Game On: The Sport Of Naming Teams


In honor of last night’s World Series finale and the kick-off of the NBA season this week, a re-post from two years ago about team names – the good, the bad, the curious, the hilarious:

The question at was logical enough: a fan of the Los Angeles Lakers wondered where all the lakes were in the City of Angels. In Minnesota, it turns out. Before the Lakers came to Tinseltown, they were the Minneapolis Lakers. Makes sense. Minnesota is the Land of 10,000 Lakes. When the franchise headed west, it left the lakes behind, but not the name. And for more than 50 years, in the most densely populated urban area in the United States, basketball fans have flocked to see a team with an idyllic, outdoorsy moniker.

Here in New England, our team names present no such hiccup. The Patriots and Revolution connect to our colonial past. The Celtics reflect Boston’s large Irish-American population. Red Sox became an official nickname in 1908, after the club adopted red as its color and featured a red stocking on the front of its players’ jerseys. The original owner of Boston’s professional hockey team wanted a nickname that suggested speed, agility, and cunning. Bruins delivered the hat trick. It also lent itself to brown and yellow uniforms, which just happened to be the colors of the owner’s grocery chain.

The Lakers are not alone in maintaining a nickname despite its disconnect to a new locale:

> The Baltimore Colts were named in honor of the region’s rich history in horse racing. Indianapolis, where the Colts moved, is famous for racing, too, but the focus is on a different type of horsepower.

> British Columbia is home to a large grizzly bear population. Naming an NBA team the Vancouver Grizzlies made sense; keeping the name when the franchise moved to Memphis did not. Favorite son Elvis has left the arena, and there is no risk of a grizzly attack outside.

> The New Orleans Jazz pioneered the use of singular nouns in team names (the Miami Heat, Colorado Avalanche, Orlando Magic, etc., would follow). It’s one of my all-time favorites. But when the franchise moved to Utah, the name became oxymoronic. Utah Jazz? Imagine Thelonious Monk sitting in with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

At the college level, leave it to two New England athletic powerhouses – Berklee College of Music and Rhode Island School of Design – to give us inspired team names. Berklee’s hockey squad – the IceCats – reflects the school’s contemporary music pedigree. (According to, “contrary to popular belief, some musicians actually are capable of playing sports.”)

And then there’s RISD’s hockey team. The Nads may strike you as a curious name, until you cheer on the team at the top of your lungs:


In the universe of team names, the Nads are in a league of their own.


The Banana Slug, a bright yellow, slimy, shell-less mollusk commonly found on the redwood forest floor, was the unofficial mascot for UC Santa Cruz coed teams since the university’s early years. The students’ embrace of such a lowly creature was their response to the fierce athletic competition fostered at most American universities.

In 1980, when some campus teams wanted more organized yet still low-key participation in extramural competition, UCSC joined Division III of the NCAA in five sports. The application required an official team name, and UCSC’s chancellor at the time, Robert Sinsheimer, selected a new moniker: the sea lions.

While the chancellor considered sea lions more dignified and suitable to serious play than Banana Slugs, the new name did not find favor with the majority of students, who continued to root for the Slugs even after a sea lion was painted in the middle of the basketball floor.

After five years of dealing with the two-mascot problem, an overwhelming proslug straw vote by students in 1986 persuaded the chancellor to make the lowly but beloved Banana Slug UCSC’s official mascot
The Banana Slug has attracted a good deal of national attention over the years. In 2008, ESPN named it one of the 10 best college basketball mascots. Four years earlier, Reader’s Digest named it the best. People magazine once dedicated a full-page spread to the Santa Cruz Banana Slug movement. The National Directory of College Athletics named it the best college mascot and Sports Illustrated magazine once named the Banana Slug the nation’s best college nickname.
Sammy the Slug mascot has been appearing around campus at sports events and other functions. And, when the men’s tennis team played in the NCAA championships, their T-shirts read: “Banana Slugs-No Known Predators.”

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