What’s in a word? Shakespeare wrote, ‘A rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet.’ Anyone who has ventured near a hockey dressing room would know that roses are the last thing you think of. At any rate, this week’s column is on team nicknames. Pretty much every high school, professional, semi-professional, and amateur team in any sport has a nickname. When Winnipeg’s NHL hockey team was resurrected this summer the big question was: what will the team be called? – Should it be the Jets? Isn’t that franchise still in Phoenix? Should they start fresh with a cool, trendy name? Of course, the history of the Jets name was too alluring to pass up and they are once again the Winnipeg Jets.
But when did this tradition of naming teams start? And why did it start and why are nicknames important? As far as I can tell, teams have had nicknames for as long as there have been organized leagues. The reason is probably just to have another name for fans to identify their teams when cheering them on.
What are some popular trends in naming teams? Patriotic names are always popular like Vancouver Canucks, Toronto Maple Leafs, Nelson Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, or New England Patriots. Animal names are always very popular. They show your team is tough and animalistic such as B.C. Lions, Detroit Tigers, or Chicago Bears. Oh my. Nearby, you’ve got the menacing Beaver Valley Nitehawks, J.L. Crowe Hawks, and Vernon Vipers. Of course, less threatening are Ducks and Penguins.
Alliteration is always popular. We have the Selkirk Saints locally and at the pro level you’ve got the Boston Bruins, Anaheim Angels, Seattle Seahawks, Jacksonville Jaguars, etc. and it’s very popular in Pennsylvania. Eg. Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Phillies/Flyers, and NCAA’s Pitt Panthers.
Of course, cities also like to see names that reflect the area whether it’s the people or the culture or some significant marking. The Trail Smoke Eaters are a nearby example, a nice nod to the smelter that overlooks the city. You’ve also got the Kimberley Dynamiters, Columbia Valley Rockies, Edmonton Oilers, Indiana Pacers, Calgary Stampeders and Dallas Cowboys as a few examples.
Pluralized nicknames with no S at the end were very popular in the ‘90’s but seem to have fallen off a little. Examples are Kootenay Ice, Miami Heat, Tampa Bay Lightning, Colorado Avalanche, Utah Jazz, and in the KIJHL you’ve got the Chase Heat, Summerland Storm, and Princeton Posse (goes well with alliteration).
Locally, we’ve got the Castlegar Rebels, Stanley Humphries Rockers and Selkirk Saints to name a few. Rebels references a small group of underdogs who fight against oppression. The Rockers I can only assume were named after the athletes at the time that were in rock bands and had long hair perhaps? Could it be a nod to the mining industry? I thought we were more of a mill town? And Saints? While, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have some divine help particularly in those close games.
Some team nicknames even have nicknames of their own. Many are just shortening of the actual nicknames, because it’s too much work to say or spell out the full name such as Bucs for Buccaneers or Caps for Capitals or Rebs for Rebels. Of course, some are more creative: the Canadiens are also known as the Habs, the Kimberley Dynamiters are also called the Nitros and the Tampa Bay Lightning are the Bolts. Anything to save a syllable.
Sometimes times change and language changes for various reasons and teams have to change their nicknames. You see fewer Native American team names particularly in the college/high school ranks. The NCAA St. John’s Redmen have become the Red Storm, while the Marquette Warriors have become the Eagles. The Washington Bullets became the Wizards because the NBA didn’t want to sound callous towards gunplay. And then, sadly, a few years later two Washington players drew guns on each other during a scuffle over a card game. No one was hurt, but still, not a great reflection of the league.
Over in Cranbrook some 15 years ago, Mount Baker Secondary changed its name from Trojans to Wild because Trojans became more associated with a brand name product than the gladiators of old. Not long after that, the junior highs in Cranbrook became middle schools and Parkland Junior Secondary became Parkland Middle School (PMS). So you win some, you lose some, I guess.
We end now with my five favourite team nicknames from around the world. These are all real teams, by the way. 5. Macon Whoopees – a minor league hockey team, 4. University of California Irvine Anteaters – might be a scary team if you’re an ant, otherwise not so much, 3. Salmo Babes of Brutality – West Kootenay Roller Derby League, 2. University of California-Santa Cruz Banana Slugs – as seen on a t-shirt worn by John Travolta’s character in Pulp Fiction, 1. Talk N Text Tropang Texters – a pro basketball team from the Phillipines – nothing strikes fear in the hearts of opponents like texting ball players.
Next column in part two I will delve into player nicknames.