What’s in a Team Name?

August 9, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

Flip Flop Fly Ball has wonderful graphics about sports, mostly baseball. For some reason, I especially liked this Venn diagram of team names.

(Click on the image for a larger view.)

In football, only a couple of the oldest organizations have regional-industrial names – Packers, Steelers. In baseball, industry-based names are more typical of recent franchises. It’s also interesting to see what a team with a regional name does when it moves to a new location. The borough of Brooklyn was a tangle of trolley lines that street people (bums, the homeless, whatever) had to dodge. Not so the Los Angeles of the 1950s. Nor does LA have Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. The most egregious example of name retention is the New Orleans basketball franchise, named, appropriately, the Jazz. When they moved to Utah, they might have changed their name to The Choir (Tabernacle), but they didn’t, and so they play on as sportsdom’s greatest oxymoron.

Note: “Self-referential” names are those taken from a reference to the team. For example, when the Pittsburgh Alleghenys signed a player away from the Philadelphia Athletics, a baseball official referred to the deal as “piratical.” Similarly, a St. Louis sportswriter heard a woman refer to the color of the trim on the team’s uniform as “a lovely shade of cardinal.” He used the name in his column, and it stuck.

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