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Monthly Archives: July 2014

The Ultimate Ranking of Sports Team Names, Part Seven: The Masterpieces

The Ultimate Ranking of Sports Team Names, Part Seven: The Masterpieces

Here we are! The final section. Not much for me to explain in this one; these are, quite simply, the very best of naming American major professional sports have to offer. Each one carries a certain amount of regionalism, decent imagery, strong branding, originality, memorability, strength, and balance.

20: New York Metropolitans, MLB
The major qualm I have with this name is the way it fuels into New York City’s egotism and raging sense of self-congratulatory intellectual supremacy. Come on, New York City, we know two of your so-called boroughs – Brooklyn and Queens – operate their infrastructures on a more independent basis than the others. After that, though, there’s really nothing to complain about when it comes to the official name of the New York Mets. Even feeding into the city’s blustering, New York City is still the largest city in the country, and it’s not even close. New York City has an almost unmatched array of people and activities to keep everyone interested. It represents the modern and open-minded, making it a true 21st Century metropolis, and whenever something new and world-changing comes along, you can bet New York City is always one of the first places it will hit, which means the city is constantly evolving. The Metropolitans are mainly known by their field name, the Mets, which not only makes them the cool rebel alternative to the Yankees, but gives them a cool parallel to the Jets and Nets – the rebel alternatives to the Giants and Knicks, respectively. The name Mets also honors two of New York City’s other great institutions – the Metropolitan Opera and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which are both also nicknamed the Met. Unknown to many, it’s also the name of an early baseball team from New York City which only lasted a few years in the 1800’s, which gives Mets a sense of preserved history as well.

19: Ottawa Senators, NHL
Hey everybody, in Canada, they actually got the name of their national capitol’s team right. It doesn’t use a slur (Washington’s football team), it doesn’t use a generic cover-all term for Canadian (like Nationals), it doesn’t simply spotlight the city’s status for attention (Capitals), and it makes sense (unlike Wizards). I don’t know exactly what kind of approval ratings Canada’s Parliament pulls in, but at least the hockey team in Canada’s national capitol succeeds in honoring its outpost. Senators carries weight and balance – two triple-syllable words with a short A in the middle surrounded by harder sounds – while the branding and regionalism go with the territory.

18: New Orleans Saints, NFL
It’s funny to me that a laid-back city known mainly for its vices like New Orleans would be nicknamed the Saints, but then again, New Orleans is a Catholic outpost in an area of the country which is known for being Baptist. Saints holds a double meaning for the popular song “When the Saints Go Marching In,” an old gospel song which is now best known for the many jazz covers it inspired, very fitting in the birthplace of jazz. By combining the city of New Orleans with the idea of being a saint, the New Orleans Saints have taken a very unique road to being a standout: There’s no appeal to anger, intensity, ferocity, or savagery anywhere in this name. Instead, the name Saints holds a virtuous light up to the imagery, giving the team a positive symbol of human goodness, while the city’s name has become synonymous with creativity, uniqueness, and open-mindedness. Recently, New Orleans has become known as a city of resilience, full of people who continued to believe in it even after an enormous hurricane swept in and washed out many of its residents. It’s no wonder the New Orleans Saints have become the favorite football team of everyone in the country to some extent.

17: Texas Rangers, MLB
A few points are deducted because these guys are, sadly, forced to share their nickname with a certain NHL team which really doesn’t have any business using it. There’s no forgetting the branding, though, because the most famous statewide law enforcement agency in the country uses it. I’m not talking about just the nickname, either, but the entire thing: The Texas Rangers, who are actually more famous than the baseball team named after them, thanks in large part to a weekly action TV show starring Chuck Norris. (Although, since winning the Pennant in 2010 and 2011, the baseball Rangers have started making up a little ground, particularly after that vicious 2011 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.) Even if that weren’t the case, Texas Rangers is a great name standing alone, since Texas is synonymous with vast skies and wide open land ranges. Rangers also works as a colloquial to the nickname of Texas – The Lone Star State – because we tend to think of rangers as rugged individualists in the same vein as we do cowboys. Yeah, the Texas Rangers have every right to take themselves after their state rather than their metropolitan area (Dallas, if you don’t know).

16: Denver Nuggets, NBA
Let’s be frank: A small lump of rock isn’t the most inspiring thing to name a sports team after, even if it is supposed to represent a nugget of gold. The importance of the name Nuggets, though, comes from the fact that an entire state was built around the power of small shiny nuggets – Colorado was populated by the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush. That means there’s significant history and regionalism surrounding the name, not to mention a hefty dose of originality from a team that decided it wanted to take a chance with a name. Gold nuggets are a huge deal, in any case; they have the potential to put lots of money into the economy, and who doesn’t love money? So there are some good colloquialisms to be drawn from a nugget of gold: Gold means power, gold means wealth, gold means Murphy’s Golden Rule: Whoever has the gold makes the rules. So let’s stop knocking this team name as useless lumps when they can do all that.

15: Philadelphia Phillies, MLB
This name wins the regionalization contest hand down. If you ever forget where this team plays, just think of the nickname, and it will tell you everything you need to know about who you are and where you’re from. It one incredible swoop, Phillies nails everything right about team names: It’s regional, unique, memorable, original, and brands the team with a hot iron without even trying. Like the Los Angeles Angels, it makes the city nickname into the team nickname. Granted this name came from a time when every baseball team was named after its city, but that Phillies is the lone survivor speaks legions about its staying power and its resonance, especially if you’re also aware of the fact that it survived an incredible THREE efforts to change it.

14: Baltimore Ravens, NFL
I put Baltimore’s divisional rivals, the Cleveland Browns, way down at number 106, where I asked why Browns fans keep giving the Baltimore Ravens shit about their name. Here we are, in the top 20, and I’m still confused. Baltimore Ravens brings us the coolest literary allusion on this list. Baltimore was the original home of all-time American literary giant Edgar Allen Poe. Poe wrote an iconic poem called The Raven during a career which, while tragically understated during his own time, was blessed in historical hindsight when it inspired countless mystery and horror authors. That’s an awesome element in regionalizing and branding the team while also trying to get it to transcend football and appeal to literature geeks. The raven is also a great bird to use in an image, because instead of making an appeal to kitsch freaks or going with ferocity, ravens make an appeal to the terrifying and mysterious. They’re large and black, and can spook people in dark places. And so, be that as it may, ravens are frequently used in superstitions to mark omens, set moods, or act as psychological conductors. It’s pretty incredible to think that with all the birds flying around out there, more teams didn’t try to go with an image which holds that kind of power.

13: New York Knickerbockers, NBA
This one is based on a term popularized from another literary allusion, this time from Washington Irving. Irving’s first major book was called A History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty by Diedrich Knickerbocker. Diedrich Knickerbocker was a fictional name Irving used in what was really an early version of a marketing campaign, but it was a nickname given as far back as the early Dutch settlers in New York state which eventually worked its way into regional lexicon first as a term for Manhattan’s aristocracy, then as a general term for New Yorker. As with the Ravens, that makes it both historical and regional, but it works better in this case because Knickerbocker was a term created strictly for the people living in the region. This team is like the Metropolitans in that it uses a stage name – the New York Knicks, and not only is Knick an effective nickname for Knickerbocker, it rolls just as nicely as a name for the team because it sort of combines the city’s name into one term: New York, combining the first sound in New and last in York, makes something very close to Knick when combined.

12: Boston Celtics, NBA
This would be a very good name no matter what, but this is one of those extremely rare cases where the mispronunciation makes it better. Celtics is usually pronounced with a K sound, but in this context, is pronounced with an S sound, which makes it roll nicely with Boston. The Celts were an ancient people with roots in Irish culture, who eventually diversified into a few different cultures, including the cultures of today’s British, Scottish, Irish, and Welsh people. The modern Celtic identity is mostly associated with the Irish, and Boston has a population of over 50 percent with Irish roots. It’s also a heavy stronghold of Irish Catholicism. That brings context to the team name. You have to give Celtics credit for not being degrading, too – unlike a certain sports program at the University of Notre Dame.

11: Houston Astros, MLB
It’s a little surprising to me that more teams don’t try to use space imagery. After all, powerful objects exist there, where they fly at incredible speeds. Yet, here’s a team name that can’t decide on just one of those objects…. So it takes a name that encompasses all of them! Astro is of course synonymous with space, which is fantastic for one of only a handful of cities on the planet that has a right to make an association with space. Houston is known as Space City, after all, and it beats a lot of the other associations you could make with Houston.

10: Seattle Mariners, MLB
This team replaced another baseball team called the Seattle Pilots, and I have trouble deciding which name is better. There’s certainly not much to complain about with this one. Seattle has an aviation history – Boeing is located there – but it also has a history as a major shipbuilding home and a reputation as a transportation center which was solidified during the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897. So a name honoring sailors makes perfect sense, and it’s unique enough to be something not every city in the country can name a team. You think Dallas or Kansas City residents would ever buy into a team called the Mariners? The name also gives them the right to use the Mariner’s Star to brand themselves, another thing no other team can claim. Mariners also holds significant weight as a name – evenly balanced with its city name with three syllables – but what I really like about it is that, like the Seattle Seahawks, it holds another cloaked allusion to the city name. A mariner is a sailor. Seattle is a port city and a transportation hub whose first three letters are “sea.” That’s something even the Pilots didn’t have. You know what? I think I prefer the name Seattle Mariners to Seattle Pilots after all.

9: Philadelphia 76ers, NBA
Yes, this sucker is a monster of jumpy, soundalike consonants. But it somehow still manages to have an even balance, only this one is two five syllable words which both sound like a wrecking ball smashed its way the vowels which would have otherwise smoothed it out. I don’t think the people of Philadelphia, though, would have it any other way. 76ers is a reference to the year of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which took place in Philadelphia in 1776, bringing those regionalization and branding points, and that’s only helped by the fact that 76 is, according to reputation, a number which dominates modern Philadelphia. It’s another instance where the city gets exclusive awesome branding rights based on its history. Also, despite being such a mouthful, you have to admit the name does hold a certain charm: Philadelphia is dominated by PH and L sounds while 76ers makes you fly around those S sounds.

8: Pittsburgh Steelers, NFL
A name and city perfectly matched. Steelers is an honorific for steelworkers, and while steelworkers aren’t especially unique, no city had more of them than Pittsburgh. Steeler isn’t a particularly rugged-sounding name, but it does invoke images of molten metal being poured from giant buckets in huge factories, so there’s imagery that goes with Steelers. Pittsburgh has lately been the great success story of the Rust Belt, turning itself around after decades of depression through an infusion of modern industries, small projects, and utilization of its universities. Still, a lot of people there probably remember the bad old days, and as long as the Steelers exist, it will always be a reminder of both Pittsburgh’s past and the way people were able to keep their heads up, never believing their city was truly defeated when the bad times hit.

