Searching through a popular music blog such as Stereogum or Pitchfork, one could be easily mistaken in their attempts to understand a new generation of band names. Neologisms abound, name changes are frequent and even common names are frequently misspelled in outrageous ways. So what’s up with this? Is this more of that infamous “Me Generation Vanity?” Are popular bands just tapping into the collective inability to spell thanks to ubiquitous text messaging and twitter?

Hardly. Its just that career musicians happen to be given a flexibility that few others have in changing their names to meet the demands of our search-engine driven society.

But you don’t think that these sort of name changes are an epidemic?
Let me present a few examples.  Owen Pallett once recorded under the moniker “Final Fantasy,” which also happens to be one of the best selling video game series of all time. Just this week two reasonable well known bands changed their rather ordinary sounding names to something more obscure. Danish Punk Band Offshoot “War”who had absolutely zero chance of ever ending up in the first 20 search results for their name changes to the significantly less competitive VÅR. Dive is another small project gone big who decided to change their name to the again- more unique “DIIV“.

And why not? Whereas Dive was nowhere near front page on Google material with their original name, the entire front page is about the indie rock project under the new search term.

I mean, of course the outfits claim artistic license. VÅR talks of a “new beginning,” and DIIV says they’ve “outgrown the name and its associations.” But whether they realize it or not, changing their name to something unique is part of a much larger trend. Looking for the latest single from Mike Snow? Good luck finding it on Google. But Miike with two “I’s?” First in your search results.

On the Larger Picture
In today’s utterly democratic wide open creative world, could Bob Dylan have stood out among all the other Bobs and Dylans recording folk music in their bedroom?  Would Jimi Hendrix find making a name for himself much more difficult because Dr. Jimmy Hendrix has been practicing podiatry with his website since before he was born?

Musicians have caught on to the unique name trend*. Most of the well established new companies of the 21st century have done so with Neologisms. Twitter, Facebook, even MySpace. Good luck founding a company with a three letter acronym as a name in 2012. IBM? Good luck, every acronym has been taken. And if you can’t simply say to a person on the street the name of your company, have that person go back to your computer, and pull up your company’s website… I would go back and try to come up with another name [unsolicited advice].

This is the world that Google has built. While those of us who were born in a pre-Google time fiercely engage in friendly competition with our fellow name holders [I for example, have little chance of ever unseating Aaron M. Knoll as the top result for my name] will we leave our children to the same? Or will the phenomenon of “Google Unique” names catch on as a way of this generation giving their children the one thing that money can’t buy: a top search result in Google.

* one of the interesting asides is the groups that have not caught on to the trend, for better or worse. Look at the URLs for major studio motion pictures, and the rapid proliferation of bizarre domains for movies. Whereas in the late 90’s you would have been likely to see; the mid 00’s you’d see something like; and currently you see names like And to think, all of this could be easily solved by writing a unique script or coming up with a new character! [But I digress…]



1 Comment so far

  1. The What a Week Round Up : Footenotes on May 14, 2012 4:26 pm

    […] Knoll had a great post up on life in the time of Google.  Specifically it’s about bands working that Google […]

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  • A little about me

    My name is Aaron Knoll (as per the title and URL) and I work in the New Media Lab as an advisor of sorts. I assist students working on digital media projects by being available to discuss technology, options, best practices and modern approaches to digital scholarship, as well as the applications and alternatives that are available. I use my 10+ years of experience, having worked in nearly ever IT role that has ever been dreamed up, to offer expertise, advice, and support for the directions they choose to take in their projects.

    I have fulfilled this role in the New Media Lab for over three years and look forward to continue supporting students as they ambitiously look towards the future with their digital work.

  • Disclaimer

    The views expressed here are my own and they do not represent an official stance of the New Media Lab or any of my colleagues affiliated with the New Media Lab.

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