There’s been discussion of team and organization nicknames since last week’s announcement that Cleveland’s baseball team will be dropping its Indians nickname, one that it’s had for 105 years.
Sports nicknames/mascots are interesting, once you start thinking about some national teams. With most, there is some sort of connection between the locale and the nickname. For example, when the Browns departed in 1996, they moved to Baltimore and changed their nickname to the Ravens. Why? Baltimore is the former home — and the burial city – of Edgar Allan Poe, author of “The Raven.”
Prior to becoming the Indians in 1915, the charter member of the American League was known as the Blues, the Bronchos and then the Naps, a tip of the hat to Napoleon Lajoie, the team’s player-manager. A different Cleveland baseball team that played in the American Association and the National League in the late 19th century was called the Spiders.
Looking around at other teams, the Green Bay Packers were named when the Indian Packing Co., a meat packing company, provided uniforms for the team. Buckeyes is the perfect name for The Ohio State University. No other place could claim the Buckeye.
Wolverines are rare in Michigan. The first one was found in the state in 2004. It was dead, perhaps inspiring the university’s football team this year.
My alma mater, Auburn University, is nicknamed the Tigers, related to both history and literature. The name of the city of Auburn was taken from a poem called “Deserted Village,” in which there’s a line “Where crouching tigers wait their hapless prey.”
Some teams have moved yet kept a nickname better suited for their former location. For example, the NBA’s Lakers made sense in Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but not in Los Angeles. The L.A. Dodgers were originally in Brooklyn and known as the Trolley Dodgers.
The worst kept nickname is the Utah Jazz. When the club was in New Orleans, that nickname was perfect, but when I think of Utah, jazz doesn’t really come to my mind.
Washington, D.C. has had a couple of basketball clubs with name changes. In the 1970s, the Bullets moved from Baltimore, then several years later, it was decided the name was too violent for the nation’s capital, so the name was changed to the Wizards. There was apparently no logic to that name selection.
Then there’s the city’s NFL team, once known as the Redskins. The club dropped that name, but it had no replacement. Good planning. For now, it’s just the Washington Football Team.
Cleveland isn’t the first team to drop the name Indians. In 1981, Stanford University dropped the name and switched to Cardinal. Not Cardinals, but Cardinal. A color. Many people think the mascot is a tree, but that really belongs to the school’s band.
As long as Cleveland isn’t known as The Baseball Team — or a color — I’ll be happy.
Brian Love is a freelance sports writer from Cleveland. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.