7: Baltimore Orioles, MLB
Yes folks, there is a real bird whose official name is the Baltimore oriole. It lives in the eastern and midwestern United States and received its name from having a physical resemblance to the Old World Oriolidae family, which is otherwise unrelated. Mostly, the oriole is a common perching bird, and can usually be found foraging in your backyard trees, shrubs, and backyard hummingbird feeders while chasing down the occasional insect. Not much different from an average blue jay or cardinal, both of which I slammed, but the Baltimore Orioles are rescued by their branding: It was given the name Baltimore oriole because its colors resembled those on Lord Baltimore’s Coat of Arms. I don’t know how a bird can be more regionalized than that, but the state of Maryland sure tried: The Baltimore oriole is Maryland’s official state bird! The name has a very nice roll to go with it, featuring Baltimore’s final syllable having the same sound as Orioles’ first syllable.

6: St. Louis Blues, NHL
Here’s another name taken from a classic song which also serves as the title of a music genre, not to mention what Blues fans find themselves singing during the postseason more often than not these days. “St. Louis Blues” is the title of a very real jazz song, and St. Louis became a highly regarded blues outpost when the musical genre slowly made its way north from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago. The title means the song is instantly regional, and it’s unique because music isn’t something that gets mentioned a lot in sports team names. Only the New Orleans Saints and Utah Jazz have that distinction, and the Saints got their name from a single word in a song while the Jazz name is grossly out of place. The St. Louis Blues have no such problems with their name.

5: Houston Rockets, NBA
Originally called the San Diego Rockets after a very silly title San Diego once bestowed onto itself, this team kept their name when they were forced to move to Houston. And in a startling contrast to the Utah Jazz or Los Angeles Lakers names, this is a name that might have been barely average during its time in its old home, but became an incredible fit in its new one. You know why Houston is nicknamed Space City? Because that’s where they launch rockets! Real rockets, the ones that carry people into space! NASA’s main control center is located in Houston, which means that every space mission ever launched in the United States – and some in foreign countries – kept in touch with the ground via the control station in Houston. Also, a rocket is a great colloquial for modernity, and despite the reputation of Texas, that’s one thing Houston is getting in spades – Houston is the fourth-largest city in the United States at the moment, has over two million people, is growing, and considered a solid place to live. Cities don’t get to that position by trying to become blasts from the past. The name isn’t exactly original, but actual rockets are such a huge deal in Houston’s importance to the country and the world that the otherwise so-so branding gets elevated much like a real rocket.

4: Milwaukee Brewers, MLB
Whether or not Milwaukee has a right to be proud of its beer isn’t up for debate – that’s where they make Miller, so anyone heard defending that shit needs to be immediately forced to live in Greenland and forced to subside on Schlitz and Pabst Blue Ribbon. Milwaukee is a famous brewing hotbed, though, so it has every right to name a team the Brewers. The term isn’t exclusive to Milwaukee – St. Louis and Denver have giant stakes in brewing too – but it’s the city where the brewing industry has the most visible presence. Milwaukee and beer go together like peanut butter and jelly, so much so that even the ballpark is plastered with the name of the brewing corporation. And, of course, the brewer is the guy who makes the beer, so like the Steelers, this team is honoring the silent workers of a very old profession which is still very important in this country. This might be a good time to thank your deity of choice that most American sports leagues don’t do European soccer-style names; we might otherwise have ended up with something corporatized and wretched, like the Milwaukee Millers.

3: San Francisco 49ers, NFL
As we all know, the NFL is in love with images that it sucks at living up to. It infects the naming system as well as anything else. The league has a love affair with ferocity and, while there are probably no more bad names in the NFL than in any other league, it makes the NFL’s missteps particularly glaring. Washington’s football team, having a whopping four teams – including two 90’s expansions – named after big cats, two names for giants, two for birds of prey, one of those ridiculous teams named after a region instead of a place, plus the Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills, and I didn’t even include everything. When the NFL does a name the right way, though, it turns out excellent, and there’s no better example of that than the San Francisco 49ers. Number names might come off as silly, but numbers have a way of regionalizing the team through huge aspects of their cities like little else. In this case, it sheds history’s light on the 1849 Gold Rush which brought swaths of people to California, resulting in California’s statehood two years later. 49ers were the nicknames given to the gold rushers, and in that single marvelous placement, the name becomes exclusive to San Francisco, historical, original, and memorable all at the same time, and the connection is so well-known that it doesn’t require tons of time to explain. The name is a little on the hard side to say, with eight total syllables which mostly sound completely different, but they all feature hard sounds for a very nice weight distribution.

2: Detroit Pistons, NBA
Here’s what we think of when we think of pistons: Parts of a constantly-moving machine, working together all at once in order to generate power. Anyone can appreciate that aspect of a name like the Pistons, all the more so if they know the Detroit Pistons won each of their three NBA Championships working in a very similar fashion – eschewing individual statistics in favor of a hard-fighting machine that works evenly (none of Detroit’s title teams featured any scorers who averaged 20 points per game). It’s a beautiful image anyone would want to associate with their favorite team, and the idea of pistons working to power something bigger denotes a scrappiness that matches its downtrodden city perfectly. The piston is a fitting image for Detroit, not only for the city’s history as America’s premier automaker, but for something that refuses to quit or give up. America might be giving up on Detroit, but Detroit isn’t giving up on itself. Pittsburgh was in the same position not too long ago, and look what’s happening there; in the meantime, Buffalo seems poised to make its move as well. We’re all cheering for Detroit here.

1: Portland Trail Blazers, NBA
So you have a sport like basketball, which is played at high speeds – blazing speeds, one might say! You decide to stick a team in a snug little outpost in the pacific northwest which most people don’t even realize exists. (The Blazers were created in 1970, long before Portland was the cool alternative to Seattle…. Hell, long before Seattle was ever even cool.) So you’re basically blazing the professional sports trail to Portland, and hell, even with Portland growing and becoming more important now, the other leagues have yet to follow you there. Portland still has a kind of outpost reputation, with an abundance of outdoorsy things to do, and back when most of the pacific northwest was unknown to Europeans and virtually impossible to get to, the people who made the trip were master outdoorsmen who were true pioneers in exploring and recording the territory – trail blazers in a handful of ways. Trail Blazers is a name which acknowledges the speed of its sport and the historical and regional aspects of its metropolitan area. There’s no doubt that it sticks out; it’s simple but highly original because no other team has any right to it, and trying to call a team from anywhere else just the Blazers would be generic 90’s residue. That means Trail Blazers is a fantastic way of branding a team which no one is likely to ever forget, even less so when you realize how cool it sounds and how easily it rolls off your tongue. The Portland Trail Blazers have been noted for being an underrated team with some significant on-court successes, but there’s no question about their name. It’s the best name in the major North American professional sports pantheon.


The Ultimate Ranking of Sports Team Names, Part Six: Built Strong on Solid Ground

The Ultimate Ranking of Sports Team Names, Part Six: Built Strong on Solid Ground

These are the name that are good. Very good. Good as they are, though, they frequently lack a singular element or two which prevents them from ascending to the summit. Admittedly, there are times when that singular element or two isn’t resonating with me for some reason, but the point here remains: All of these names are excellent, and none of them have any major points of contention to concentrate on and single out. While one or two of them might not fit quite the right way, I would be vehemently opposed to any of them who tried to change their names in order to make them more fitting or appealing. These team names are so good that, in trying to change them to make them more appealing, they all run a very serious risk of coming out for the worse and disastrously backfiring.

39: Colorado Rockies, MLB
Yes, we all know by now how cliche it is to name a team in Denver the Rockies. The 1993 MLB expansion team here isn’t even the first team to try it; the NHL moved into the area back in the 70’s after the Kansas City Scouts had failed. The NHL Colorado Rockies also failed, and so they headed east to become the New Jersey Devils. Still though, while Colorado Rockies is weakly balanced, when it comes to the mountain states, every state has a prominent image attached to it. Wyoming has Yellowstone; New Mexico has the desert. Colorado has the most dominant images of the Rocky Mountains, including Pike’s Peak and the Grand Canyon. You can’t deny Rockies fits Colorado like it wouldn’t fit in Montana.

38: Minnesota Twins, MLB
The name Minnesota Twins was given to the state’s baseball team because the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have famously failed to apply the adage of Minnesota nice to each other. They’re serious rivals whose residents take pride in never visiting the other city from whichever one they live in, so in order to quell any fury that may trickle through state sports loyalties, all the teams in the Twin Cities area take the name of Minnesota. Major League Baseball took it a few steps further when they named their Minnesota team after both the state and the metro area. It makes a good way for the cities to call off the blood feud during the baseball season; yes, they may be at each other’s throats for all time, but god forbid another baseball team should come into town. Apparently baseball in Minnesota must be a way for the residents of those two cities to unleash their pent-up rage from being Minnesota nice all the time. Like most of the other Minnesota sports team names, the Twins have to make do with a weak region name, and Twins doesn’t do anything to strengthen it. Minnesota and Twins are almost rhyming first syllables off each other, and Twins doesn’t have the long O to make up any missing strength, so the name Minnesota Twins feels a little incomplete.

37: Tennessee Titans, NFL
It’s hard to believe this team first tried to form a connection to Tennessee’s football fans by keeping their old name, thus making them the Tennessee Oilers. But the fans requested a name change, and the team owner listened and came up with a very good one. One of the nicknames of Nashville, the home city of the Titans, is “The Athens of the South.” Ancient Athens today is seen as a birthplace of democracy, philosophy, and higher learning in general. Vanderbilt University and Tennessee State University are just two of the 24 places of tertiary education in Nashville. There’s also a full-scale replica of the Parthenon, adding a visual to the nickname. And hey, what was the highest level of god in ancient Greek mythology? Titan! The name also has a very easy roll to it, and titans is a very dynamic word which invokes strength and power. You know all those ferocious weather names from the 90’s I said I hated so much? The ancient Greek titans controlled all those elements. The downside is that the Titans nickname feels sort of secondhand. Accurate imagery with Greek myths? Greece and Tennessee are different places. It’s a nice allusion, but not exclusive to Tennessee.

36: Minnesota Vikings, NFL
Another one of those weird names which should be considered politically incorrect in another timeline – viking wasn’t a title, after all, but a people who are still all over the world today. And one of the more popular locations for those of Scandinavian heritage is in the Twin Cities. Viking imagery isn’t even particularly nice to have – while Indian names try to honor the more positive aspects of Indian imagery like bravery, honor, and nobility, viking imagery honors savagery, a great disservice to people who were non-interventional explorers, great strategists, and inventive shipbuilders. However, we can give a pass to that because football is a violent sport. The name does suffer from the same fault of other Minnesota sports team names: It doesn’t balance. We might be tricked into thinking it does, with the “ing” suffix in Viking, but the long I sound and Vikings being two syllables aren’t very complimentary to Minnesota, a four-syllable word with virtually no long sounds.

35: New Jersey Devils, NHL
The name Devils comes across as generic, but it’s based in the popular legend of the Jersey Devil. That equals a nice bonus for regionalization, if not so much originality. The Jersey Devil is a popular cultural icon in New Jersey, and its legend is recorded in Indian folklore. It has appeared in different forms of media and a lot of supernatural buffs believe so much in its existence that some of them form groups which collect reports, visit historical sites, and set out on the occasional night hunts in the Pine Barrens region of New Jersey to find anything they could take as solid evidence of its existence. There’s also the little matter of the name Devils probably working more than one church group into a froth – in 2005, a New Jersey state assemblyman tried to introduce a bill which would force the team to change its name to something less blasphemous. Branding like this can’t be bought.

