From Lava La Rue to The Verve, picking a name can be hard...

The hardest thing about any creative project is finding the final name. Even the most intricate details of the final mixdown pale in comparison to actually naming it, giving it a moniker that will last. It’s made doubly difficult by the sheer volume of music out there – where once you could plead ignorance, now it’s easy to simple Google your proposed name, and find out who it clashes with.

NiNE8 Collective member and Clash favourite Lava La Rue found this out earlier in the week, when La Roux – Elly Jackson – got in touch over social media with a piece of advice. "I would really appreciate it if you got a name that didn't sound exactly the same as mine,” said Jackson. “Good luck in everything you do but I don't think this is cool."

As it turns out, however, Lava La Rue has a very good reason for picking her name. “It's literally an anagram of the name I was born with like on my birth certificate," she hit back. "I'm named after my grandma but you can have words with her if you're uncomfortable with the pronunciation being so similar…"

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Of course, it’s far from the first time that names have come into play. When blues harmonica player Sonny Boy Williamson passed away a man named Aleck Miller simply lifted the name and carried on. Becoming a stellar touring attraction in the 60s, he recorded with the likes of Chess subsidiary Checker, and even made a live album with The Yardbirds, all while contending that he was the true Sonny Boy Williamson.

As pop culture deepened over time, these examples became more egregious, and at times more harmful. The Charlatans emerged from the baggy era to become a quintessential British group, with their Hammond daubed indie songwriting building into a singular catalogue capable of moving from dance electronics to Gram Parsons-esque country soul.

No one told the West Coast psych outfit who originally nabbed the name, however, and some legal words were then exchanged. As a result, The Charlatans are now known as The Charlatans UK in the States, a term that is perilously close to The Charlatans SUCK, which they definitely do not.

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Indeed, there was perhaps something in the water as the 80s turned into the 90s. With sample culture grabbing bits from the past, certain echoes could be heard in the names. Suede suffered alongside Tim Burgess & Co, forced to tour across North America as The London Suede.

Wigan outfit Verve came a cropper during an arm wrestle with the similarly titled jazz imprint, resulting in The Verve becoming ‘Urban Hymns’ arena fillers. Some would argue that it all went downhill when the group added the definitive article – others point to Richard Ashcroft’s habit of burning old copies of the NME as a sign that things were always destined to go downhill at some point.

It’s not just British groups who have a tendency to lean a little too much on past reference points, though. Nirvana found to their cost that aiming for a name that resonates with the psychedelic era won’t protect you from a lawsuit, as the 60s UK group reared their head in the aftermath of ‘Nevermind’. It was all settled amicably, though – journalist Everett True claimed that the British psychedelic band were offered $100,000 to keep their traps shut, and dutifully obliged.

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J Mascis found that it wouldn’t quite be as simple, though, when Dinosaur were tapped on the shoulders by a much older group. Recognising the peer difference, he simply slapped Jr. on to the end of his band’s name and kept wailing, right on to the present day.

Canadian noiseniks Death From Above probably though they had uncovered the perfect name for their punk-laden electronic squall, but they reckoned without grumpy New York cratedigger James Murphy.

The LCD mainman decided it was too damn close to his DFA Records – it stands for Death From Above, his old audio rig – and issued a cease and desist letter. Consulting their lawyer, the Canadian group opted for the least amount of work possible, and became Death From Above 1979 (although they sporadically drop the date, to muddy the waters still further).

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These issues don’t always have to be fractious, however. Sometimes these parallels are a matter for music geeks only – just compare Bernard Sumner’s famed Factory venture with post-Stooges outfit The New Order, or Karen O’s indie all-stars with former Peel favourites Yeah Yeah Nos. There are even two bands called Alaska Alaska, yet neither are from the Northern state – they hail from Belgium and Wales, respectively. 

But then, who are we to trip up artists with these reference points? Clash signed a legal agreement at birth with the famed London band, allowing us to use the name if we refrained from actually becoming an actual proper punk band. Equally, founding editor Simon Harper was once in the position of interviewing Paul Simon’s son… that’s right, Simon Harper interviewed Harper Simon. Confused? You will be.

So whether it’s PAWS or Pawws, Braid or Braids, Duran Duran or Duran Duran Duran, just remember: it’s only a name.

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Words: Robin Murray

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