Pearl Jam, Mookie Blaylock, and how NOT to do naming
Mookie Blaylock are rock legends, arguably one of the most loved bands of the 90’s, became the voice of a generation, took on Ticketmaster, and a strong part of building a new genre in music; grunge rock.
Their humble beginnings started with a stolen name of an NBA star that had no relevance to their music genius, and had they not changed their name, the previous sentence would actually hold true.
Pick a card, any card.
That’s exactly what, then unnamed, Pearl Jam did after completing their first studio album. Leaving their own name to chance. The true story goes, according to a 2008 interview, bassist, Jeff Ament gave to the The Missoulan’.
Well, when we were recording our first record, we had a per diem of about $10. So when we got lunch at the store across the street, we’d always buy a pack of basketball cards. When we turned in our tape, we didn’t have a name for the band yet so we put a Mookie Blaylock card in the case. We were about to go on a tour and still didn’t have a name and needed one quickly. We were told it didn’t need to be the name that we were going to use forever, just something for the tour. Someone saw the Mookie Blaylock card and said, ‘How about Mookie Blaylock?’ We decided to go with it and did a 10-show tour with Alice in Chains as Mookie Blaylock. Mookie was cool about it, too — he didn’t sue us. I actually got to meet him later on and shoot around a little bit. We also made a Pearl Jam T-shirt with a picture of him on it. I guess we owe Mookie a lot.
Mookie Blaylock was best known as an NBA player in the 90’s, having a great record, and a long career. The Mookie Blaylock name in the music world is a whole different story.
Naming is a write of passage.
When you are old enough to give the new family puppy a name, have a child, start a business, starting a band, or presenting your work to the world… you have an opportunity. A poor, uninspiring, or ‘low hanging fruit’ name is no way to go forward.
Think — law firms or old ad agencies; Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce… boring. These uninspired names, leave nothing to the imagination, no indication of capabilities, and all top level changes in management need reflected on their front door. This is the ultimate cop-out, especially, for creative agencies and artists alike. No name is immune from dissection, word association, and/or general ‘gut reaction’ analysis. There is no right answer for every situation, but consider all perception facets, and choose wisely.
Lion + Panda didn’t mean anything two years ago.
Much like Pearl Jam, rumors and stories abound regarding Lion+Panda’s naming origin. The true account is told in this interview with the Dayton Business Journal. Though, lead singer, Eddie Vedder stated in a Rolling Stone article the Pearl Jam name originated from his great-grandmother that was married to a Native American, and had a special recipe for a peyote-laced jam. It was not true. The only truth — Eddie did have a great-grandmother named Pearl. Later, it was noted, Pearl was originated by Jeff, and after a fateful Neil Young concert they saw, that included a 15–20 minute improvisation session — a ‘jam’, it inspired them to add it to the name they were developing. As they say, the rest is history.
Decisions like these should never be taken lightly. Up to decision-time should be fun, empowering, creative, and speak to the inspirations and aspirations of ‘that which is being named’, and that of the desired audience. Over the last year, we’ve had the pleasure of renaming three companies, and rebranding many others. Of the renamings; a start-up, a multi-million dollar international business, and a National industry leading Dayton company. These decisions, I assure you, were not held in light regard. Helping these owners connect to a name that resonates with their audience, and anchoring their name in the realm of what their brand should be is critical and exciting. This usually the first step in becoming the company they want to become.
Before they know you, they know of you.
People will make associations before they know any more than your name. Give them something unique. Then, present your best work and build your brand around your overall experience. 20 years ago no one could tell you what a Google, Zappos, or Tumblr was.
Being a band named after a star basketball player is probably not the best option. They came to their own rationale, and decided correctly to rename despite having made a name for themselves touring with Alice in Chains. Mookie Blaylock, the band, was no more. As a tribute, it’s rumored that Pearl Jam’s hit album name was an homage to the NBA star, using his jersey number; ‘Ten’.
Play me some Skynyrd
They are certainly not the only band to employ the birth name of a living, non-related person as their band name.
If you are thinking, “What about Lynyrd Skynyrd being named after their high school gym teacher?”, you are correct. The band’s namesake, Leonard Skinnerd, was known to be a strict enforcer of the school dress code that didn’t allow boys to have long hair. A mocking tribute, and showcase of rock rebellion was born via an alternate spelling. The rock world would never be the same. A unique name the world had never seen, and a sound to match.
Take time to be uniquely you.
If you’d like to talk further about rock, branding, and your business please send me an email at kenny[@]lionandpanda.com.
Until then, more Pearl Jam please.
Know another great band naming story? Jump in the comments below.
Originally published at lionandpanda.com on January 14, 2015.