34: San Antonio Spurs, NBA
Texas has a reputation as a big football state, but it seems to be missing out on its true calling. There are two professional football teams in Texas. While one is the immortal Dallas Cowboys, the other is a 21st Century expansion team with little following, and the NFL callously refuses to place a team in San Antonio – the eighth-largest city in the country – which has been clamoring for one for some time and even built the arena for one over 20 years ago. Fuck you, NFL. Fortunately, San Antonio can take solace in their beloved Spurs, the best of a trio of NBA teams that are all rewarding to follow. Originally slated to be the San Antonio Gunslingers, the name was changed at the last minute for no particular reason. It’s still a good name, though, because a spur is a well-known piece of cowboy equipment which people wore to control their horses during the days of the old west. And no state is more synonymous with the old west than Texas, which holds the imagery and continues to celebrate the old culture of those days. The one problem I have is that a spur is so inanimate and seems useless in this day and age, but I guess the name can be chalked up to a piece of historical equipment. San Antonio Spurs is a great name.

33: Philadelphia Eagles, NFL
You would think I’d have an unbridled hatred for this name. After all, it’s another one of those damned birds of prey, another testament to national appeal through vicious imagery rather than connection to local fans. Or is it? In this case, I can give the generic name a free pass because of what the city of Philadelphia represents in the historical context. Philadelphia is where the First Continental Congress met, where Thomas Paine published Common Sense, and where the national capitol was located until it was moved to Washington in 1800. Philadelphia played an enormous role in the American Revolution, and what is a popular symbol for American independence? The eagle, which was subsequently named the official national bird of the United States. Yes, it’s generic, but if any city has a right to regionalize the eagle, Philadelphia earned it, right along with the branding that goes with it.

32: New York Yankees, MLB
Speaking of American symbols. Here’s another team trying to take a spot as a blanket appeal to everyone by naming it after a generic term used by foreigners as a stand-in for Americans. In other words, Yankee is just another way of calling someone an American, and it gets crippled by the fact that in America itself, Yankee is regionalized depending on where you are and who you’re talking to. If you’re in the south, Yankees are northerners. In the north, they’re New Englanders, and so on. New York City is one of the most diverse cities on Earth, so while Yankees should be a generic name, what I like about it is that it presents the spirit of inclusion that appeals to people all over the world who visit or move there. It kind of says “No matter who you are or where you’re from, when you’re in New York City, you’re one of us.” And indeed, New York City has this history – it was the place where immigrants first left their ships, and around one in every seven Americans has a lineage that goes back through New York City. Yankees also has a cool ring to it, with two Y sounds and two K sounds in two back-to-back syllables. The Y is underutilized in nicknames, which also gives Yankees real distinction.

31: Los Angeles Clippers, NBA
This name would have a slightly higher rating had it stayed the San Diego Clippers, and a much lower rating if it had either stayed the Buffalo Braves or held on to the Braves nickname. Still, there’s not too much to complain about. Los Angeles is a giant port city, after all, with one of the largest port harbors in the world. The Clippers nickname is an allusion to a kind of cargo ship which was used in the days when giant canvas sails were the kings of the sea’s horizon. Clippers were known for being some of the fastest vessels available. None of the words in this name, though, come off as particularly strong, so I prefer the old San Diego Clippers name, where Diego is there to carry the weight of the weaker words surrounding it.

30: Indiana Pacers, NBA
Handicapped just because Indiana is a monster of a place name, but it fits because while Indiana is one of the basketball hotbeds of the United States, it’s best known for a whole other sport: Racing. Auto racing, to be exact, with the state’s greatest contribution to the sports world being the world-famous Indianapolis 500. Pacer most obviously is there to represent the pace car, a car which takes the race cars on a couple of slow laps around the race track just before the green flag. In a less obvious allusion, pacer can mean setting a pace, or creating and controlling the tempo for how a game plays out, which is probably what the team owners were hoping for when the Pacers were created. I’m awarding bonus points because Indiana Pacers has better balance than Indianapolis Pacers would have – next to a city name like Indianapolis, everything would look weak.

29: Dallas Cowboys, NFL
This name just makes good sense. Dallas has a history as a wild west frontier city, and what image represents the wild west frontier more than a cowboy? Dallas also fancies itself a city long on fast, high-rolling excitement and action, and that’s the common movie image of the cowboy: Fast, exciting, shootouts with the black bandana-wearing villains who tied the girl up to the train tracks. That’s far from the truth of what being a cowboy was really like, but the team itself certainly tries to live up to that image.

28: Miami Dolphins, NFL
Hey, another marine team! Dolphins is probably the best marine-related name because, being sea mammals, there’s presumably plenty of them in and around the Miami area. While dolphins get a perception as fun, friendly creatures, when observed in their natural habitat, they’ve been seen to be real assholes. We know they’re known to get into fights with sharks and win; some of them do it for no reason. Dolphins can be friendly when bred in captivity, and part of the reason they can learn and perform tricks is because of their incredible intelligence. Dolphins score very high on the chart of animal intelligence, right up there with monkeys, and are the most intelligent animals after humans. It’s also theorized that the dolphin brain was fully developed long before the human brain, meaning dolphins were once the smartest animals in the world. That’s a hell of an image to carry, all wrapped up in a very unique brand because everyone else apparently thinks dolphins are too cutesy to be used as a team nickname.

27: San Diego Padres, MLB
San Diego was originally a mission founded by Franciscan priests, so this name has a historical regionalism which makes it stick out. It can also serve a double meaning: Military chaplains are also frequently known as padres, and San Diego is very well known for being a military base outpost among everything else. Padre is a Spanish word, and that means it goes very nicely with the name of the city itself, which is also Spanish, and it’s also a clever way to appeal to the Mexicans who regularly move in and out of San Diego, since San Diego has a very convenient spot right along the Mexican border, with Tijuana along the Mexican part of the border. Hell, the entire metro area is referred to as the San Diego-Tijuana Metropolitan Area. It’s a very fitting name for a city with such a strong Spanish and Mexican influence, and there’s no need to complain about it not being vicious.

26: Chicago Bulls, NBA
A lot of the appeal of the Bulls name is the same of the appeal of the Bears name: Short but powerful word for an animal with power and crunch. But whereas the Bears had a parallel to the Cubs as an advantage, the Bulls do something better: Chicago was a major producer in the meat industry for a long time, and that makes the bull a very strong allusion to the beef industry that made Chicago an industrial giant. If you’re a literary geek, the allusion is made even stronger through the fictional neighborhood of Packingtown, which was created by author Upton Sinclair for his famous novel The Jungle, about the life of factory workers in the fictional community. That makes the bull a nice secondhand reference to the book that got the government started in making sure our food was clean and, eventually, seeing to it that people who worked in factories got treated like human beings. Maybe it’s not obvious outright, but that’s good enough to be a literary reference, and that’s always worth a few points with me.

25: Charlotte Hornets, NBA
The Charlotte Hornets are back! The second-youngest name on this list, Charlotte’s NBA team finally got its original name back a couple of months ago when the New Orleans Hornets decided they were finally finished with it. That’s good for it in the standings, because if you haven’t figured it out by now, I would have viciously skewered this name had these guys still been the Charlotte Bobcats. The historical precedent comes from a quote by general Cornwallis in the American Revolution, who referred to Charlotte as “A veritable nest of hornets” after the city put up a hell of a resistance to them. Hornets is also very unique and original, because insects don’t tend to be used as nicknames very often. Hornets have very venomous and painful stings, swarm, and are crazily territorial, adding a nice dose of ferocity. But you know why everyone loves the name Charlotte Hornets so much? Say it, and check out that balance! Four syllables, the first in each word ending in a hard R, and the second ending in a short T. There are only a handful of other teams on this list which have such a balance, and of them, the Hornets definitely have the coolest sound. R can be a nasty letter when it’s used properly. Buzz City, on behalf of NBA fans everywhere, we’re glad you’re back!

24: Edmonton Oilers, NHL
The Oilers are the other team from the Canadian province of Alberta. While the Calgary Flames use a generic name which is also a useful adage for how oil is frequently used, the Edmonton Oilers are a lot more direct: Here’s Edmonton, in the province of Alberta, sticking up like a sore thumb in the middle of the Canadian desert, where they dig up oil. And here’s a team called the Oilers, which happens to play in Edmonton. The Oilers have a unique name these days, since the NFL’s Houston Oilers don’t exist anymore, so it’s almost impossible to forget who the Oilers are or where they’re from.

23: Chicago Blackhawks, NHL
Here’s an honest question: I’ve accepted the fact that naming teams after Native Americans can be disrespectful. But is it okay if a team was named after one particular Native American? And the Blackhawks name was taken through two more forms before reaching the team. Perhaps the Blackhawks could use it as an advertisement: The team! That was named after a restaurant! A restaurant that was named after an army battalion! An army battalion that was named after a person! Yeah, even tracing it back all the way, the Hawks were named after a person. It’s rather unfortunate that their nickname is another generic bird of prey, because I take points off for that. But there’s no denying that Blackhawks is a name with character, and it finds a nice balance in a three-syllable-two-syllable dynamic simply by making the middle sounds the same in both words. It’s just that in Chicago, the short C is a syllable all to itself while in Blackhawks, the CK comes at the end of the first syllable. The name has an history in Illinois, too; Black Hawk was a Sauk tribe chief who led raiding and war parties as a young man, fought in the War of 1812, and led the British Band in the 1832 war presumably named after him. The team itself spent most of its existence known as the Black Hawks, until the owner randomly decided to use the name written on the original legal documents – Blackhawks – sometime in 1986.

22: Boston Bruins, NHL
If this was a list I was writing up solely on balance, the Boston Bruins would win it with almost no competition. Both are two-syllable words, both start with B and end in N, both of them are breezy with hard sounds. In that regard, the Boston Bruins are absolutely unmatched anywhere on this list. That gives the name memorability and strong branding as well, because who could possibly forget a beast like this? The only qualm is that this name is more generic than it comes off at first; a bruin is a foreign word for brown bear. (I forget which language.) But even then, you have to give this name credit for not going with the name Boston Bears and using the Bruins name, which makes it stick out more.

21: Arizona Diamondbacks, MLB
Not all names rooted in our 90’s love affair with all things fierce and XTREME!!! turned out badly. The desert can be an inspiration for some awesome team names, because it’s such a unique environment which takes resourcefulness and hardness to live in. It’s an environment exclusive to some very unique species, and some very particular species of more common animals. Arizona’s sports teams play it safe by going with the latter three out of four times (the exception being the generic Cardinals NFL team), and while the originality mark suffers for that, this is by far the best of what Arizona offers in team naming. The diamondback is a type of rattlesnake which is found in a few environments, but is most noted for being a desert animal. It’s extremely venomous and deadly. They’re also survivalists that can go without two years without food. It’s important to note the team didn’t go a more common route by just latching on to the name Rattlers. While the longer name may be a bit much, it works in this case because with 90’s ferocity a dime a dozen in sports team naming, Diamondbacks is one of those pattern breakers that sticks out among all those cat and weather names.

