Bellingham folk stomp band Br’er Rabbit had a name problem. People were having a difficult time pronouncing their name. Moreover, they wanted something a tad more original. They still were early enough in their career that they could get a free name change. The band put out a live album and a studio album. They started to develop a local following, packing crowds in Seattle. Years ago that would be where they would be, slowly expanding their influence further and further out of the northwest, but we live in the age of the Internet. If you start to develop a following, you’ll become known outside obvious circles. News of this rabbit ran and ran all the way to the Lone Star State. That’s where another band existed by the name of Wild Rabbit Salad. Tails were thumped, carrots were chewed, tortoises were invited to judge a race, and at the end of the Lapine Olympics, Wild Rabbit decided it was best to reinvent themselves as Rabbit Wilde.
A name change isn’t consequence free. Even ignoring how hard it can be to keep your momentum when you have to tell everyone the change, unless you’re very good at pushing the concept of collectors’ items, you suddenly can find yourself with a pile of unsellable merchandise. If you happen to have a very cool drumhead for your kick drum, you’ll have to order a new one. Perhaps most importantly, associations change.
As anyone who has studied magical traditions can tell you, names have power. If Phish were still Blackwood Convention, we wouldn’t see nearly as many headlines with gratuitous “Ph” substitutions or have nearly the same problem typing “Memphis.” If The Grateful Dead never were forced to change away from The Warlocks, we would have neither the skull and roses imagery nor the mythic resonance that the legend of the thankful deceased brought. By their third show together, Rabbit Wilde was already getting comments about Oscar Wilde from the MC at the Fremont Solstice Festival; perhaps there will be additional pressure upon them to come up with bot mots in their lyrics. Band names might be chosen on a whim, but they can frequently move the music and fan base in unexpected directions.
While band names usually change for legal reasons or personnel changes, there are times where the substitution comes for philosophical reasons. As they moved from psychedelia to pop music Jefferson Airplane became Jefferson Starship; removing the Jefferson was a further departure from the band that they were. Seattle band Flowmotion tried to christen themselves as True Spokes for a while, but the departure might have been too much of a change as they’ve returned to the previous name. Other than situations like Skerik who seems to try to form as many bands as possible even if the difference between two of them is minor solely to use up the incredible cache of names that he loves (e.g. Crack Sabbath, Critters Buggin’, The Dead Kenny G’s), best results do seem to come from keeping the name similar enough that you can leverage your old marketing. Post Jerry Grateful Dead projects frequently used names that referenced the earlier band’s culture. Jerry Garcia Band sans Jerry just went by JGB. Sure it might be fun to rename Critters Buggin’ to The Happy Baby Bunny Band and watch the families that showed up run away terrified from the freak out that would ensue, but that’s probably not the best marketing technique. It can suck that that joke that you thought was so funny when you were 18 is something you’re stuck with for life, but that’s why you should choose carefully before beginning.
Rabbit Wilde is probably doing it right. Keeping the rabbit part of their name should be enough consistency to prevent confusion. Odds are low that there would be another band floating around that would have a love of carrots and 19th century literature. However, just in case there’s a band in St. Louis named Rabbis Gone Wild that’s itching to sue, I have a suggestion for the next name. Take a cue from programming and go by * Rabbit. If they’re going to keep changing names, they might as well be wildcard Rabbit.
David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New Mexico State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live music at the Capital Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His Phish stats website is at http://www.ihoz.com/PhishStats.html and he’s on the board of directors for The Mockingbird Foundation. He now tweets and has a daily update on the Phish Stats Facebook page
His book This Has All Been Wonderful is available on Amazon, the Kindle Store, and his Create Space store.