What’s in a name?

Written by neil on 4 September, 2010 in Ramblings with no comments.

I’ve been asked a couple of times in the last two weeks: “Why are you called The Layers?”  I’ve taken this as an enquiry about the name of the band, rather than confusion about my own identity and entered into a brief account of how you go about picking a name when you start out as a band.

For some reason, though, it’s got me thinking about names in general, partly as I’ve been noticing the names of some of the friends that Facebook suggests for me and something that used to confuse me a little has become clear.

When I was younger, I used to find it odd that there were ‘old people’ names, like Mabel and Humphrey, that nobody was called any more. I imagined that there was some government agency that pulled up outside your door when you retired, stuck a moustache on your wife, gave you a pair of trousers that came up to your armpits and said: “Congratulations, you’re officially old folk. Your new names are Sidney and Edna and you may now start driving brown cars.”

Of course, all that happens is that names fall out of fashion and often don’t come back unless they’re immortalised by canonisation or biblical significance. My own name, for instance, was briefly in vogue after the moon landing in 1969 but will soon be associated with high waistbands and nonsensical anecdotes (although, in my own case, the latter is already somewhat true).

Where modern inspiration for names comes from is becoming a new mystery -celebrity choices are common, of course, but I wonder where the inspiration to call your kid Chardonnay, Champagne or Zinfandel come from? If it’s following Jack (son of Ernest) Hemmingway’s example of naming children after the wines that were drunk on the nights of their conception then surely there would be a lot more kids around called Kronenbourg and Rohypnol?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for creativity and there are names taken from mythology and other languages that are quite beautiful, but the ones named after foods; Cherry, Cinnamon and so on just strike me as weird. “Hi, I’m Pork Featherstone and these are my kids, Kumquat and Oregano. My wife, Chlamydia, is just parking the car.”

I guess when you’re picking a child’s name, that you want them to be unique and special. Hopefully you give a little thought to them not spending every other day at school having the living crap kicked out of them too.

When you pick a band name, you’ve got a similar issue. You want to be unique (we failed on that front) and you try to tread a fine line between pretentious (Clouds of the Everything) and having a ‘joke’ name (Doc Sausage and the Cheesy Helmets) without picking a name that you can only get away with if you’re a student band (Nematode, Cynthia, Garth Vader). Avoiding those pitfalls, you then have to find a name that doesn’t misrepresent your music – a folk duo called Killspike or a thrash-punk outfit called The Buttercups are just going to confuse the hell out of audiences.

So the general procedure is to throw names in a hat, give each member of the band one or two vetoes and then pull them out until you end up as, in our case, The Layers.

A few years on, though, I’d at least like to think that there was some sense to the selection. It wasn’t what we were thinking about at the time but I think that some of our songs do merit some peeling back of layers. I’d like to think that there’s depth there and something worth digging deeper to find.

Beneath the way that we portray ourselves through media like this, too, there’s a little more going on. The Layers isn’t just a band; we’ve shared ideas and experiences that have changed us and there are depths and layers to our friendships that run far beneath the surface.

So, there may not have been much reason other than chance that we were called The Layers originally but there are plenty of reasons now why it was a pretty good choice.

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