The Ultimate Ranking of Sports Team Names, Part Five: Blank Space

The Ultimate Ranking of Sports Team Names, Part Five: Blank Space

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.

The Ultimate Ranking of Sports Team Names, Part Four: What? How? and Huh?!

The Ultimate Ranking of Sports Team Names, Part Four: What? How? and Huh?!

The better way to think of this tier is as a list of naming gambles that didn’t pay off. None of them are outrageously bad or offensive, and most of them made a real try at originality. Unfortunately, the originality was done without a whole lot of regard to the region or the people living in the region, or much respect for the idea of trying to form a connection to the area’s fans; the area fans are the ones you need to click with first and foremost, because they’re the ones who are going to be the original ticket and merchandise buyers. There’s usually effort apparent, but in most of these cases, it resulted in a team name that seems weird or misplaced, to the detriment of the very people the team is trying to appeal to.

70: Anaheim Ducks, NHL
Any readers who don’t know anything about hockey right now are probably thinking of a certain Disney movie called The Mighty Ducks, which came out in 1992 and became a sports movie classic loved by children and adults alike. Disney took the movie’s popularity as license to not only acquire an expansion NHL team, but name it the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, after the movie. Then they used the two sequels to the movie to let the public know their NHL team existed. (The second movie used the NHL team’s jerseys, and was far more subtle about the promotion. The third movie is just pathetic about it: The climactic scene revolves largely around the Big Game announcer’s efforts to keep his lips suctioned to the ass of real Ducks star Paul Kariya.) In about 2005, Disney finally sold the team, and the new owners finally did away with the embarrassing Disney imagery just in time for the Ducks to win the Stanley Cup in 2007. The connection, however, is still very fresh in everyone’s minds, and since the team was named after the movie, it loses virtually everything on its branding alone. That’s a shame, because in the movies, what the Ducks come to symbolically represent – even though they were named after main character Gordon Bombay’s boss, Ducksworth – is ducks in a flying V, coasting gracefully off the air current produced by flapping their wings and quacking to encourage each other.

69: Los Angeles Lakers, NBA
The Lakers are so successful, popular, ubiquitous, and associated with exciting basketball, and their name has such a cool sound – three rolling L sounds, all almost evenly spaced out – that we forget how little sense this name makes. They make their home in Los Angeles, where the only existing lakes were made by men, and no, I’m not going to try to count the Pacific Ocean. The Lakers began their existence as the Minneapolis Lakers and won 16 championships, more than any other NBA team except the Boston Celtics (and the Celtics have just one more title than the Lakers). The first five titles the Lakers won all happened in Minneapolis, so, you know, you probably wouldn’t give up a name after that kind of success either, no matter how nonsensical it sounds. It certainly makes the branding unique, and when the name is so pleasant to say, you can’t really complain that it’s a bad thing in this case.

68: Montreal Canadiens, NHL
I don’t know whether this name was created to appeal to all of Canada or merely the Francophone side of Quebec, given that “Canadiens” in this case is spelled with an E in the final syllable instead of the English version A. I know the team itself was created for the Francophones, but by naming it the Canadiens, the team successfully applied the very definition of having its cake and eating it too: Try and make it national and regional at the same time. There’s a generic element in play here as well, since this is akin to naming a team the Americans. Still, not many other teams use it, and it does manage to be unique enough to emboss the brand into memory – although those 24 Stanley Cups probably have something to do with that too.

67: Orlando Magic, NBA
Another amorphous concept getting a far higher ranking than it deserves, the Orlando Magic would at first look like a perfect name. They’re based in the city of Orlando, Florida, after all, the city in which Walt Disney World takes up its best-known residence. And Disney World is popularly known as the Magic Kingdom, so it’s really not such a bad way to regionalize the team. Unfortunately, after that, what I said about branding in the 70 spot starts coming into play, and you really can’t afford to try branding a team after a corporation that already owns it, even if Magic is more of a stealth branding instead of a blatant advertisement. And trying to name an entire team the Magic is especially disastrous in basketball, in which one of the most famous players of all time, one of the greatest players of all time, and one so popular and beloved that he’s given a ton of credit for rescuing the league when it was on the ropes in the 80’s and transforming it into the juggernaut it is today, happens to be best known by his stage name: Magic Johnson. And Magic Johnson never had anything to do with the Orlando Magic, unless you count the fact that he played the same sport. Not a good idea.

66: Cleveland Cavaliers, NBA
The team of LeBron James tries branding itself using imagery that evokes 17th-Century swordfighters and swordsman who are always ready to draw and duel on the spot. Unfortunately, it won’t change the fact that Cavalier is another amorphous concept which, in a nutshell, is synonymous for offhand and a lack of proper concern. In a historical context, a Cavalier was a supporter of King Charles I back when England was fighting the English Civil War. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s difficult to argue that it would be a brand someone would want.

65: Buffalo Sabres, NHL
This name was created as an attempt to stifle the tide of professional teams in Buffalo that were called the Bisons. Face it, when your city is called Buffalo, damn the redundancy, the name of a sports team is pretty much ready made. The original owners of the Sabres were looking to buck that trend, and they did that by thinking up a name associated with a sword that is, according to them, fast on both offense and defense, and the weapon carried by a battle leader. Fast on offense and defense are nice to associate with a team, even if they don’t have anything to do with the city. As for the part about being a leader, it goes without saying that Buffalo has no right to say it leads much of anything these days, not with the way it decided to turn its back on a changing world and shut itself in. Buffalo once led the entire planet in grain shipment, thus feeding the entire world, and it was in the top five on steel production too. It was also a visionary city in the advancement of electrical technology – Nikola Tesla’s lab was just in Niagara Falls, the original home of alternating current, and between all that, it was one of the richest cities in the world. Those days are gone, and today Buffalo’s leader roles aren’t quite as important: CVD mortality (first); poverty (third or fourth); segregation (seventh); and violent crime (tenth). Uh, we’re number one? The B in the middle of Sabres, though, creates a nice offset to the hard B and O in Buffalo.

64: Washington Nationals, MLB
Nationals? Really? In Patriot Central, the District of Columbia, that wretched hive of scum and villainy, with all those politicians and monuments, you pop up the most useless way of saying “Americans” ever concocted? I’m shocked Fox News didn’t pick up on an angle using this: “We’re using Nationals because not everyone in this country is a rich white guy, and not being a rich white guy is un-American, and we’re too politically correct to call them the Americans!” The Nats are the third baseball team in Washington. The first was officially called the Nationals, in spite of the press prominently calling them the Senators. The second was officially called the Senators. I understand wanting to keep the history of the original team and give it a catch-all term for the countrymen they’re supposed to represent, but we can do much better than Nationals.

63: New York Jets, NFL
Jets may not be the most immediate image associated with New York City, but they work quite well as a colloquial. Jets are, after all, a very modern way of getting from place to place, and avionics technology is always on the move, much like the largest city in the United States. The name Jets also works as a parallel to New York City’s other junior, rebel alternative sports teams – the New York Mets and Brooklyn Nets, the younger alternatives to the Giants and Knicks. But the problem, uh, well…. See, the Jets don’t actually exist anywhere within the entire state of New York…. They play in New Jersey, where they also get their taxpayer extortions and have most of their fans….

62: Seattle Seahawks, NFL
If you’re even a tenth awake in any matters regarding the NFL, you already know from the coverage of the most recent Super Bowl that a seahawk is basically an osprey. Ospreys are more birds of prey, rendering this a pretty generic name, which you would think would be even more so since they decided to use a term with the word “hawk” in it. There’s one very important thing that I love about the Seahawks name, though: the “sea” in seahawks is a really cool allusion to the city’s name, which begins with the same three letters. That gives it an awesome form of regionalization which it really has no right to have. It sticks out and brands the team in a way you would be hard-pressed to forget.

61: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, NFL
A buccaneer is a particular kind of pirate, giving this name a lower originality rating than it deserves. But it has a really cool, jumpy sound, and you at least have to give it credit for using a nickname no one ever used before, making it fairly memorable. I think the nicknames Buccaneers is better suited to New Orleans, but it actually does have a grounding in Tampa Bay Area lore: Tampa hosts an annual event called the Gasparilla Pirate Festival, which celebrates a popular legend revolving around a Spanish pirate captain named Jose Gaspar. He’s a popular figure in Florida folklore, but there’s no evidence of his existence before people started writing about him in the 20th Century.

60: San Diego Chargers, NFL
The Chargers have lightning bolts on their helmets. It’s a good allusion, but it doesn’t have anything to do with anything else in San Diego. It has to do with the original owner wanting to present a certain kind of image – an amorphous concept, as it were! If given the old application, a charger is a very old way of referring to a horse – horses charged back in the medieval era as knights tried to knock each other off. Unfortunately, between the name and the imagery, the only association people will ever make with chargers in this day and age is something that powers up your cell phone or computer battery. Technological evolution has given a comical meaning and image to a name which might not have been so bad a decade ago, and there’s a new generation of children being born wondering why a football team would ever call itself the Chargers, no matter how important actual chargers can be. The future, you can’t escape it. And in thinking forward, the San Diego Chargers brand evolved into an image which now makes the name completely comical. I guess you can’t really blame the original owner for that.

59: Dallas Stars, NHL
This is actually a better name than most people give it credit for. Keeping the Stars nickname after the move to Dallas is a very obvious but still a cool way to evoke the state’s pride in trying to get them to appeal to everyone in Texas. In this case, it works because the Dallas Stars are the only NHL team in Texas, and Texas is famously known as The Lone Star State. The state flag of Texas is easily the most famous in the United States, out of the sheer simplicity and symbolism of it: Red and white horizontal stripes, with a vertical blue stripe that has a single white star on its foreground; held to a special reverence in Texas. Unfortunately for the Stars, the negative end of the branding cancels out the positive. Texas is quite famously a football state. The Cowboys, Dallas’s NFL team, are one of the league’s glamor teams, and their official logo is a large, bold star of navy blue. So by calling themselves the Stars, Dallas’s NHL team looks like it’s trying to leech off the popularity of its far more famous NFL cousin. It doesn’t exactly help matters that, before becoming the Dallas Stars, this team already had one of the coolest names in history: They started out as the Minnesota North Stars.

58: New Orleans Pelicans, NBA
The name change of the New Orleans Hornets sparked a ton of outcry when the name New Orleans Pelicans was announced. But you know what? Fuck that, pelicans are awesome! I think the outcry was sparked out of ignorance: Ignorance of the fact that the brown pelican is the official state bird of Louisiana; ignorance of the fact that pelicans are the most carnivorous birds on the planet; ignorance of the fact that they are capable of not only swooping in, but diving a good 40 feet underwater to catch prey. New Orleans has also fielded more than one minor league team in other sports called the Pelicans, so it’s a nod to the city’s sports history as well. The only real problems with this name are the branding, which is difficult because people are dummies who got way too many impressions of pelicans from Warner Brothers cartoons; and the fact that New Orleans Pelicans is a very jumpy, clunky name which has an unpleasant sound to it. Still, major props to the team for avoiding a generic name change and using a wildlife-related name which honors the city and state.

