With a list like this, there are going to be a bunch of names that come up which are too good to be really worth complaining about, but not good enough to be worth raving about; names which are extraordinarily difficult to rank because you have no clue exactly where to put them. So in order to get them rankings that are at least somewhat safe, you write up the list from both ends until you have the blank space in the middle which is the only place they’ll fit. Again, none of these names are truly bad, and in this leg, we’re going to start seeing the good names crop up. It’s just that they didn’t go very far either here or there, so they come off as fillers.
53: Columbus Blue Jackets, NHL
Named after an old Civil War unit, this name isn’t so bad. The problem is that it’s so, well, innocuous. Old imagery tends to associated jackets with certain kinds of bees. Jackets is also a remnant of sports teams past which has definitely seen its day, and not only does it feel old, there’s no anger or intensity to be associated with the color blue. There have been many teams in many sports known as the Yellow Jackets and Red Jackets, and while those names project intensity, Blue Jackets projects calm and cool. Which could explain why the Columbus Blue Jackets don’t have a ton of success to their name just yet.
52: New England Patriots, NFL
Oh, goodie. Another pretentious name trying to enclose its entire geographical, multi-state region. Patriots is actually a fine name for the team – it was created to honor the original separatists who wanted the 13 Colonies to break free of England. Of course, one of the major focal points of the events leading to the American Revolution was Boston, in whose suburbs the Patriots play. And that’s precisely why the New England Patriots would be best off named with the name they came up with upon emerging in the AFL in 1960: The Boston Patriots! The branding doesn’t work, though, because generally a patriot is someone who loves his country, and I happen to think it’s kind of rude of the Boston (excuse me, New England) team to try to earn fans through this kind of exclusivity. Boston already has a nasty air of pretension, and their fans are already some of the most self-important people on Earth, and there’s really no need to fuel those feelings by enabling anyone to say either you cheer for their team or you hate America. Of course, it’s not like it would stop them from such self-congratulatory hubris anyway, but it doesn’t help matters.
51: Washington Capitals, NHL
Finally, a place where the word “capitol” is spelled in proper grammatical context. It’s spelled with an O at the end, meaning a place, instead of an A at the end, a way of denoting currency. Also, both words have three syllables, and the final syllable of each starts with a T, so there’s a good balance. The Capitols name works because Washington is the capitol of the United States, after all. Furthermore, since the Capitol is also the name of the building where Congress gathers, the name doubles as a recognition of the federal government. And since the Capitol is one of the most famous bits of architecture in the country, the name further triples as a celebration of great architecture in a city full of historic architecture. This name should be higher up, but it’s no one’s fault the name of the Capitol is so bland. (Edit: At least, that is what I would write had the Capitals been that smart, as I wrote this thinking they were. Apparently they’re not. So while the A in Capitals makes sense to the way the federal government is run, it does a huge disservice to the city. Fuck this name.)
50: Oakland Raiders, NFL
The coolest pirate name on the list. This name would be more of a failure if the Raiders were still in Los Angeles, but it holds a lot more meaning in Oakland. Oakland is a historical hotbed of political activism, and that activism is more often than not against the prevailing government policy, prevailing social norms, and frequently against the so-called knowledge and ideas of the common, white, insufferable coffeehouse intellectuals as well. Oakland’s political reputation has a real grassroots attitude, and you get the feeling that the people of Oakland are a hands-on bunch who try to enact change one place at a time with their bare hands. That makes the Raiders a true team for revolutionaries; or, as much of society would prefer to think of them, pirates. See, not every pirate image is bad, even when you are talking about one of the nastiest fanbases in the country. It’s also cool to say – two double-syllable words with hard beginnings and ends with easy middles.
49: Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL
People frequently gripe about proper grammar when it comes to the Toronto Maple Leafs. They argue this is a shitty name just because it isn’t the grammatically proper Toronto Maple Leaves. This team, however, was named after a Canadian Army battalion called the Maple Leaf battalion. I don’t know why grammar rules work the way they do, but experts tend to argue that the name makes perfect sense since we’re not talking about actual leaves. The maple leaf, of course, is the dominant symbol of Canada, and once again we’re into trying to both nationalize and regionalize the fans at the same time. In this case, it works a lot better, because there’s no attempt at exclusivity in the Maple Leafs name. It’s just grabbing the symbol and latching on, subtly inviting people instead of saying “You’re either with us or you’re against us.” The name is also a lot more balanced than it looks – both Toronto and Maple Leafs are three-syllable terms. See folks, you can use national symbols for names, just as you can use generic animals, as long as you can do it the right way.
48: Arizona Coyotes, NHL
The newest name on this list, the former Phoenix Coyotes changed their official name to the Arizona Coyotes just days before I began. It really doesn’t change very much except the number of syllables. A coyote is a good animal to name the team after – it has nothing to do with fellow canine family member wolves, and it’s very much an Arizona animal. The name change makes the whole name of the team a little clunkier, but it doesn’t do any real damage.
47: Chicago Bears, NFL
Chicago is a burly city name. (Unlike the people who live there.) It has power and crunch. What to name the football team? An animal that has the same! Bears is another small word with big impact. It’s also a great parallel allusion to one of Chicago’s baseball teams, the Cubs, something that wasn’t lost on the owner when the team was named. The Bears once played in Wrigley Field, and in exchange for the lease, the original owner said he would name the football team after the baseball team. Since cubs are most often taken in the context of bear cubs, and this owner noticed football players on the whole were larger than baseball players, he named the football team the Chicago Bears.
