everyone knows that Kentucky is the Bluegrass State, and using that name opened the imagination to mountains, stills, and hillbilly music. Hollows, hills, creeks, valleys, etc., are all commonly used words in bluegrass band names. When we see these kinds of words used in a band’s name, we generally assume that the bands plays bluegrass, country, or folk music. But what are you to do if you live far away from Kentucky or any of the other states we identify as the birthplace of bluegrass music? Well, this can be a very tricky thing. Even if the instruments, the music, and the vocals are the same, we have to be careful to pick a name that doesn’t offend or cause one’s band to become the object of debate, or worse yet, ridicule.

Many fine bluegrass bands have come out of places like California that are far away from Rosine, Kentucky. In fact there are bluegrass bands all over the world. Because of this, many bands include the word “bluegrass” as a tag in their names, i.e., “Nashville Bluegrass Band” instead of simply “Nashville Band.” This gives a little bit of freedom in choosing a name, as the word “bluegrass” gives immediate identity to the kind of music the band plays.

So, what factors should you consider when choosing a name? I think it should be catchy, easily identifiable, and able to be accepted by new generations. You should keep it short so that it doesn’t cover half of your CD covers, festival posters, and tee shirts. Consideration should be given when giving a particular member separate billing. This has been one of the biggest reasons for bands parting ways and if the band happens to become famous, can lead to years of bitter litigation. In this day of the world wide web it is wise to find a name that is easy to find on sites like YouTube and Facebook, two of the leading ways of getting free recognition for your music. One thing is certain, picking a name for a band isn’t easy, but it’s usually a lot of fun, and often very revealing.
Posted:  2/20/2010

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