57: New York Rangers, NHL
This name is such an institution that we tend to forget how dumb it really is. When we think of rangers, we think of bold people on wild frontiers. You could make a case that New York City is a wild frontier, but as for bold people there? Rich white collar thieves and rich, white, useless coffeehouse intellectuals are hardly bold. Ranger also evokes images of an open range with wide skies, and that is not New York City. The Rangers got their name because the man who first brought them to the city was nicknamed Tex, and the team was frequently referred to as Tex’s Rangers. The name does have a nice roll to it, though, and lord knows the branding certainly stands out because of the misplacement.

56: Dallas Mavericks, NBA
Honestly, we hear the work “maverick” so often these days that I just want to clock people who use it to describe themselves. The term is used to describe people who are stand out as lone dissenters among their associates or pursue rebellious policies or ideas. In other words, “maverick” is a good way to describe Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, but the term itself is like the whole San Diego Chargers thing: It’s slowly starting to devolve. Most of the politicians who call themselves mavericks these days are unquestioning slaves to blind prejudices, and more and more frequently, they’re also getting caught in monetary scandals. In other words, they’re trying to fit in with an enormous swath of people that still sees it their way. If we want to think of Tom Cruise’s character in Top Gun, well, he was a dangerous and self-destructive pilot who realistically would have been booted from the Navy about ten times over for all the shit he pulled.

55: Philadelphia Flyers, NHL
Is this another concept or an actual noun that a real image can be attached to? It’s difficult to decide, because flyer is such a general term. It’s also downright silly when you try to think of anything in Philadelphia the term could possibly be applied to. Philadelphia is known for a lot of things, but aviation prowess isn’t one of them. Honestly, I have no clue how this name ended up ranked in the 50’s. It ignores virtually everything about the city and its people, it’s weak, it has a bad balance, there’s no regionalization, history, and the branding gets a passing grade only because the Flyers have been one of the NHL’s premier teams for decades now.

54: Detroit Red Wings, NHL
This is not a generic name, that much can be given to the Red Wings. That automatically gives it a higher standing than Lions or Tigers. But it also brings up the question of just what the hell a red wing is supposed to be, anyway. What’s a red wing, where did it come from, and how does it work itself into the local mythos of Detroit? Detroit Red Wings is another name with good balance and heft, and the Red offers it more intensity and ferocity than a name like the Blue Wings or Green Wings would have ever provided, while the wing is a good abstract reference to the speed of hockey. That at least give it a very unique and abstract way of branding itself and offering some heft to the name, but I’m afraid it loses points for, you know, not making any damn sense.

The Ultimate Ranking of Sports Team Names, Part Three: They Just Didn’t Try

The Ultimate Ranking of Sports Team Names, Part Three: They Just Didn’t Try

We’re out of the realm of the truly objectionable now, and entering the territory of the generic and bland. In this part of the list are the team names that fail because they don’t stand out and try to distinguish themselves from the pack. None of these names have any aspects a fan can take any real offense toward, but that’s because the people who thought of them decided on the safest possible approach: Just think of something that sounds great or fierce, and fuck anything else that makes a team name good. No matter what can be said for the rest of the names on this list – including the ones in the lower tiers – most of them at least tried to take a risk or two, but that can’t be said for anything in this tier. Since the names here are mostly so generic that some of them actually cross sports, it’s safe to conclude the people who thought of them just weren’t trying.

90: Detroit Tigers, MLB
This one gets credit for not being a part of our XTREME!!! 90’s big cat craze, and for being an aesthetic delight – the strong O and the way it lights up the I in Detroit makes the long, hard I in Tigers a sort of natural vocal evolution. Unfortunately, Tigers is another one of those default terms used whenever it’s necessary to come up with something to try to market to a national audience you hope will be fascinated more with badass imagery than imagination or connection to the immediate fanbase you need to click with first. And before its sport was usurped by the panther during the 90’s, it was the tiger that every sports team on Earth turned to when they needed a strong, carnivorous animal to be presented at the last minute because someone in the naming group wasn’t from the area and couldn’t be bothered to do the research before pulling up a name they thought would be at least remotely likable. A generic big cat name is still a generic big cat name, no matter what city it’s attached to or how much you try to sell people on how proud and noble yet blah blah blah colloquial metaphor it is.

89: Cincinnati Bengals, NFL
The trouble with the alternative method of naming a team after tigers is that it’s exactly one letter away from being politically incorrect. A bengal is a tiger. A bengali is a person from Bangladesh. It’s pretty easy to use one in place of the other. I can give the Cincinnati Bengals credit for two things: One is trying to be slightly more original than the Detroit Tigers, and the other is trying to slightly honor the wishes of Paul Brown, who originally wanted his old team, the Cleveland Browns, to be called the Panthers and who was also the first coach of the Bengals (revenge for being forced out of the Browns) and instrumental in the team’s running until his death. But still, it’s another big cat. Another tiger, in fact.

88: Los Angeles Kings, NHL
Using our Stretch Armstrong powers of imagination stretching, twisting, and reinterpreting, Los Angeles has a handful of things which make it a strong applicant for royalty status: It’s the world’s most prominent entertainment producer. It’s also the largest city in California and the second-largest city in the United States by population, and first by size; and it’s the economic power center of California (although San Francisco will likely have a few words with me now). So at least it has that going for it. The trouble with calling a team the Kings, though, is they’re not going to be at the top all the time. While the Los Angeles Kings won two of the last three Stanley Cups, in nearly 50 years of existence, those are still the only two they’ve won. And let’s face it, Kings is not a good brand. Sure, there are those old expressions about how everyone wants to be the King, or how good it is to be the King, but there is so much ubiquity in trying to name yourself after such an old cliche….

87: Sacramento Kings, NBA
This team gets a hair ahead of their Los Angeles brethren by merit of the fact that first of all, Kings rolls better with Sacramento than it does with Los Angeles. Kings has a weaker sound than Los Angeles, putting the name way out of balance, but with Sacramento, the C and the short sounds surrounding it are a nice compliment to the K and the weak and rather common suffix following it. Also, while Los Angeles may be California’s economic powerhouse, Sacramento is its legitimate capitol, therefore making it the place where the governor lives. And if the governor abuses his power too much, the people will resort to calling him the King, possibly followed by other, considerably worse words. The Sacramento Kings are the oldest team in the NBA. They began as a factory team in Rochester, New York called the Seagrams, were the Royals through Cincinnati, and became the Kings in Kansas City before reaching Sacramento. Ironically, none of those locations are especially regal.

86: Minnesota Timberwolves, NBA
When you consider that Minnesota’s NHL team is called the Wild, you have to ask yourself: Are the Timberwolves the wild the name Minnesota Wild is referring to? The name itself gets a fairly decent sense of balance – Timberwolves has a few harder sounds that are equalized by Minnesota being one syllable longer. I don’t know if timberwolves are indigenous to Minnesota, though, but that hardly localizes the name. Besides, it’s hard not to notice that timberwolves is just a specification for the more common wolves name, which is found everywhere sports are played.

85: Atlanta Hawks, NBA
The trouble with a ranking list is that there’s only one spot per name, and every name I push into one spot pushes another name into another spot. After awhile, the spots seem to go by in chunks, and so there are names that will end up higher than they deserve. And with that, here we have the generic bird part of the list, which is arguably interchangeable with the cat parts. The hawk is a generic bird of prey, and is the mascot of Atlanta’s NBA team because it survived the longest: From Buffalo (where they were the Bisons) to the Tri-Cities Blackhawks (now the Quad Cities), through Milwaukee and St. Louis, where they became the Hawks. I appreciate the survival story, but that’s about the only thing the Hawks have going for them. Hell, the Hawks showed up around the time the Falcons did, and my god, how it must suck there for casual fans to try to tell them apart.

84: Atlanta Falcons, NFL
What is it with Atlanta and birds of prey? From a city with a generic bird of prey NBA team comes a generic bird of prey NFL team. The Falcons get credit for being the team that showed up first – unless I’m confusing the two of them myself – but they are still another generic bird of prey, named for very generic reasons. The branding is trouble because they’re, again, in a city with another generic bird of prey name! Imagine the marketing: “We’re not the Other Guys!” At least the name has a better balance, with two long A’s in Atlanta and one in Falcons.

83: Arizona Cardinals, NFL
Another generic bird, another survival story, and it would have been worse had the Cardinals stopped at St. Louis, where the most popular team is a baseball team called the Cardinals. You wonder why they didn’t change their name to something more Arizona-esque: The Sidewinders or Roadrunners, maybe. But I guess there’s something to be said for hanging on to the only consistent element from your past. After all, no one remembers those championships these guys won way back when they were still the Chicago Cardinals. Yeah, the team branding has been simply disastrous, because for a full quarter century – as sportswriter and Cardinals fan Will Leitch so directly pointed out – these Cardinals weren’t even the most popular team called the St. Louis Cardinals. Since leaving St. Louis, it appears that all the Missouri transplants living in Phoenix and Tucson haven’t adopted what’s basically the other Cardinals team.

82: St. Louis Cardinals, MLB
The original Cardinals team still makes a lot more sense than the Arizona Cardinals. The cardinal isn’t indigenous to Arizona, but it’s indigenous to a lot of other places in the United States, including Missouri. It’s also the official state bird of Illinois, and the St. Louis Metropolitan Area encompasses a lot of suburbs in Illinois. That said, St. Louis Cardinals has a pretty, chirpy sound, but cardinals are just too common to be truly unique. At least they have their brand, going strong on a century, and surviving a challenge from a whole other team, also called the St. Louis Cardinals, which played in the damned NFL.

81: Kansas City Royals, MLB
I’m well aware of the fact that the Kansas City Royals were named after a highly respected livestock show that takes place in Kansas City every year, so it gets the essential regionalization points in that respect. But how many non-baseball fans and people outside Kansas City do you think would realize that upon hearing this name? Kansas City may have more fountains than any city in the world except Rome, and it may be the barbeque capitol of the United States, but it’s not exactly known for its royalty or regality. The team name does have a strong allusion to the greatest team from baseball’s old Negro League, the Kansas City Monarchs, so that’s to its credit.

80: Detroit Lions, NFL
The name of Detroit’s NFL team really doesn’t differ all that much from the name of Detroit’s MLB team. It even has a similar letter evolution from the OI in Detroit to the long I in Lions. My problem with the Lions name isn’t so much of a case of it being a misfit – lest you need reminding, neither Detroit nor the Lions have been the kings of much of anything lately – but more the choice of animal. It’s another big cat trying to cash in an image based on ferocity. To some extent, the branding works, but that’s mostly because the Lions have a history. They’re one of the oldest teams in the league, have two divisional rivals even older than they are, and their division has long been known as the Black and Blue Division, a nickname given to it because all three other teams in it – the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, and Minnesota Vikings – have all made their names riding defense to multiple championships, something the Lions themselves were familiar with way back when too. However, as far as the big cats go, in four leagues flooded with trendy big cats, Detroit chose to use the Lions as their mascot. No other team in major professional sports has tried that, so as far as generic big cats go, the Lions at least stand out.