46: Los Angeles Dodgers, MLB
The most famous move remnant of all time rolled a lot nicer with its original name, Brooklyn Dodgers, and that’s where the animosity toward Los Angeles Dodgers begins. Then again, I already mentioned a couple of posts ago that Brooklyn is such a great name that you can slap virtually any nickname onto a team there and have it come off halfway decent. The trouble is that since the name Dodgers comes from the original name Trolley Dodgers – people in Brooklyn who used to have to cross the streetcar tracks to get to the field – it makes at least as much regional sense in Los Angeles as it did in Brooklyn. Los Angeles does, after all, have a descendant of the old streetcar lines – a lightrail system. And when the team moved, they weren’t walking away from a string of lousy seasons – they had won the World Series just two years before moving, and had a run of Pennant years. And let’s face it, the name Dodgers is some of the best branding out there. There’s no mistaking it, even with the diehard Brooklynites who won’t shut up about the Dodgers still being Brooklyn’s team. Guys, they’re not going to return. If you hate the Yankees so much, buck up and turn to the Mets, okay?
45: Milwaukee Bucks, NBA
This is a strange name. A buck is a male deer, it has no balance, no connection to the Milwaukee area, and, well, I really can’t think of a whole lot to say about it. (Kinda like the team itself!) It stands out, so that much I can offer, but deer are common enough to still be legal to hunt, and I don’t think they drink beer. I’m giving this a nod largely on branding, just because deer are stronger, more dangerous animals than we give them credit for, so that avoids any complaints about it being generic. And really, it’s not such a bad name.
44: Miami Heat, NBA
This is easily the best name on this list that doesn’t invoke a plural. Heat may be an amorphous concept, but it’s an amorphous concept with a very specific definition. Heat can burn you, dehydrate you, make you vomit, and give you strokes and heart attacks. We go out of our way as human beings to avoid exposure to too much heat at the same time, and when we have no other choice, we carry a ton of water with us. So yeah, heat is very nasty business, and it also happens to be something the city of Miami has in abundance. Miami is famous for its heat. While heat can be found in many, many other places, the name also has a good rapport with the city name, and it comes off like an extra syllable, almost. This is a very rare case where I’m going to award bonus points for not making the name a plural. Since Heat feels like an extension of Miami, the T at the end gives the name a bit of heft and finality, which would make it look ridiculous if we tried to pluralize it. Miami Heats. It just doesn’t sound quite as right, does it? On the other hand, non-plural names are still old 90′s hubris.
43: San Jose Sharks, NHL
It’s strange that of all the generic natural critters people like to name sports teams after, the shark is so generic, and yet so underutilized. The name does have a connection to the Bay Area which makes it work out pretty well. The Pacific Ocean contains seven different kinds of shark, and the Bay Area is the location of an area of water called the Red Triangle which is home to a huge population of sharks. The name’s balance comes mostly from the fact that it’s a three-word name, with the syllable counts being one-two-one. That gives it a better, easier sound than it really has a right to have, and I wouldn’t be lauding it if the NHL didn’t take a chance on San Jose and decided instead to create the San Francisco Sharks – the four syllables in Francisco are just beasts. The branding of this team shouldn’t work, just because sharks comes off as another one of those generic 90′s affairs with animal ferocity, but the fact that marine naming is so uncommon makes it pleasant and quirky rather than bland and generic. We might criticize the NHL’s efforts at expanding during the 90′s, but this is an instance where it worked.
42: Phoenix Suns, NBA
I could write a lot of the same things about this name that I wrote about the Miami Heat: The nickname feels like a very natural extra syllable, the location is perfect since it celebrates something both regionalized and fierce, blah blah blah. The thing with the sun, though, is that it’s the generator of heat, which gives it an extra push. Think of it this way: Heat alone isn’t quite enough to melt your car in a hundredth of a second flat – you need a lot more than, say, a blowtorch. The sun is also the source of our ability to exist; it keeps the Earth in orbit. It has a major role in the operations of the solar system that mere heat alone doesn’t have. Also, it’s a plural, and since non-plural names are 90′s marketing hubris, it gets extra points.
41: Tampa Bay Rays, MLB
Here we have another sun-related name. Changed from the 90′s hubrisful Tampa Bay Devil Rays back in about 2007, the new names aspires to bring the Rays a new reputation as rays of light, as in a beacon of light to the baseball world, or as rays of sunlight. I’m giving this name a lot of credit for trying to be something so different, and it undoubtedly helps the branding – devil rays weren’t a real relatable creature to name a team after. Although the idea of a ray of light certainly holds weight in the Tampa Bay area, calling the team the Rays is taking a different approach than a lot of teams. It’s not aiming to create an image in ferocity or history or regionalization, but in inspiration. That makes it unique to any of the four major leagues, although I have my doubts that a lot of other people see it that way. The originality is stronger than most want to credit it with, but whether devil rays or rays, the branding doesn’t lend itself to wonderful imagery.
40: Miami Marlins, MLB
The most lovably dysfunctional team in baseball – yes, even more so than the Mets – gets its name from a popular gamefish. You have to give it credit – the Marlins were created in the 90′s, but instead of going with typical 90′s ferocity, they went with a less aggressive name. If you consider it, you have to eventually figure out that many of the truly great (or truly popular) names in sports aren’t aggressive at all. So in a way, Marlins is evoking many of the sports names of the olden days, concentrating on finding something the team’s fans can uniquely call their own instead of trying to appeal to a national fanbase of prepubescent boys they hope worship ferocious imagery. And coming up with a name of such a popular gamefish gives the name Miami Marlins a sort of Hemingway feel. Author Ernest Hemingway was a big time gamesman, after all, who lived in Florida for a long time and wrote a book called The Old Man and the Sea, which was about a fisherman trying to make a big catch.