Naming Sports Teams

Naming Sports Teams 

I tried to come up with a rational explanation for why sport teams at every level require sobriquets; but there just doesn’t seem to be one. However, if you really think about it, there is some logical sense to having instant name recognition.

For example, it is infinitely easier to say The Yankees, The Giants and The Dodgers as opposed to saying The New York Professional Baseball Team that plays at The Stadium, at The Polo Grounds or at Ebbets Field. In a pure sense of the three words we are referring to: a nickname given to Americans fighting for the Union in the Civil War, very large men, and people who run around evading being hit by something or being captured for causing improprieties and committing crimes.

Proprietary nomenclature becomes even more ludicrous when some teams are named after human races or animal species doomed to near extinction by either genocide, over hunting or loss of habitat. For example: The Cleveland Indians or the Detroit Tigers.

As microcosmically illustrated in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but applicable in general, we have enormous latitude. Some names evoke terror and fear. Some names do not. Some make no sense at all. But every team must have one. In general, it is also a rule of thumb that the nickname then being personified by becoming the school mascot, either gets trucked out on game day as a living icon or, equally as likely, a large costumed figure with an oversized bobble head.

In the ACC there are: Blue Devils, Terrapins, Hurricanes, Yellow Jackets, Demon Deacons, Cavaliers, Eagles, Tigers, Seminoles, Wolf Pack, Hokies, and last but not least, Tar Heels.

A newspaper’s sport headlines such as “Demon Deacons Punish Blue Devils” or “Yellow Jackets Sting Eagles” goes by the boards without anyone giving a second thought to its subliminal absurdity.

The University of North Carolina confounds the issue further by the fact that even though they call themselves the Tar Heels, their mascot is a horned male ram. They had to come up with an animal icon because nobody really knows what a ‘tar heel’ is and possibly to keep pace with the Georgia Bulldogs who could produce a living pet on game day.

Bulldogs imply a tendency to stubborn tenacity whereas Tar Heel does not evoke a similar mental image of toughness. In fact, it doesn’t evoke anything except an image of black sludge on your foot.

Apparently, Ramses the 1st, UNC’s first goat, was purchased and then adopted in 1924 after a banner year by a football fullback, Jack Merritt, who made his reputation by ferociously charging and ramming into opponent’s defensive lines. In fact, I am surprised the school has not sued the GM Company for stealing the “Ram Tough” marketing idea.

Historical literature suggests that a Tar Heel either represents a person who worked the Carolina pitch tar factories and got the stuff stuck on the bottom of his feet, or someone who was tarred, feathered, and run out of town. More to my liking is a reference to a cowardly North Carolina Civil War regiment that failed to assist a Mississippi brigade in mounting a charge, because their feet were rooted and stuck in place by abject fear.

Regardless of whence the derivation, I doubt very much anyone would like to see any of these potential derivations personified and running around a football field on Saturday afternoon.

Also, think about how often one glibly tosses around the school nickname without the slightest clue as to the team’s monikers real meaning? For example, no one I have ever asked really knows what a Hoya might be. The history of Georgetown University is not even clear about it and refers to some old stone wall that surrounded the original campus. Webster’s Dictionary states that a Hoya is a climbing vine, which is not a very inspiring academic virtue.

The Violets of New York University may be the most appropriately named because of its reputation for hard-core liberalism, of being a haven for gay students, and the fact that it never makes national sports headlines. At least this way they remain gender neutral and as far as I know there is no current consideration to changing their name to The Fudge Packers or The New York Trannies.

There is also a litany of other names that seem to be avidly avoided or shunned, such as Elephants or Turkeys. The Turkey I can understand for the same reason the founding fathers rebuked Benjamin Franklin and opted to make the Eagle the National symbol. The Eagle embodies power and fear, while the Turkey; definition 2 being “something that is extremely or completely unsuccessful, especially a play or movie;” does not.

But why not the Elephant, an animal that should qualify, if for no other reason than the fact it is almost extinct. Besides that, Bull Elephants are not only the largest but can also be some of the most feared and dangerous of all land animals; especially when in rut, being just plain pissed off, or eating the leaves of certain trees that then ferments in their guts and makes them drunk. Even Tigers and Lions steer clear during an elephant bender. Go Pachyderms, go.

Then there is the Hokie, derived from a nonsensically contrived word submitted by a contest winner to mark the day in 1896 that Virginia Polytechnic Institute changed its name from Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College. Funny thing about that because here I thought the word hokie (adj.) meant: commonly inane, backwoods corny or contrived.

This contestant after all may have been most perspicacious in recognizing even one hundred years ago, that when all is said and done, nonsensicality may really be the best way of looking at this entire subject. Obviously, the contest judges agreed as well and I sincerely hope they were not aware that the second definition of hokie (n.) is: an emasculated turkey.

If they did, then the joke has been carried to such an extreme that perhaps the school should reconsider its mascot.

Fine then, a Turkey: But one with no balls?

Nevertheless, every day of every week, we play the games then calculate and either bet or fret the odds. Can the Panther beat the Jaguar? Can the Bear beat the Colt? Will paper cover rock? Can scissors really cut paper?  And can somebody please come over to my house to weed these lousy stinking Hoyas out of my lovely Violet patch?


                   (Emasculated Turkey confronts sword-less bobble headed Cavalier)

Hokie, Hokie, Hokie, Hi

Tech, Tech, V-P-I

Sol-A- Rex, Sol- A- Rah

Poly-tech Virgin-i-a

Rah, Rah, V-P-I

Team! Team! Team!

(Old Hokie; The perfectly logical VPI school cheer)

From The University of Virginia sports magazine The Sabre/ 11-26-2004

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