79: St. Louis Rams, NFL
When a team has been as historically nomadic as the Rams, I guess it’s a big deal when they cling on to their old name. Formed in 1936 as the Cleveland Rams, the team bolted to Los Angeles in 1946, just after winning the 1945 title because the Browns were created and looking like they could easily take over the city. In the 90’s, after a long and productive stay in Los Angeles, the Rams moved to St. Louis. I’m not sure why rams were picked to represent the team, but the image certainly is unique – not many teams at the pro level use it. The name St. Louis Rams feels very awkward, and I can’t decide if it’s a powerful name or a weak one – the short A kind of cancels out the long R and M sounds, and the city name is tricky because the only unquestionably hard letter in it is the L.

78: Toronto Blue Jays, MLB
Are there blue jays in Toronto? Of course there are blue jays in Toronto! As far as bird mascots go, the blue jay is an underrated bird – they’re among the bird kingdom’s bullies and hoarders. Maybe we give the Toronto Blue Jays a lot of shit, but their name is more unique than it sounds. Unfortunately, there are still several other teams using names of birds – not even raptors, but regular birds you might find in your backyard – so it’s still easily lost in the shuffle of bird names.

77: New York Football Giants, NFL
A generic name with pretension! I understand the New York Giants originally needed the Football pretense in order to keep themselves distinguished from the MLB New York Giants, who moved to San Francisco in 1958. That sort of eliminates the need for the moniker, but the organization and fans both insist on using it. There’s no reason for this anymore. The San Francisco Giants aren’t the San Francisco Baseball Giants. You don’t hear New York Football Jets. The Cardinals used a similar distinguisher back in their St. Louis days, being the St. Louis Football Cardinals, but they’ve since moved, and are not the Arizona Football Cardinals. That doesn’t even cover the geographical inaccuracy in the name. If the team is in a suburb, despite my nuclear hatred of suburbs, that’s a need I understand – it’s still in the metro area. But when you’re placing the team in a whole other state, demanding the taxes from a whole other state, and the fanbase is mostly in that whole other state, don’t try to leach off the glamor city across the border out of convenience. Have a little fucking honesty about it.

76: San Francisco Giants, MLB
Funny how these guys ended up with this name in San Francisco. Isn’t giant politically incorrect? Don’t they like to be called big people or large people or something? The name doesn’t sound all that unbalanced, mainly because San and Giants play off each other in a decent manner while the Francisco dominates the name. I like this name a lot more than I like New York Football Giants. If we expand the meaning of Giants, we can get a nice allusion to San Francisco’s stature – the city is, after all, the economic giant of the Bay Area, of Northern California, and possibly California itself. As far as being the economic giant of California itself goes, it provides an unintentional but very cool parallel to the NHL team in Los Angeles, the Kings. Los Angeles and San Francisco are raging rivals in cultural and economic power in California, competing to be the state’s king power center or giant power center.

75: Pittsburgh Pirates, MLB
This team was named after stealing a player from an opponent, in a move the opponent said was “piratical.” The name Pirates itself is actually unique, and has a nice balance and heft to offset Pittsburgh – both two syllables. Unfortunately, the name’s uniqueness isn’t enough to offset the common imagery and branding. Pirates are the mascot for two NFL teams, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders, both of which found ways of calling themselves pirates without actually calling themselves pirates.

74: Golden State Warriors, NBA
Warriors is a generic name. Its been applied to soldiers of every type of person in every century. It’s that it’s one of those generic names used at every level of sports, and is often a stand-in name for teams in sports movies, which renders it very ineffective. Also, I hate it when teams try to take general regions as their official play area. I actually had to look up just what the hell Golden State is and where the Warriors actually play. That’s not what you think of as a favorable position when it comes to regionalizing the team.

73: Indianapolis Colts, NFL
Teams trying to name themselves after horses are funny to me. Everyone loves the imagery of horses, and who wouldn’t? Horses are as beautiful and graceful as they are fast and powerful – that’s a damn perfect combination of everything you could ever ask a professional sports team to be. But naming a team the horses just doesn’t work because the word “horses” doesn’t roll especially well with a strong city name, so everyone has to use synonyms: Mustangs, stallions, broncos, and so forth. But that doesn’t explain why anyone would name a team after a baby horse. Granted, Colts is a nice, punchy term, but it’s also weaker than it sounds and reliant strictly on the long O. The name is a move remnant – these guys had a long life as the Baltimore Colts, a name given because of Baltimore’s rich history in horse racing. Granted Indianapolis is also a famous racing city, but that fame isn’t from horses. I’ll grant that if you want to stretch the imagination a little, you could point out that those cars in the Indianapolis 500 race on horsepower, but that doesn’t work for me. Especially not when you’re hitching up a name like Colts to that six-syllable mouthful of a city name.

72: Calgary Flames, NHL
Canada is an odd place to put a team called the Flames, and hockey is a strange sport to see a team called the Flames playing. The name is another holdover, which is too bad because the team’s original city gave them one of the all-time great names – the Atlanta Flames. I’ve read an exploration of the idea that Flames is a very cloaked allusion to the Canadian oil industry, which is dominantly in the Calgary’s province, Alberta, but I wonder how many people would accept that explanation, since oil and fire don’t have anything in common except very nasty chemical reactions. In any case, it doesn’t work out very well because there’s another city in Alberta called Edmonton, and they have a team that has a much more direct name in relation to oil.

71: Denver Broncos, NFL
Now this is a horse name! Unfortunately, that doesn’t equal an especially high rank because it’s still just a generic horse name with generic branding, but damn. If you’re going to be generic, this is the best example there is of how to be generic and pull it off. First, you make sure your horse name is in a nice Rocky Mountain city with a history as a frontier outpost. Then you make sure your favored synonym has two beginning consonants which make it rugged, and two hard O sounds – including the end – to give it weight and power. Make sure the city and name are both two syllables, giving the entire name punch, and hopefully both city and team name will both have a short N sound in the middle for a nearly unmatched balance. There’s generic, but there’s also generically awesome.

The Ultimate Ranking of Sports Team Names, Part Two: Just Plain Suck

The Ultimate Ranking of Sports Team Names, Part Two: Just Plain Suck

These are the names that don’t quite betray the ideals of good sports team naming, but which are nonetheless irredeemable all the same. Some come from bad trends, others lack originality, but all of them are inexcusable.

115: Florida Panthers, NHL
You’re an ad executive in the 90’s who needs a name that screams “XTREME!!! SPORT COMIN’ YOUR WAY!” and since you live in sun-drenched Miami, you laid on the beach and let it go until an hour before the presentation. So you need a ferocious animal now, but all the good ones are taken. What do you do? You pick out the name of a big cat which doesn’t even really exist (what most people call the black panther is just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill leopard with black fur). The panther is the little black dress of professional sports team names. It’s the go-to for those who either can’t do something better or those who need to throw on the quick emergency backup because they’re trying to get back out the door in a hurry. In other words: No matter how much resonance the panther may hold to the metro area, you never, ever, ever name your team after it.

114: Carolina Panthers, NFL
Okay, I don’t think there is a pair of teams on this ranking list so similar to each other. Both the Florida and Carolina Panthers were created in the early-to-mid-90’s. Both have an appearance in their respective sports’ finals amidst very nondescript existences. Both have names and logo designs with deep roots in 90’s advertising hubris. Honestly, I could have re-posted my bullet point from the other Panthers team or switched these two around, and it wouldn’t matter one bit. So why does Carolina get the slight nod? Because the Florida Panthers infect my favorite sport, while the Carolina Panthers infect my least favorite.

113: Jacksonville Jaguars, NFL
Another team created during our love affair with all things XTREME!!! during the 90’s, the Jags at least have a small bit of an edge over the Panthers and the, uh, Panthers by merit of the fact that they managed to avoid using Panthers as a name. I’ll give them credit for also avoiding use of the name Wildcats, that ubiquitous name for little league teams from sports movies. I can also credit it for a decent ring, featuring a duo of place and name which both start with the same syllable, with accompaniment by a series of short sounds which make the JA poppy. It still doesn’t change the fact that Jaguars are strictly rainforest animals from South America, not Florida. Or the fact that Jaguars are difficult to brand because they constantly get forgotten in all those other big cat names.

112: Nashville Predators, NHL
This is the kind of shit you get when you make the logo before thinking of a decent name for the team. I’ll admit this is probably about the best the Preds would be able to do with the image they were given, that of a roaring sabertooth tiger. But it should also make you wonder who would ever try such a naming technique, especially in a city nicknamed “The Athens of the South” and “The Music City,” both of which are quite capable of offering better, more memorable alternatives. It shows no respect for the city of Nashville whatsoever, and it ruins any shot at branding because the only people likely to remember it are transplants from the north who are only interested when the teams they cheered for north of the Dixie Line come to town. Again, it’s pointless 90’s hubris named to capitalize on a trend, and with the Preds always topping the lists of NHL teams likely to move, you have to wonder how much the name had to do with it.

111: Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL
Out of ferocious, XTREME!!!-style animals to name your sports team after? Time to turn to ferocious, XTREME!!!-style weather phenomena! The Lightning once claimed they were named in a fan contest, which would explain a lot, but former owner Phil Esposito later came out with the true story: He thought it up himself one night upon seeing a particularly vicious lightning bolt during a storm. While Esposito wrote of Tampa being the lightning capitol of America, it doesn’t excuse the fact that it happens everywhere, even in the desert. So again, no regionalization, no real respect for Tampa or its people, shitty branding which gets lost in a sea of other things which were more about fierce imagery than substance. At least the balance works: Two syllables, one syllable, two syllables. The city and team names both turn on hard syllables, and the “Bay” is a punchy word which adds oomph to the nickname.

110: Winnipeg Jets, NHL
Well, Winnipeg was once considered the cultural capitol of Canada, so if the Jets name is something there to imply modernity, it has that going for it. Unfortunately, how many non-hockey fans have ever heard of Winnipeg? Yeah, this particular cultural capitol is overshadowed by Canada’s other, more famous cities, not to mention a certain other Jets team south of the border which is a much better fit for its home. It was the second team in North America called the Jets, which destroys all tries at either originality or branding. It’s aesthetically terrible – three syllables to one, none of which have anything in common with each other. And even its regionalization – the only thing this name has going for it – is loose at best because of, again, a certain other team that lives in the United States.

109: Memphis Grizzlies, NBA
This name was a casualty of a relocation. When the Grizz were first created in the mid-90’s, they were located in Vancouver, where the name made a hell of a lot more sense. There are grizzly bears in British Columbia, after all. There aren’t grizzly bears running around in Tennessee, which wipes out any regional premise. Also, Memphis has a softer name than Vancouver. In Vancouver, the long “ooh” in the middle of the city name was a nice, very subtle compliment to the hard Z in the middle of “grizzlies.” Every other part of the Memphis name has a soft, quick sound, and it makes the audio aesthetic a really lousy pairing of words.

