What makes for a “good” band/artist name? People will definitely disagree. There are just so many factors that go into a good name, and everyone has their own favorites, but what I can tell you for sure is that there are unambiguously bad names that can mess up an artist’s career, force a name change, or just create annoyances down the road. This can be because the name is already claimed, or because it’s just a terrible name. That’s why I decided to write a little explainer from my experience as a lawyer, music writer, and label operator, to help bands come up with names that don‘t suck.
As always, there are exceptions for every rule, and this is not legal advice that is going to get you out of every future issue (contact a lawyer if you run into problems), but if you use this relatively quick 7 step process, you can avoid nearly all of the problems next time you need a new artist name.
Step 1: Make List of Names and Pick Your Top 10
The first step is the most fun part: brainstorming a list of potential names. Sit with your band members or by yourself if you are a solo artist and come up with a list of as many names as you can think of. There are plenty of great names out there, and as you go through this process, your first few choices might not work, so you want to be sure that you have some backup options.
Pick names that are memorable. Try not to make it something long and confusing. If you want a long name, come up with something that is easy to shorten or come up with a nickname. You are going to be telling people to listen to this name forever, so make it something you will be proud of.
Slim your list down to a top 10 before proceeding to the next step but save the extras names and don’t be afraid to add to the list if you think of some good ones as you go. Remember this name is going to be most people’s first impression of your music, so spend the time to think of something good.
Make a list of these top 10 on a fresh sheet and leave some space for notes after each name. As you go through the following steps, mark any names with an X if they are eliminated for any reason, and take notes on each name if you notice any minor issues.
Step 2: Make Sure Another Artist Hasn’t Used the Name
Search on Google, Spotify, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube and make sure that there are no other performing artists, past or present, that have used each name. You need a fresh name that hasn’t been used before.
Eliminate any names that have already been claimed by any performing artist that is even somewhat well known. If there is an obscure small artist (a local bar band, a choir group, etc) that uses or have used a name, take a note of it, but don’t eliminate the name just yet, it might still be salvageable.
Step 3: Make Sure the Name Is Easily Searchable
A common mistake is to pick a name that is very hard to search for on the internet. These days if you aren’t searchable, it’s very difficult for fans to find and share your music. Try searching “your name”, “your name + music”, and ‘your name + band/rap” plus any other variations you think a fan might search and see what comes up.
Has the name already been taken by some much bigger site or company in a way that will make it hard for your music to pop up? (i.e. Hey Arnold, Seahawks, etc.) Or does the name itself make searching for music difficult? (i.e. Wedding, BOY, etc.)
Eliminate any names that seem like they would be unsearchable and take notes on any that have some search competition, but still seem like if you released music under that name, people would be able to find it.
Step 4: Make Sure the Name Represents You and Is Inoffensive
Eliminate names that are unrepresentative of yourself and the people in your group and eliminate any names that are otherwise offensive. Don’t name your band “Girls” if you are men, don’t name yourself after a native tribe or minority group you aren’t a member of, or anything similar. As a rule, just don’t name yourself after a culture that you aren’t a part of. It should go without saying but also don’t name yourself after a racial slur or terrorist group. You might think its edgy, but it’s just cheap and inappropriate. All it will bring you is trouble.
If you want to curse or directly reference drugs in your name, that’s workable, but think hard about it because it does cause some headaches occasionally, even in 2019. It better be a good name to justify it, so just take some notes if it’s a name that’s borderline offensive.
Step 5: Search the Trademark database:
This is where we are going a little past the basics. A Trademark is a registered design, name, or label that marks a product. Trademarks (TMs) are all registered with the government in different classes based on the type of product or service that they are registered for. As an artist, you will eventually want to get a Trademark in your name to protect from other artists or companies from using it. When it comes time to Trademark that name, you are going to want to contact a lawyer to do that for you, but for now, you can use the government system to check to make sure your name choices haven’t already been trademarked.
To do that search, you can go to the TESS trademark search database here: LINK.
First click “basic word mark search” and then select “Plural and Singular” + “LIVE” + “Combined Word Mark” + “All Search Terms”, and then search each of your remaining name choices one by one.
What will pop up is either a long list of Trademarks with that name, or a screen that says no trademarks (best case scenario). If nothing comes up, mark on the notes for that name “TM clear”.
If something does come up, click each of TM search results that is similar or identical to your name and check what class it is. There will be a little number saying what type of goods are already Trademarked with “IC” right before it. For your purposes, you just want to check if that band name has been claimed in the 3 classes that you care about as a performing artist: live performance #41, clothing/merchandise #25, and electronic files storing music #9. Go through each of the listed Trademarks and see if those 3 have been claimed.
Take notes on how many of the 3 classes have already been claimed for each of the names. Even if all 3 have been claimed, don’t necessarily eliminate the name, it might still be workable with the help of a lawyer, but its much preferred if all 3 or at least 2 out of 3 remain available.
Step 6: Do A Last Second Check
Check to make sure your band can be abbreviated into something that isn’t stupid or offensive. Think of possible ways that your band name could be nicknamed or abbreviated and make sure there isn’t anything obvious and troublesome.
Check the social media accounts: Will you be able to claim some variation of the name on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Bandcamp and any other social media platform you want to use.
Step 7: Select Your Name
After this process, look over the notes on your top 10 names, and see which names haven’t been eliminated and have the least minor problems. Select the name of that group that you feel best about. Congratulations you have a great new name! You have started your band out on the right foot and avoided problems down the line. Now you have more time to focus on the music.
If all 10 of the names have either been eliminated, have major concerns, or just none of these names feel good, go back to step one and brainstorm some more. This is something worth doing right. You will find a good one eventually.
Obviously if you encounter any problems you should contact an attorney, but I understand that many bands come up with their name before they ever have a dream of hiring an entertainment lawyer, so I want to head off a few problems before they start. That said for many of you that are already in bands, this guide might be too late, but maybe it can help you prevent a few extra problems, and hey, there is still hope for your side project.