Making fun of the name game
We spend too much time worrying about names.
The one each of us is given at birth usually lasts a lifetime and causes little problem, unless you’re the offspring of some 1960s hippie couple who decided, in one of their myriad hazy moments, to bestow upon their kids such handles as “Rainbow,” “Sunbeam” or “Lunar Eclipse.” And even in cases such as those, the bizarre moniker can be legally changed to something more socially acceptable so that blending into a nondescript crowd becomes easier.
Then again, there’s something to be said for being unique. Besides, even common names sometimes come attached with unwanted baggage — who, after all, wants to be associated with lock-picking, restroom facilities, strong coffee or a slang term for a certain illegal weed?
(Before you think about it too long, the above descriptions refer to Jimmy, John, Joe and Mary Jane.)
Nicknames, however, are something else. Often, they can be avoided altogether, or at least tailored to be more complimentary, or at the very least restricted to use among relatives under penalty of having deeper, darker family secrets revealed by persons most often called “Small Fry,” “Butterball” or “Baby Face.”
Maybe that’s why Baby Face Nelson turned to a life of crime: because someone had the temerity to publicly refer to him as “Baby Face” long before wanted posters ever did.
Sports organizations tend to travel well-worn paths when it comes to naming their franchises. Large, fearsome-sounding mammals are always a popular choice, hence the proliferation of Lions, Tigers, Bears, Wildcats and Bulls at virtually every level of competition.
Ignore the fact that, in reality, some of the teams are toothless and about as ferocious as a pampered housecat. To paraphrase Billy Crystal’s famous 1980s character Fernando of “Saturday Night Live” fame, it’s evidently more important to sound tough than to be tough.
Sometimes an attempt is made to connect a locale with an entity for which it is famous, which, of course, is why we have the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz. Since those two franchises were originally located in Minneapolis and New Orleans, respectively, their nicknames actually made sense once upon a time, but why weren’t they changed upon arrival in new cities?
Calling them the “Los Angeles Leading Men” and “Utah Salt Shakers” certainly wouldn’t have been any sillier than keeping their present nicknames. At least there would have been a logical connection.
In fact, we should demand that of all sports teams, sort of a truth-in-labeling type of thing. So instead of Washington D.C. being the home of the Redskins and Nationals, for instance, the teams housed in the nation’s political hub should pay homage to that by getting renamed the “Operating in the Reds” and the “National Disgraces.”
The Chicago Fire, on the other hand, is perfectly fine, but what about the Chicago Rush? It seems as if a word is missing — wouldn’t the “Chicago Rush Streets” or “Chicago Rush Hours” be more suitable? Better still, if we must stick with singular nicknames, some local franchise needs to be rechristened the “Chicago Corruption.”
This is all being brought up in response to an announcement involving another New Orleans-based team. This time, though, the identity, not the locale, is undergoing a change.
A while back the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets, who began basketball life in Charlotte back in the 1990s, issued a press release that spoke of their impending transformation into the “Pelicans.” The new name becomes official for the 2013-14 season.
Louisiana is sometimes called the “Pelican State,” and that winged creature is apparently featured on the state’s flag and seal. So there is a valid reason for selecting the Pelican nickname.
And yet when news of the switch initially broke, I read a few opinion pieces that poked fun at it. One writer, for example, made light of the fact that a Pelican does not usually strike fear into anything. He obviously didn’t interview any slow-moving fish to get their take on that assessment, but I’ll agree the pelican does not conjure up grizzly bear images in one’s mind.
Nor is it as majestic or fierce as an eagle or similar bird of prey. Given the Hornets’ recent lack of success, they’d be better served by people who pray.
However, New Orleans is also known as the “Crescent City,” which means Hornets ownership could have just as easily opted for a dinner roll as its team’s future mascot. Besides, “Pelicans” is much better than “Mosquitoes,” which reportedly was under consideration as well and would be the insect-world equivalent of referring to a team as the “Tadpoles” or “Mice.”
Personally, I think some credit should be given to all those creative minds that had a say-so in the renaming of the Hornets for thinking outside of the nest. If there is one criticism, it would be not of the Pelicans name, but of some of the other accouterments included with it, such as a fancy-script typography of the word “Pelicans” and references to the aforementioned Crescent City and NOLA, the latter representing another, not-very-clever nickname for New Orleans.
But overall, not a bad choice. Unbeknownst to many people, the pelican is actually a hearty bird, as evidenced by its ability to make its way off the endangered-species list, so being associated with it isn’t the worst thing in the world for a sports franchise.
Going championship-less for more than a century — now that’s pretty darned regrettable.