108: Pittsburgh Penguins, NHL
So you live in a blue collar, hard workin’ steel city and this is the best name you can come up with for your hockey team? I know penguins are speedy and graceful underwater, but they’re also antarctic creatures, which means they’re also covered with plenty of blubber. They waddle, an image unbecoming of a hockey team. The aesthetic doesn’t quite work as well as it should. While both are two-syllable words beginning with P, the city name jumps back up twice with a pair of hard syllables, while the team name turns on a smooth U. The best thing that can be said is that the branding is unique, but that’s mostly because no other team would ever call itself the Penguins.

107: Houston Texans, NFL
I wonder what Houston is trying to do. Sponge fans off of geographic rival Dallas by evoking the name of the state? This has the same problem as the Canucks up there: They’re trying to mobilize a fanbase by appealing to a sense of regional pride that expands way further than it should. What’s a Texan? Someone who lives in Texas. You know who also lives in Texas? Fans of the Dallas Cowboys. I should point out that while Texans may hold their state to their hearts, we have an increasingly open political world which is starting to attach a lot of negative connotations to Texas from the outside. Calling your team the Texans is an invitation for mockery by people who are buying into the view of Texas as a state full of uneducated, illiterate hicks, rednecks, and ultra religious bozos who hate common humanity and common sense and are so stupid and gun-happy they would cure a headache by shooting themselves in the head. Also, it’s a direct lift of the old AFL’s Texans, who were pushed out of the state altogether and became the Kansas City Chiefs. You know what city those Texans were based in? Dallas. I don’t know how anyone in Houston who’s in the know about the AFL Dallas Texans could possibly live with cheering for a team called the Houston Texans. At least the war is staying on the gridiron. So far.

106: Cleveland Browns, NFL
Would any Clevelanders like to explain to me exactly why they keep making fun of the Baltimore Ravens name? Their team name is the associative color of shit, dirt, and possibly Lake Erie when Cleveland managed to light it on fire. I’ll grant the association makes it quite the apt colloquialism for the way the Cleveland Browns have been playing since their return, but even the team’s real name association can’t save it. Even rudimentary football fans know the Browns were named after Paul Brown, the team’s first and greatest coach and one of the greatest coaches in NFL history. Basically, the Browns were named after a guy who, at the time of their naming, hadn’t done anything with them yet. So it hits a number of bad places: It’s a color with negative associations, and a man who meant nothing to Cleveland outside of football before he ever did anything. The latter at least suggests why Browns fans are so famously rabid: By branding the team after Brown himself, it closed itself off to anyone who isn’t in the know, and therefore the symbolism is related only to football and has nothing to do with civic pride. Therefore the team name may not even be capable of rising above its medium. Even Paul Brown himself hated it.

105: Washington Wizards, NBA
In the late 90’s, the owner of the NBA’s Washington Bullets grew a little uncomfortable with owning a team called the Bullets in the murder capitol of America, so he changed the name. I’m a little up in the air about accusing this of 90’s hubris; fantasy wasn’t where it is now, but the Harry Potter series appeared around the time the Bullets renamed themselves the Wizards. The branding was probably more unique in hindsight than it is right now, when we conjure wizards for everything. After that, this is another case of disbelief that Wizards was the best anyone could come up with in America’s capitol and one of its most historic cities. I guess the name does make sense in its way, though: The way Congress is able to constantly throw money away while doing jack shit suggests there’s black magic at work somewhere in The District. But who would ever want an association like that?

104: Oklahoma City Thunder, NBA
Although this name wasn’t taken in the 90’s, it’s definitely of the 90’s. The 90’s saw a period of sports team expansion in all four major leagues on a level that hadn’t been precedented for a long time. All four leagues had stabilized, the economy was up, and I guess all the leagues decided they had nothing to lose by rolling the dice. Unfortunately, the naming problem stems from the fact that too many admen got caught up trying to sell the public more on the XTREME!!! culture than on trying to create a connection with sports fans. Nearly a decade after the fact, the residue of the 90’s remains, stuck on yet another generic weather name which, like the Lightning, is even found in the desert. It’s another mass originality failure getting lost in generic ferocity. Ironically, it doesn’t roll especially well when you say it.

103: Carolina Hurricanes, NHL
XTREME!!! 90’s ferocity? Check! Regionalization? Uh… Does localized to the Eastern Seaboard count? Branding? Hey, fierce sports team names are in style forever! Right? Memorability? Sure, just like all the other ferocious weather names! Ferocity and balance? Okay, that I can legitimately give. 90’s! XTREME!!! The great shame here is that the Canes are a relocated team which had a great name in their last home: They were the Hartford Whalers.

102: Brooklyn Nets, NBA
There’s no major city with a cooler name than Brooklyn. Brooklyn is amazingly cool to say and listen to; it feels and sounds smooth with the OO sound taking the stage, and the weird mashing of consonants on the end cause a sudden jump which comes on just when your tongue is getting comfortable, bringing in a gritty, urbane feel. If you have to create a team in Brooklyn, your work is basically done. All you have to do is attach the proper noun. (Brooklyn Kittens!) Good thing, because that’s basically all the owners of the Brooklyn Nets did. Yes, the name survived moves from New York City to New Jersey and back again, and yes, Brooklyn rolls pleasantly and easily into Nets. That’s good, because Nets doesn’t lend itself to branding very well. If meant in strictly a basketball context, it won’t transcend the sport and appeal to new fans. If used in other contexts, Nets are bits of rope that spend the vast majority of their existences hanging around lifelessly. You have to hand it to Mikhail Prokhorov and Jay-Z – they did a hell of a job turning an unbrandable team name into the hippest team in the NBA.

101: Utah Jazz, NBA
If music genres translated to sports, Jazz is actually a perfect nickname. Jazz, like basketball, requires a lot of skill, as well as equal amounts of linear planning and improvisation. It’s not the nickname that’s the problem. It’s the location. There’s a team named after a fiery musical genre based in a state that hates music and fun altogether. Although they do get brand points, the brand is memorable mainly because it doesn’t make any sense. This team started out as the New Orleans Jazz, a damn near perfect name, and as little sense as Utah Jazz makes, I’m going to separate myself from the other writers who spend their team name lists by not calling for the name’s return to New Orleans. The New Orleans Jazz were formed in 1974 and lasted a short five years under terrible lease terms with two different home stadiums, never having a winning season. The Buffalo Braves lasted longer. As the Utah Jazz, they fielded four Hall of Fame players, a Hall of Fame coach, a two-time MVP, and won two conference titles. No matter how many arbitrary name lists the Jazz appear on, the name ain’t going nowhere with kudos like that.

100: New York Islanders, NHL
This name gets a few points for partial accuracy. New York City isn’t a real, honest-to-god city the way, say, Chicago is a real city, though. New York City is actually comprised of five different counties which consolidated their governments and therefore have no real power. Those counties became known as New York City’s boroughs, and of them, Staten Island and Manhattan are both legitimate islands. Brooklyn and Queens are both located on the west end of Long Island, while The Bronx is the only part of New York City on the US mainland. The problem is that even with such an unusual arrangement, New York City will never pass for a real island. It’s way too urbane, and the long I sound in the nickname adds the tropical tang we tend to associate with Hawaii or the US Virgin Islands. Therefore, the team name tends to be dominated by the I that starts off the nickname, which is the only real hard sound in it. Island imagery wallops this name, too – islands are seen as relaxed, laid-back places, whereas New York City is nicknamed The City that Never Sleeps.

99: Buffalo Bills, NFL
So are we talking about dollar bills, utility bills, duck bills…. While anyone who’s spent any length of time living in Buffalo knows how frightening those winter gas bills can be, all I can think of these days is that Snickers commercial where the St. Louis Rams got renamed the St. Louis Freds. The Buffalo Bills were named after an earlier team from the AAFC, an earlier competitor to the NFL, which in turn was named after a famous poacher. When your city’s name is Buffalo, you wouldn’t think there were a ton of options, but the city of Buffalo has a rich history as an industrial capitol for the entire world, an innovator in uses for electrical power, and an important location in early US wars and the Underground Railroad. Even with all that going for it, the team got named after the nickname of every Buffalo expatriate who was ever named William. Furthermore, Buffalo is a hard place with a real rough and tumble way of life – it’s a place where the word “buff” is perfectly applied, as are its close cousins “tuff” and “ruff.” And the NFL team still has the short, punchless, almost flighty Bills as a nickname. There’s no balance or heft there.

98: Cleveland Indians, MLB
This name has a unique and surprisingly effective verbal roll. Five syllables, all of them featuring either an N or an E. That’s about all it has going for it. Indians is a common name, so it has the feel of a massive cover-all in lieu of a more regional name related to the tribe which once populated the Cleveland area. (The Wyandot and Ottawa were the last two tribes to hold the area, moving in around 1740.) That doesn’t exactly lend it any originality, and the team compounds the flaw by claiming the name honors a former player, Louis Sockalexis, a great American Indian player who was frequently serenaded with war cries and whoops and slurs. When Sockalexis began to decline because of alcoholism, sports journalists nicknamed the disease the “Indian weakness.” That’s a bad enough legacy to hold, so in the case of The Tribe, it’s a very odd thing that the Indians stick to using that story over the true story of their name’s origin: They latched onto the idea of an Indian name, trying to rip off the Boston Braves after the Braves’ miracle World Series victory in 1914.

97: Kansas City Chiefs, NFL
Slightly better than the Indians, because Chief is a title rather than a people. Still, it does nothing to quell the surge of generic Indian imagery, and so we get just another boring name that manages to draw attention to itself anyway. To think, all it would take to stand out is to change the imagery slightly: Instead of an Indian Chief, they could make a switch to, say, a Fire Chief. They have the colors to match already.

96: Atlanta Braves, MLB
This name goes a little bit further than even Chiefs. Brave is technically an amorphous concept, so I can’t figure out why we choose to keep slamming it with Indian imagery. (Creek and Cherokee owned the land in Atlanta.) I understand this is an old name which survived through Boston and Milwaukee before the team reached Atlanta, but in this day and age, Indian names are major wins for teams. Some people get pissed off about them, thus drawing attention to the team which otherwise may not be worth paying attention to. Then the reactionaries to the pissed off people become fans of the team just to goad everyone on the other side.

95: Minnesota Wild, NHL
You already know this one is from the 90’s, don’t you? Look at that name! That name looks like it belongs on the marquee sign of a small town midwestern strip club, and a rather low-end one at that. Wild is also about the worst amorphous concept you could give to a place like Minnesota. The term “Minnesota nice” exists for a reason. Being wild in Minnesota means staying out until 11 while leaving the kids to a babysitter. Of all the amorphous concept names, this is probably the toughest to brand, because there’s not even a particular base from which to build a vision of wild. Wild like a forest? Wild like an animal? Wild like an asshole frat boy?

94: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, MLB
The “of” just kills it. In some ways, it can create a name that makes perfect sense: The Los Angeles Angels of Glory? The Los Angeles Angels of God? The Los Angeles Angels of Light? No, they did something completely nonsensical and said these Los Angeles Angels are of a city 40 miles south of Los Angeles, in another county. Even God is confused. The Angels nickname does work, though; as well it should, because “Angeles” is just the Spanish word for “Angels,” and they create a nice roll together. Too many listers complain about the redundancy, but if they were that adamant about it, they would also be decrying the city’s nickname, the City of Angels. City name, followed by city nickname. it’s just that in this case, they’re in different languages.

