Behind the “Meaningless” Band Name The National

The National offers a collection of prolific musicians including frontman Matt Berninger, twin brothers and guitarists Aaron and Bryce Dessner, and brothers Scott and Bryan Devendorf on bass guitar and drums, respectively. Together, they’ve released nine studio albums, several of which have peaked inside the Top 5 on the Billboard 200. As a renowned indie rock band for more than 20 years, The National rose to fame with their third album, Alligator, in 2005 and have maintained a sound level of success since.

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Meaning Behind the Band Name

The National is one of the rare bands that has retained most of its original lineup since its founding. It all started in 1991 when Berninger and Scott Devendorf met as students at the University of Cincinnati where they were enrolled in the graphic design program. The two originally formed a band called Nancy in honor of Berninger’s mother, but broke up in the mid-1990s, opening up space for a new iteration to take place.

After Berninger and Devendorf moved to Brooklyn, New York, they were soon joined by Devendorf’s brother Bryan and their childhood friends the Dessner brothers, collectively forming The National in 1999. While some bands opt for a name that encompasses the meaning of the music, The National has the opposite effect, as they wanted the name to be as non-confrontational as possible.

“We were trying to find a name that didn’t mean anything that was sort of devoid of any kind of interpretation and wasn’t overly clever. It’s just very simple. And that was the simplest thing we could think of,” Berninger explained to The Scene Star. “You can’t walk down the street without seeing the words ‘the national’ something or other somewhere. So it was benign and meaningless; that’s kind of why we picked it.”

Despite their efforts to remain neutral with the name, it turns out that the word “national” has a rather extreme connotation in Europe. In the United Kingdom, there’s a political party known as the National Front that adopts alt-right beliefs and fascist and neo-Nazi ideologies. Berninger says that some people boycotted their shows in Germany thinking that the band name was a reference to the extreme political party.

“We probably should have thought of this ahead of time—but nationalism has a very right-wing connotation, especially in Germany, France,” he continues. “The band name, it’s kind of funny, when we started out, we would probably name it something else, but we’re stuck with it, and I’m happy with it.”

Even more peculiar is the fact that the band’s website isn’t under their name, but rather the title of a deep cut off their self-titled 2001 debut album, “American Mary.” They weren’t able to get the URL address containing the words “the national,” so they instead decided to pick the name of one of the songs on the album at random and make it the website domain.

“We never thought of changing the name, although we should have,” Berninger described to Sixeyes in 2005. “The National is a pretty sucky name, but American Mary would have been worse. I can’t change the name but if I could I go for something with more sex appeal. For example Hairless Heiress or Erector.”

Outside of their legacy with The National, Aaron, and Bryce Dessner are known for their work with Taylor Swift. Aaron Dessner is a co-producer on Swift’s Grammy Album of the Year winning folklore, while both brothers helped produce folklore‘s sister album, evermore.

Europe, prepare to be moved! The National is embarking on a tour in 2024, and they are ready to deliver an unforgettable experience. Don’t miss out, and check out the UK and european 2024 tour dates!

Photo by Rick Kern/WireImage

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