Problems with naming a band after other people's names
April 8, 2006 12:08 PM   Subscribe

Are there any problems with naming a band after other people's names -- people we don't know?

There are these two scientists who often publish papers together. Their names in combination sound cool and we want to name our band after them (e.g., Jones and Smith). Are there any legal issues with this? Any other considerations? Names aren't copyrighted, right? Do people have any special claim to their name?

These are names that anyone outside a specific academic field is unlikely to have heard of, but are big names within that field.
posted by pealco to Law & Government (17 answers total)
Using someone's name while they're still alive can be a problem legally; best to get permission.

No one owns their name after they're dead.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:27 PM on April 8, 2006

Well, there's the Wynona Riders, but they switched some letters around for creative spelling.
posted by Robot Johnny at 12:43 PM on April 8, 2006

No one owns their name after they're dead.

Hmmm, "Jimi & Elvis?"
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:44 PM on April 8, 2006

you mean like leonard skynard?
posted by phil at 12:47 PM on April 8, 2006

I have no idea about legalities, but I think Pons and Fleischman is a great name for a band.
posted by fatbobsmith at 1:03 PM on April 8, 2006

If they're not musicians and you only use the last names (as in your example), I don't imagine it's a problem.

However, if they have any connection to music (and no sense of humour), I wouldn't do it. Idiot man-child "Handsome" Dick Manitoba sued Canadian Dan Snaith after he released two albums under the name "Manitoba" (where he was born--he'd never even heard of HDM).

You could also add things to the name. For instance, "Cher UK" added the UK so Cher couldn't do shit (I think it was also a play on Charlatans UK, who were forced to add the UK after the American band Charlatans sued). It seems to have worked as they haven't been sued, afaik.

The band Herschell Savage and The American Flag changed their name to just American Flag figuring they would be sued by Savage (a porn star), though to my knowledge they were not asked to.
posted by dobbs at 1:11 PM on April 8, 2006

It looks as if Jodie Foster's Army has renamed itself JFA. I don't know if that is because of legal threats or because their name referred to a 20-year-old current event.
posted by LarryC at 1:25 PM on April 8, 2006

Just change a couple of letters to be safe, I'm sure you can come up with something that's different but still feels the same. That'll also help people find you on the web without wading through scientific papers.
posted by malevolent at 1:35 PM on April 8, 2006

Jack Kevorkian & The Suicide Machines had to change their name to just The Suicide Machines, and Donna Summer, the dj, also had to find a new name.
posted by spork at 1:50 PM on April 8, 2006

There are certainly lots of cases of bands naming themselves after real people. Pink Anderson and Floyd Council were still alive when Pink Floyd formed. And yes, there's also an Anderson Council.
posted by justkevin at 2:13 PM on April 8, 2006

The J-Pop band Puffy had to call themselves Puffy AmiYumi in the US to avoid pissing off Sean P. Puff Diddy Daddy Combs.
posted by MsMolly at 3:00 PM on April 8, 2006

Why don't you just email the scientists and ask them? I doubt they would mind, and they would probably be flattered. There was a moderately famous indie-rock band in the mid-90s who named themselves after a psych prof from my school with a funky name. He loved it.
posted by lunasol at 3:24 PM on April 8, 2006

Lunasol: I would, but I plan on applying to one of their labs. :)

In retrospect, I don't think the whole thing is such a big deal. We're going to go ahead and name ourselves after them anyway. In the unlikely event we attain any amount of recognition, I'll let the professors know or change the name.

Thanks everyone.
posted by pealco at 5:08 PM on April 8, 2006

Jethro Tull, anyone?
posted by danb at 5:10 PM on April 8, 2006

Courtney Love. As far as I know, the real Courtney Love never went after the band legally, though it's possible she was just waiting to punch out Lois Maffeo the way she did Kathleen Hanna.
posted by chrominance at 8:01 PM on April 8, 2006

Not trying to be a wet blanket or a jerk, but naming a band after someone else's name or a character in a movie--or a prop from a book or whatever--often sends a message that the band isn't creative enough to come up with something uniquely its own.

But, I suppose it's worked out OK for Steely Dan, Duran Duran and others...and sometimes play-on-word type names are kind of funny (e.g. REO Speed Dealer, John Cougar Concentration Camp, etc.)
posted by iced_borsch at 8:25 PM on April 8, 2006

The Dallas metal band Tracy Lords changed their name to "Lord Tracy" after porn star Traci Lords threatened legal action.

Amusingly enough, the aforementioned REO Speeddealer (also a Dallas group) eventually heard from REO Speedwagon's lawyers, and were known afterward as just "Speeddealer".
posted by First Post at 8:37 PM on April 8, 2006

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