93: Chicago White Sox, MLB
And here we have the literal definition of Jerry Seinfeld’s famous routine about how sports fans are just rooting for their laundry. Not just any laundry, mind you, but the article of clothing most likely to get punished, dirtied, and lost in the laundry. The white sock is one of the most ubiquitous of all clothing articles, which means it’s also one of the blandest. Also, the city of Chicago has a kind of crushing name in your mouth, but the team nickname is a pair of very short words which aren’t weighed down enough to match it. And how the hell do you create a brand out of something people wear on their feet? It’s no wonder Bill Veeck pulled all those weird stunts. I stand by the argument that the Cubs have a worse name, but there’s little wonder why they’re the darlings of the city’s baseball scene when the alternative is this.

92: Boston Red Sox, MLB
I would like to repost my last entry, but a couple of things give the Bosox an edge over the Chisox: Red socks are more unique than white socks, and they stand out more, and the name has a better rapport with its city. Boston is a syllable less than Chicago and a lot easier to say, which makes it a lot better weighted. The Boston Red Sox also have a stronger brand than the White Sox despite their World Series drought being two years shorter and replete with more good years. Of course, the Red Sox are the only game in Boston as well, so there’s that, and that bitter rivalry with the New York Yankees also helps.

91: Colorado Avalanche, NHL
Would it really surprise you by now to learn this is another piece of 90’s residue? I can at least give it credit for not basing itself on either fierce animals or fierce weather, despite it being a natural occurrence. Besides, Colorado is a mountainous state, so we can assume avalanches happen there from time to time. Still, there’s not enough difference between Avalanche are other names based in XTREME!!! 90’s ferocity to vault it above and beyond most of the other teams introduced during the decade. Bad as this name is, though, it beats the shit out of naming the team the Denver Avalanche, because Denver is a softer, shorter word which doesn’t carrying nearly as much weight as Colorado or avalanche.

The Ultimate Ranking of Sports Team Names, Part One: The Disgraceful

The Ultimate Ranking of Sports Team Names, Part One: The Disgraceful

Before the last NBA season, one website,, got the brilliant idea to rank all 30 NBA team names. That’s not teams; that’s their names alone. Another website I like is called Hockey by Design, which celebrates uniforms and logos. The writer of that blog is a graphic designer who counted down all 30 NHL logos in 30 different articles, giving us new ways to look at what makes a good logo.

Those achievements impressed me because they contain a between-lines truth about sports many people try to ignore: Mascots and colors matter. It’s true that every team is going to have a base of hardcore followers no matter what, who love the team because of a deep, emotional, and personal connection and/or a great sense of civic pride. Much as we all hate them, though, plenty of teams actually need all those bandwagon fans in order to print enough cash to stay competitive in what is, ultimately, a national market where the smaller areas get eaten alive. No matter how many diehards are paying for tickets, they need the lukewarm fans from neutral areas to pay for the merchandise. So you better be packing a mascot and color set your country cousins in Montana would be damn proud to be seen in.

Of course, not all names are created equal. I know it, you know it, and damn if it ain’t fun to punch “best/worst team names” into a search engine and pour over the results. It’s an unfortunate fact of best/worst lists that writers tend to restrict themselves, though. Coming up with actual rankings makes things more particular and therefore a whole lot more difficult, and most writers can’t be bothered. They’ll come up with the 10 or 20 they personally have the most love for and/or biggest problems with, and this being the internet, half the time they’ll have absolutely no objective reasoning beyond “dis is da worst! Only fuckos lke this team!” That’s what makes the Grantland list and Hockey by Design all the more impressive: Both writers were visibly as objective as they could be while adhering to a constant set of standards with their personal opinions doing a minimum of violation. A good team logo or uniform should have this, that, and the other. A good team name should have a sense of regionalism, a memorable brand name, a pleasant audio aesthetic, originality, and perhaps a little bit of balance and ferocity. Sadly, even the brave, ambitious writers on the aforementioned websites seem to think only a fool would try to not only judge, but rank all 122 team names in all four big leagues in North America.

Readers, I am that fool.

The Disgraceful

The names on this first section of the list go far beyond just being bad. They transcend it in a way which can actively make fans question their loyalty to those teams as much as any bad owner can. They absolutely have to be changed, and with a couple of them, I’m not the only one who thinks that. There are in fact two teams in this part of the list whose fans are making loud, active campaigns to get the names changed.

122: Vancouver Canucks, NHL
As far as the worst names go, Canucks sits feet and ankles many feet under the scrap heap. First of all, Canuck is a slur, over and out, and I’m not sure it’s one of those intellectually-friendly old school slurs like “wop,” or “paddy” either. It was controversial when the Vancouver Canucks first emerged in 1970 and had enough power a couple of years later to cost an election to a presidential candidate who was caught using it. Although that’s well out of my own lifetime, it’s still disturbingly recent, and more than enough to highlight the idea that using slurs as affectionate nicknames might not be the smartest way to name professional sports franchises. Even removing that, Canucks isn’t exactly regional. There’s an entire country full of them outside the province of British Columbia. You would figure if a team was trying to rally a national fanbase, it would avoid the slur and just call itself the Vancouver Canadians, but, eh, gee, a certain other team in Montreal kind of beat them to that punch. So that makes a name which was not only naming itself after the country’s nationals, but blatantly ripping off another team that had already done it some 62 years earlier. At least the team managed to avoid trying to characterize their mascot – more than can be said about the minor league Vancouver Canucks who preceded the NHL team – preferring instead to place a large C (another allusion to the Montreal Canadiens) with an orca leaping out of the top half on their sweaters. Ironic, given that Vancouver Orcas would have been much better than this dreck name.

121: Washington Redskins, NFL
I’m not the first person you should visit about PC fanaticism. I generally have no problems with teams named after races for the most part, because a lot of those names are created from blunt fact: Indians are Indians, Celtics are Celtics, tribesmen are tribesmen. (This does not, however, mean I’m especially fond of them, as you’ll soon learn.) Redskin, however, has the same problem as the above: It’s a slur. Trying to sell the name as a term of respect for bravery and honor is like trying to sell a team called – and I’m writing this outright so you can see for yourself just how bad it is – the New York Niggers based on the culture of the strong, artful people who did hard labor and created blues music. It’s not going to wash. Of all the names on this list, Redskins is the one with the most active fight to get it changed. A not insignificant number of Congressmen wrote owner Daniel Snyder a letter, and the US Patent Office cancelled its patent on the name. The change of name seems inevitable, and no amount of blustering Snyder and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell do is going to save it.

120: Toronto Raptors, NBA
The other team on this list with a major movement to get rid of the name, the Raptors are the first example of egregious 90’s hubris you’re going to see on this list. When the Raps first came about in the early 90’s, everyone still had dinos on the brain thanks to Steven Spielberg and his blockbuster smash, Jurassic Park. The team made that ultimate mistake of naming: They let the fans vote on it. So here, over 20 years down the line, a handful of playoff appearances, and two Hall of Fame superstars later, we’re stuck with a name that has no originality or respect for the region, its history, or its people. Instead, we get a name not only trapped in the 90’s, but trapped within a particular part of the 90’s. You would never know that Toronto was once one of the founding cities of the Basketball Association of America, the direct precursor to the NBA, or that Toronto’s team back then – which lasted a year – had a great name: The Toronto Huskies. You’ll soon be seeing how much I hate 90’s hubris.

119: Chicago Cubs, MLB
This name doesn’t exactly smack of redeeming value: Power, audial beauty, regionalism, and heft are all concepts the name of Chicago’s National League baseball team is bereft of. I’ll give it its due by saying the team did manage to create a unique brand around it, but Cubs is a case in which the branding works as a negative. Maybe the Cubs brand held a lot more weight before 1945, when the Cubs were a dynamo that visited the World Series often and regularly rolled through the National League. Since then, though, the Cubs performed a presto chango and, since they can’t seem to win even for winning these days, they rely on playing up the image of the cute bear cub. The technique created a legion of national fans, but it also branded them with an array of yechy nicknames: Cubbies. Lovable Losers. Even the stadium is nicknamed The Friendly Confines. Now, there are very emotional Cubs fans out there who have unshakeable connections to the team, but the more common image of the Cubs fan is that of the overprivileged postcollegiate white guy who got a six-figure job at daddy’s ad firm, who knows absolutely nothing about baseball, going to Wrigley Field to drink and do anything but watch the game. If your team name is capable of creating this image, you’ve royally fucked up.

118: Oakland Athletics, MLB
What’s worse than a team named for an amorphous concept? A team named for an amorphous concept which is embodied and shared by literally every athlete who ever lived, let alone suit up in a professional uniform. Maybe what they were going for was more along the lines of “Oakland Athletes,” but that wouldn’t have improved things substantially. In fact, it would subdue a halfway decent balance to the name, because it would rob it of the K sound rounding out the first and last syllables. Granted, this is an early MLB name that journeyed to the west, accompanying the team through three cities and surviving a very real name change to just the Oakland A’s, which is even worse. This is a very serious originality failure, perhaps all the more so because it’s intertwined with a branding which would have to improve to even be called a failure. How many amateur teams, clubs, gyms, have marketed themselves “(Name here) Athletics?” It makes you wonder if the Patent Office is even half-awake.

117: Cincinnati Reds, MLB
Here’s another old school MLB name. In fact, the Cincinnati Reds were the first MLB team. That doesn’t mean their name works. It’s not a noun, or an adjective, or even a verb. It just exists as itself, becoming a sort of mercenary amorphous concept to anything it feels right to deploy it on. While Cincinnati Reds has a pleasant ring to it, that can be traced mostly to the rolling, hard R that stands out. There is admittedly an intensity associated with the color, but that’s not always a good thing. Look at the Washington Redskins up there, and hell, look at the Cincinnati Reds themselves, who wound up changing their name to the Cincinnati Redlegs for a period in the 20th century because too many people were using it as a label against their political opponents at a rate which would shame Fox News. Those are huge knocks on originality and branding, and without the regionalism to anchor it, it’s a lost, meaningless team name.

116: Green Bay Packers, NFL
The most likable and only true populist football team in the United States gets everything right except the name. (Your mileage on their colors may vary as well.) First of all, it’s probably the supreme irony of sports history in all four leagues: A team in which literally anyone can buy stock shares (there are, again literally, more stockholders who own the Packers than there are people living in Green Bay) is named for the private packing corporation it was named after. I’m no hipster, so I don’t do irony when it goes this far. The name strikes a decent balance, with hard R through both the first and last syllables and both place and nickname having two syllables, so the name sounds shorter than it looks. There’s something ruining about the term “Packer,” though, because of the variation of meanings associated with “pack.” None of those meanings have anything to do with football. While the name was once a perfectly good term to apply to a blue collar factory man to describe his job, today “packing” has the decidedly more negative connotation to people who lack any intellectual curiosities, who sit and gorge on all the Wisconsin milk and cheese within reach while watching the Green Bay Packers every Sunday.