8 Other Pro Sports Teams That Changed Their Nicknames

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The Charlotte Bobcats will officially become the Hornets next season, uniting the Queen City's current NBA team with its old nickname. The original Charlotte Hornets franchise moved to New Orleans in 2002, but last year changed its name to the Pelicans, freeing Hornets up. In honor of the former Bobcats, here are eight other pro sports teams that opted for a new nickname.

1. Houston Colt .45s

Houston's baseball team was originally known as the Colt .45s, but team president Judge Roy Hofheinz made a change "in keeping with the times" in 1965. Citing Houston's status as "the space age capital of the world," Hofheinz settled on Astros. "With our new domed stadium, we think it will also make Houston the sports capital of the world," Hofheinz said. The change was likely also motivated by pressure from the Colt Firearms Company, which objected to the use of the Colt .45 nickname.

2. New York Highlanders

In 1903, the original Baltimore Orioles moved to New York, where they became the Highlanders. As was common at the time, the team, which played in the American League, was also known as the New York Americans. New York Press editor Jim Price is often credited with coining the nickname Yanks, or Yankees, because it was easier to fit in headlines. The team officially adopted the Yankees name in 1913.

3. Tampa Bay Devil Rays

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Vince Naimoli, owner of Tampa Bay's expansion team, chose Devil Rays out of more than 7,000 suggestions submitted by the public in 1995. The reaction was not positive. "So far, I've fielded about 20 phone calls protesting Devil Rays, and most of the callers have described themselves as Christians who are upset about the word devil," a Tampa Tribune columnist told a reporter less than a week after the nickname was announced. In his excellent book The Extra 2%, Jonah Keri said Naimoli was furious people didn't like the name. "He ordered the team to conduct a phone poll, where people could vote on one of two names: Devil Rays or Manta Rays." Though Manta Rays was the early leader, the team claimed Devil Rays caught up, and it was declared the winner.

According to Keri, Naimoli originally wanted to nickname his team the Sting Rays. But that name was trademarked by a team in the Hawaiian Winter League and Naimoli refused to pay $35,000 to buy it. The team dropped the "Devil" after the 2007 season and the curse that had plagued the franchise for the previous decade was apparently lifted, as Tampa Bay made a surprising run to the World Series the following season.

4. Washington Bullets

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In the early 1990s, Washington Bullets owner Abe Pollin said he was becoming frustrated with the association of his team's nickname and gun violence. After Pollin's friend, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, was assassinated, Pollin decided to take action and announced his plans to rename the team. (However, Dan Steinberg of D.C. Sports Bog wrote a very detailed history of the name change, and questioned the impact Rabin's death had on the decision.) Regardless, a name-the-team contest was held and fans voted on a list of finalists that included Wizards, Dragons, Express, Stallions, and Sea Dogs.

The choices left D.C. journalists scratching their heads. A Washington Post editorial panned the selections: "Except for Sea Dogs, which is simply inexplicable, they look like the output of the same computer programs that create names for new car models and laundry detergents." Not long after Wizards was announced as the winning name before the 1997-98 season, the local NAACP chapter president complained that the nickname carried Ku Klux Klan associations.

Previous nicknames for the franchise include Packers and Zephyrs.

5. Tennessee Oilers

After relocating from Houston to Tennessee in 1995, the team played two seasons as the Oilers before owner Bud Adams held a statewide contest to rename the team. Titans was chosen over nicknames such as Tornadoes, Copperheads, South Stars, and Wranglers. “We wanted a new nickname to reflect strength, leadership and other heroic qualities,'' Adams told reporters.

6. New York Titans

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The New York Titans were renamed the Jets in 1963 after Sonny Werblin led an investment group that purchased the bankrupt franchise for $1 million. According to a contemporary New York Times story, the franchise considered calling itself the Dodgers, but nixed the idea after Major League Baseball didn’t like it. Gothams also got some consideration, but the team didn’t like the idea of having it shortened to the Goths, because “you know they weren’t such nice people.” The last finalist to fall was the New York Borros, a pun on the city’s boroughs; the team worried that opposing fans would make the Borros-burros connection and derisively call the squad the jackasses.

Eventually the team became the Jets since it was going to play in Shea Stadium, which is close to LaGuardia Airport. According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the name was supposed to reflect the “modern approach of his team.”

7. Boston Braves

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In 1933, one year after he acquired an NFL franchise in Boston, George Preston Marshall changed the team’s nickname from Braves to Redskins. According to The New York Times, the name change was made to avoid confusion with baseball's Boston Braves, who later moved to Milwaukee and then Atlanta. The franchise relocated to Washington before the 1937 season.

8. Anaheim Mighty Ducks

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Quack. Quack. Quack! Quack! QUACK! Anaheim joined the NHL in 1993 and its team was known as the Mighty Ducks, after the popular Disney movie and cross-marketing vehicle of the same name. The nickname was changed to Ducks and the logo was changed in 2005 after Disney sold the team.

Portions of this story originally appeared in 2010.

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May 20, 2014 - 11:12pm
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