What’s the game with the name? | Ed Cumming

Jhere’s a theory that a band’s name doesn’t matter. The Beatles (lame), Arctic Monkeys (insane), and Little Mix (infantilizing) are all dreadful names that don’t seem to have hampered their members’ reputations, fame, or bank balances. This argument argues that if the music is good enough, your band will do its own thing, no matter how stupid the name.

Anyone who believes this should heed the cautionary tale of Californian rock band Jimmy Eat World. For the five minutes it took them to find their name, they paid no attention to the letters. “Tips for new bands,” they tweeted in 2018. “When coming up with a band name, make sure its acronym displayed in big letters on your artwork or t-shirts won’t complicate things.”

Last August, British Sea Power, an independent group concerned about trees, birds and tide times, announced it was dropping the ‘Briton’ from its name due to “the rise of a certain type of… isolationist and antagonistic nationalism” with which he had no I don’t want to be associated. they were unlucky that the words “British Sea Power” had only recently come to suggest antagonistic nationalism.

Last week, it was Bono’s turn to reflect. In an interview with a podcast, he explained that he didn’t like the name U2. When the group chose it, he explained, they thought it would conjure up “futuristic” images of the spy plane and submarine. It didn’t work out that way maybe because the U-2 was a 50s spy plane and the U-boats were WWII submarines and therefore not particularly futuristic. Instead, Bono said, the name turned out to “imply that kind of acquiescence.” As in: “You too would rather listen to something else.” Some groups change their names, but they tend not to top the charts. If you manage to take off, why kill the golden goose, even if this goose is called The Pigeon Detectives?

Brands, on the other hand, can and do change their name as often as they want. It is rarely an improvement and often it is 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 if opal fruits were enshrined in Magna Carta. If you ever need to identify a dad in a group of men, say you’re planning on running a marathon and wait to see who replies, “They call it a Snickers now.” Britain has become a surveillance state without a whisper, but if a conglomerate tries to rename a bag of sweets, there will be a riot faster than you can say “Change.org”.

Sometimes companies want to break away from past practices. Many people have forgotten that the “BP” eco-activists used to be an oil company, among others, operating as British Petroleum. Royal Mail hoped the rebranding to ‘Consignia’ would uninvent email and herald a return to its glory days. When Weight Watchers switched to WW, for “Wellness that Works”, its members criticized them harshly, but not as harshly as they would have done before they joined.

Tech companies change their names when they need to hide the extent of their power. Google became “Alphabet” at the same time as it discreetly discarded its famous motto “don’t be evil” to replace it with the more flexible “do the right thing”. Facebook changed its name to Meta to help promote the metaverse, a concept that is imposed by a handful of conniving executives on a reluctant population, like Rita Ora or Veganuary.

Ultimately, there’s something endearing about this whole name change. Even the worst institutions in the world are still run by little gangs of nerds trying to come up with something cool. Maybe bands and brands should take more inspiration from teenagers. Every school musician knows that finding a band name is a higher 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 takes you there most often.

A friend of mine spent several years in a band called Spanish Hazard. It was the early 2000s, it was a scruffy indie outfit wearing skinny jeans and winkle pickers that once backed Finnish Eurovision winners The Rasmus. It didn’t matter that Spanish Hazard was entirely made up and had never written a song let alone played a gig. If only U2 had had the foresight to be fictitious, it could have saved Bono a lot of trouble. The public who listens too.

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