Metallica, Nelly, you name it

The power in what acts call themselves

November 10, 2003|By Gemma Tarlach | Gemma Tarlach,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE


Would a band by any other name rock as hard?

Would Snoop Dogg still be the hizzle fo' shizzle if he went by his given name, Calvin Broadus?

Consider the White Stripes. The name alone suggests something minimal, something hip, like detailing on a Vespa - the perfect match for a guitar and drums duo too cool for the room. Or Slayer. There's an act that will never be mistaken for a boy band.

Whether you're starting up a music act with stars in your eyes or trying to make sense of the names on the extra-early holiday wish list of CDs passed along by your favorite music fan, we've put together a highly unscientific guide to what's in a name, anyway, when it comes to pop music.

Aliases, nicknames, whatever you want to call them, nom de microphones have always been part of rap. One can't help but wonder if it's because many rappers' mamas gave them such sensible, unglamorous names to begin with.

Would anyone want to hear Cornell Haynes Jr. heavy breathing about things getting "Hot in Herre" or bragging about his "Pimp Juice" - didn't think so. Nelly sounds so much more credible.

Likewise, Ice-T's "Body Count" loses a little of its edge when you know it's a guy named Tracy Morrow on the mike. And ever notice how a certain blond rapper goes by his given name, Marshall Mathers, when he's being sensitive (or appearing in court) but calls himself Eminem or Slim Shady when it's time to raise some ruckus?

One of the most enduring themes in rap names, however, has been size. You've got Li'l Kim, Li'l Romeo, Lil Jon, Lil' Mo, Lil' Cease, Lil' Wayne and formerly Li'l, now in a growth spurt, Bow Wow in one corner and, in the other, the Notorious B.I.G., Big Daddy Kane, Big Tymers, Big Pun and Big Mike.

Why no Medium?

Whether their parents didn't love them enough or they got picked on at school, a glance down either an Ozzfest roster or the hard-rock charts will turn up a bevy of angry young men too busy venting their spleens to remember to turn on the spellcheck: Korn, Staind, Puddle of Mudd, Trapt, Linkin Park, Mudvayne, etc.

And with many of the great acts of the era retired, rehabbing or looking into hip replacement surgery, we've seen a savvy new crop of hipsters angling for a touch of retro in their image, sound and, of course, name.

Recalling the glory days of the Beatles, the Who, the Kinks and the Rolling Stones, now's the perfect time for the Strokes, the White Stripes, the Hives and the Vines.

Is their rock 'n' roll spirit as true as that of their forefathers or is it shameless posturing as authentic as buying a new jean jacket that's been chemically treated to look like it lived through the original Woodstock?

Only their stylists know for sure.

Rock bands that start out with noncommercial aims - you know, that whole making music for the sake of art thing - often choose names that declare their anti-establishment bent. For example: And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead. Try fitting that on the Billboard charts.

There's a long list of other acts with calculatedly quirky cred, including Fountains of Wayne, They Might Be Giants, Godspeed You Black Emperor and Jimmy Eat World. Even when these bands are signed by major labels and go multiplatinum, their clever and often lengthy names carry a cult-status cachet.

There's nothing wrong about sticking with your given name - if your music is of a certain genre. Take Dave Matthews. Whether it's his solo record currently in Billboard's top 20 or his extensive work fronting the Dave Matthews Band, the mere sound of his name, what marketing types call "mouthfeel," has an easygoing, everyman quality to it.

Even if you've never heard Matthews' music, by his name alone you probably won't assume he's a death-metal dude or gangsta rapper. Ditto like-minded musicians John Mayer or Grammy girl Norah Jones.

On the flip side, with women pop stars in particular, giving your daughter a name best seen in bright lights may encourage her to take up a career in showbiz.

Consider the "I have arrived" star splendor of this year's chart queen Beyonce, born Beyonce Giselle Knowles.

Rap may have a long history when it comes to creating street tough personas, but metal wins hands-down in the "Who's Bad?" name game.

Mainstream metal artists Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson, known to their kindergarten teachers as Robert Cummings and Brian Warner, respectively, honored a tradition as old as Black Sabbath when they chose their stage names: sound kinda scary.

Classic old-school metal acts such as Slayer, Megadeth and, of course, Metallica snapped up the best metal names early on, leaving second and third generation bands to improvise.

Sure, there's a certain ring to Thundercore, Macabre and Six Feet Under. But when you get to the level of Forest of the Impaled, Dying Fetus and Screaming Afterbirth, we suggest a little truth in advertising.

Just call yourselves Trying Way Too Hard.

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