Choose your band's name carefully: It could come back to bite you

There's a very "public conversation" brewing on Twitter right now about the propriety of a band's name. The pop band in question is England's Get Inuit.

Bands forced to change their names risk shaming and a musical identity crisis

Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq has called out both the British pop band Get Inuit (left) and the Brooklyn group Eskimeaux, led by Gabrielle Smith (right), for their group's names. After talking with Tagaq, Smith changed her group's name to O. (Getinuit/Eskimeaux/Facebook)

There's a very "public conversation" brewing on Twitter right now about the propriety of a band's name. The pop band in question is England's Get Inuit.

That "public conversation" comes at the request of Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq, who pointed out earlier this week that the British group was a "white boy band." Band member James Simpson responded to Tagaq's tweet, asking to start a conversation on email, but the singer insisted on keeping it public.

Simpson said in a statement the band found the situation "pretty upsetting" and the members weren't sure if they were using the term "in a derogatory manner," calling it a "phonetic word" substitution. He did not indicate whether the band would be changing its name.

Tagaq's been at the forefront of these conversations, not afraid to push for more change in how pop culture reflects Indigenous people and often doing so in public forums.

Last month, a string of her tweets and a conversation with Brooklyn indie band Eskimeaux convinced them to switch their name to O.

'Nobody had called me out before'

Switching a controversial name is a complicated case for any band to face — particularly one that's developed a following under their given moniker.

Calgary post-punk band Viet Cong — now known as Preoccupations — is a notable example, agreeing to change its name in 2015 but taking months to do so and booking shows under the old moniker in the meantime.

Montreal's Garrett Johnson had been playing under the name Brazilian Money for almost a decade, but made the decision to change his name in December, after hearing from someone whose family struggled during the South American country's economic turbulence.

Garrett Johnson was the musician behind the Montreal band Brazilian Money. He changed the name to Gary's House after hearing from someone whose family struggled during the South American country's economic turbulence. (Garrett Johnson/YouTube)

He started going by the name Gary's House in April. He admits his old name was "romanticizing the idea" of the imaginary money that helped Brazil through its financial crisis.

"It's not that simple, and the people that lived through it would not romanticize it in the same way that I was doing," Johnson told CBC News. "It's just not worth the struggle of being on the shitty end of history and ignoring issues."

He added in a later email: "I had assumed without much thought that it was 'chill' to reference Brazil and a topic that could be sensitive because I had a bunch of Brazilian fans and nobody had called me out before."

Johnson said it wasn't a big deal to change his band name and lose the brand, but admitted that his original fans will likely still call him Brazilian Money.

"That's their choice to continue beating that dead cat."

Coming up with a band name 'stupid difficult'

And it's not all controversy and ignorance. Sometimes a band name change is required when a group has the same name (remember the Bush-Bush X debacle?), or in the case of Montreal's the Dears, a similar name.

Natalia Yanchak, the band's singer-keyboardist, had a friend point out an all-female Spanish band called Deers that she heard on satellite radio. Yanchak thought little of it at first, but talked it over with her husband/bandmate Murray Lightburn. They realized both bands played types of indie rock music and eventually decided to reach out to the Spanish band.

After hearing about the Spanish band Deers, the Dears' Natalia Yanchak, right, talked it over with her husband and bandmate Murray Lightburn. They decided to reach out to the Spanish band Deers. (Richmond Lam)

"Spelling is not implied when someone's saying something," she said. And that's something the band has struggled with before. "We have arrived to many a 'The Dears' show to a poster that says 'The Deers.'"

Yanchak reached out to the band members, who renamed themselves Hinds in 2015, a name for female deer. "The internet's there. If you want to be searchable and tweetable, you should use Google." She said the Dears' name is trademarked.

After hearing from Montreal's the Dears, the Spanish band Deers changed its name to Hinds. The band posted this photo of a chalkboard with different possible band names when it announced the new name. (Hindsband/Facebook)

Band names can be challenging, she said, calling it "stupid difficult" to come up with a name. "It's hard for me to even visualize what it would be like today to choose and name and rebrand yourself."

It's hard to rid the old name

After much consideration, Gerry Krochak went through that rebranding process last year. Krochak is the marketing and media relations director for Saskatchewan's mega country music festival called Country Thunder. The festival switched to a new name after being known for over a decade as the Craven Country Jamboree.

Krochak said the name change was "very, very carefully thought out."

"Change is tough for a lot of people for a lot of reasons," he said. "You get a lot of questions and once people become comfortable with it, it's onward and upward."

The popular Saskatchewan music festival known as the Craven Country Jamboree has a new name: Country Thunder Saskatchewan. (CBC)

The name change was a business decision — the company has a handful of country festivals in the U.S. with the Country Thunder name and thought it was time the Saskatchewan festival came under the same moniker. Krochak said it gives the brand better position and buying power when the festival works to book musicians.

"I think it would be more difficult for an artist or a band to change their name and then come back."

That said, he too is certain the old name will still stick, at least for a bit.

"Everyone's going to refer to it as Craven."


Haydn Watters is a roving reporter in Ontario, mostly serving the province's local CBC Radio shows. He has worked for the CBC in Halifax, Yellowknife, Ottawa and Toronto, with stints at the politics bureau and entertainment unit. He ran an experimental one-person pop-up bureau for the CBC in Barrie, Ont. You can get in touch at haydn.watters@cbc.ca.

With files from The Canadian Press