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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Rules for Naming Your Team

Obviously, I'm having trouble letting this whole "team names" thing go... it seemed a good time to discuss my very high standards when it comes to naming and mascots.

Names with specific local/regional significance. Colleges are great for this... Tar Heels, Hoosiers, Sooners, Cornhuskers, Longhorns, Buckeyes, just off the top of my head. From the pro ranks, you've got Knickerbockers, Steelers, Pistons, Packers, Rockies. Good stuff.
Unacceptable: Names with specificl local/regional significance... for a region other than where the team plays. Happens most often after a team moves -- Los Angeles Lakers. Utah Jazz. Los Angeles Dodgers.
Corollary to the "Local/Regional" rule... when a team moves, the name should stay with the city. The Browns moved to Cleveland and became the Ravens. The new team in Baltimore became the Browns. When the Senators moved away from DC, they became the Minnesota Twins... and the Texas Rangers. By this logic, the Timberwolves should be known as the Lakers, the Hornets should be the Jazz, and the Texans should be called the Oilers. Kobe Bryant's team can be the "Plastic Surgeons" or some such.

Animal Nicknames
Encouraged: Again, animal nicknames with some sort of logical connection to the city/region where the team plays. Florida Gators, Wisconsin Badgers, Florida Panthers, Baltimore Orioles.
Acceptable: Teams named for animals that just look/sound cool. Here's where you find all your Tigers, Wildcats, Lions, Bears, Eagles, Cardinals, etc. Extra points for adding a descriptor to make the name sound unique... i.e., "Nittany Lions."
Unacceptable: Made-up animals. This is one you'll see pretty regularly with Minor League Baseball teams... I recently attended a game featuring the Tri-City Valley Cats. What in heaven's name is a Valley Cat? Is the animal kingdom really so limited that they couldn't find an acceptable mascot anywhere therein?

Place Names
Acceptable: Teams named after the city/area where the team plays. New York Islanders. (Please note... team name good, angry Gorton's Fisherman logo BAD.)
Unacceptable: Teams named for cities/areas that do not actually exist, are cutesy nicknames for the city/area where the team plays, or attempt to align the team with another, larger area. For example: Tampa Bay Buccaneers/Devil Rays (thank you Gregg Easterbrook), Golden State Warriors (attention Chris Cohan... your team plays in Oakland), Anaheim/California/Los Angeles Angels, the aforementioned "Tri-City" Valley Cats (who play outside Albany, New York) and the "Hardware City Rock Cats" (who play in New Britain, CT).

Corollary to the "Place Names" rule... The team does not need to play within the geographic boundaries of the city for which it is named, so long as its home stadium is within a reasonable distance. As such, "New York Jets/Giants" and "Detroit Pistons" are acceptable, even though those teams play home games in East Rutherford, New Jersey and Auburn Hills, Michigan.

Purely Descriptive Names
This is a concept mostly seen with very old franchises, named after their own uniforms -- Red Sox, White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Harvard Crimson.
Unacceptable: Bastardized versions of descriptive names -- usually created to replace far more traditional and historic names that have been deemed "offensive" by the powers-that-be. Best example is the St. John's University "Red Storm" (Redmen wasn't a Native American reference, it was based on their uniform color. Once the Big Chief mascot was eliminated, there shouldn't have been any need to change the team name).

Names, Titles, Cultures and Honorifics
Encouraged: As with the animal names, names that celebrate the local culture of the team's home city -- or specific people associated with the team -- are much better than things that just sound cool. Boston Celtics. Cleveland Indians (named for Chief Louis Sockalexis, a Native American who played for the team in the early 1900s). Cleveland Browns. San Diego Padres. Manhattan College Jaspers (named for Brother Jasper, a faculty member). Amherst "Lord Jeffs".
Titles and honorifics that simply sound cool or intimidating or tough. Examples include things like Braves, Warriors, Knights, Cavaliers, Pirates, and Buccaneers.
Unacceptable: Racial slurs and stereotypes. I'm looking at you, Washington Redskins. You too, Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Corollary to the "Cultures" rule... Personally, I don't think using a tribal name as a team name is instantly offensive... problems emerge when the tribal name is associated with a caricature of a mascot and "tomahawk chops" and spears being planted in the middle of football fields. Adjectives in the name are also troubling... I'd prefer "Seminoles" to "Fighting Illini" or "Runnin' Utes."

I'm also of the opinion that if the tribe in question says it's OK, who am I to complain?

Other Notes:
Singular team names should always be avoided. They sound dumb, and make it very difficult for sportswriters to handle verb tenses. The Miami Heat. The Utah Jazz. The Minnesota Wild. One of many reasons it is so hard to take the WNBA seriously is that the league is full of awful names: the Liberty, the Shock, the Storm, the Sun, the Sky, the Fever...

The horror.

Team nicknames that are always presented in shortened form -- to the point that people forget what the team is actually called -- are usually good. Best two examples of this are the Oakland A's (Athletics) and the New York Mets (Metropolitans).

Punny names are always bad. I'm sure "Buffalo Bills" seemed clever at one point... but that point was long, long ago. And alliteration is acceptable... New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Cavaliers... but only if it isn't forced. New Jersey Nets (nee New York Nets) is pretty lame... I'm hoping that one is changed when the much-anticipated move to Brooklyn happens.

Maybe they can take back the "Dodgers" nickname.


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