Leagues expand, teams relocate, and franchises change their names. In the Big Four (NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL) there is usually at least one instance per year of one of these events occurring. With 116 unique team nicknames (monikers) currently in use in those four leagues, what is left?
First of all, it’s important to define what makes a good nickname for professional sports teams. Luckily, Sport Change has already done just that. Many team nicknames are respectable based simply on a rich history of a particular franchise, but we’re talking about new nicknames in this post. New nicknames have to stand up at face value and maintain respectability in good times and bad.
An easy way to maintain respectability is to keep the moniker general and universal. Save the wacky and novel names for minor league, college, and semipro teams. Nicknames like ‘Reds,’ ‘Bears,’ ‘Warriors,’ and ‘Stars’ hold up well over the years and are respectable even when the team is struggling.
Having a nickname that is relevant to a particular region can work well (Steelers, Brewers, Cowboys) or it can steer a team (Ravens, Diamondbacks, Heat) into borderline ridiculousness. Referencing the region in a very specific manner works better at semipro levels.
Alliteration can be sweet (Pittsburgh Pirates, Tennessee Titans) or it can steer teams (Jacksonville Jaguars, Washington Wizards) into questionable territory. At the pro level, alliteration should be seen as a bonus quality to a name that would stand up at face value even if the city changed it’s name.
Intimidation can be effective, but it works best with the full contact sports. Can you imagine a baseball team called the Predators? The NBA can go either way. An intimidating nickname like ‘Hawks’ can coexist alongside a bland nickname like ‘Suns.’
With these ideas in mind, Sport Change spent several months collecting nicknames that are currently unused in the Big Four, but could potentially work. The nicknames have been grouped into categories and the best will be selected, ranked, and given suggested uses. Enjoy!
Category #1: The Fighting Folks
Warriors, soldiers, or other people engaged in combat is a good source of sports nicknames. Knights is a great option that is very surprisingly unused in the Big Four. The Charlotte Knights are a minor league baseball team, and the NCAA has the the Rutgers Scarlet Knights among other variations. Archers is a nickname that is basically unused in sports, but could work at any level. Gladiators is a name that is used at semipro levels; where it may be best served.
Category #2: Authority Figures
Kings is good enough to have two representatives in the Big Four, but there are several other authority figure names still available. Monarchs is currently used by Old Dominion university, and former uses include the Negro League Kansas City franchise and the Sacramento WNBA team. Barons is a great name that was used by the NHL’s Cleveland Barons in the 70s, and is essentially claimed by the AA baseball Birmingham Barons. Dukes is a name that is rarely used, but could work well in the right situation. With Albuquerque switching their baseball team’s name to the Isotopes, Duquesne U probably has the most visible use of Dukes. Generals was used prominently by the New Jersey Generals of the former USFL–a team owned by Donald Trump that drafted Herschel Walker. Colonels was Kentucky’s ABA moniker, and is used by a few colleges. Captains is a basic name that is seen in baseball’s Midwest Leaguers, the Lake County Captains. I suppose somebody can be the captain of the Captains.
Category #3: Men at Work
Occupational names are usually good bets for sports teams, as evidenced by the Packers, Oilers, and Steelers. Lumberjacks is a name that would hold up in the right location, and ditto that for Miners. Pilots is a very solid moniker that was once used by the former American League Seattle franchise.
Category #4: Rogue Spirits
Nicknames like Mavericks and Trailblazers reflect the romanticized American image of the rugged individualist, and they work fairly well in most cases. Pioneers is an obvious name that is surprisingly unused in the Big Four. Independents was the name of the old NFL team in Rock Island, Illinois, and has some charm to it. Renegades is a fun one that’s used by a few semipro teams here and there. Legends is a bit eyeroll-inducing, but isn’t bad overall. It works well for minor league baseball’s Lexington franchise.
Category #5: Raining Cats & Dogs
Moving on to the ever-popular animal category, let’s take a look at some cat and dog monikers that are widely employed just about everywhere except the Big Four. Wildcats is a great nickname, but it’s too overused in the NCAA to work in the Big Four. It would also seem redundant to have Wildcats when so many other wild cats are used as monikers. Cougars is a great name (at face value) that has popped up a few times in the Big Four and other pro leagues, but two factors come into play here: 1.) Several colleges use Cougars. 2.) there’s the other meaning of ‘cougar’ that would cause Twitter to overload if a new team was called the Cougars. On the canine side of things, Wolves is certainly one of the most underutilized monikers out there. Timberwolves comes close, but there’s not use of just ‘Wolves’ in either NCAA D-I or Minor League Baseball. And that’s 500 teams! There’s Wolfpack and Seawolves, but no just ‘Wolves.’ The most visible use of just ‘Wolves’ is probably the Chicago Wolves of the AHL. Huskies is a name that would be hard for a Big Four team to pull off, considering the prominence of Uconn and Washington U. The Toronto Huskies were once a team in NBA, and there’s even a push to change the Raptors name to Huskies. Another doggy moniker, Bulldogs, is very widely used in colleges and high schools, but may find it’s way back to the Big Four.
Category #6: Bird Words
The Big Four is basically an aviary of bird-based monikers, some good (Eagles, Hawks, Penguins, Falcons), some acceptable (Cardinals, Ravens, Blue Jays, Orioles), and some questionable (Pelicans, Ducks, Seahawks). Is there room for any more bird nicknames? If so, Blackbirds would be a simple and effective moniker that would be easy to color-coordinate. Owls is fun and fierce, though Temple may have staked their claim. Roadrunners is a bit minor-leaguish, and would only work for a team in the Southeast United States.
Category #7: Prairie Critters
There are some nicknames that take inspiration from the old American image of animals grazing on open prairie. Buffaloes/Bisons are represented in NCAA, Minor League Baseball, and elsewhere, but would work well as a Big Four monikers in some areas. The Buffalo Bills only peripherally use the creature as a mascot. Stallions is a nickname that seems to appear in nearly every name-the-team contest that comes up, and it’s solid through and through. Mustangs is another horsey nickname that could work in the Big Four.
Category #8: Serpents
Diamondbacks is the only snake-based moniker in the Big Four, and I don’t think it has to be that way. Snakes itself is a solid nickname. Getting more specific, Rattlers is an effective nickname that shakes it’s tail in NCAA and MiLB. Cobras is another good one, though it may be best on the semipro level. Vipers is another nice one with extra teeth that could work in Big Four.
Category #9: Creepy Critters
Some nicknames take it to a level that is even creepier than snakes. Spiders is effective, if repellent. It works well for Richmond U. Scorpions would work well for a desert team, and is largely unused. Bats works great for Louisville’s AAA affiliate, and may only work if Louisville had a team in MLB.
Category #10: Mythical Creatures
Mythical creatures are borderline acceptable for the Big Four, but could work if given the right chance. Griffins is a cool name that shows up here and there on the Minor League and collegiate circuits. Dragons is another name-the-team contest staple, but Dayton and Drexel are already making terrific use of the moniker. Thunderbirds is a powerful beast that could work in an appropriate location, but it may be a moniker that some would take offense to.
Category #11: Weather Report
There are plenty of weather-related nicknames out there, and it’s hard to imagine more being added to the Big Four. That said, Tornadoes and Cyclones are obvious choices for weather monikers. Cyclones is prominently used by Iowa State, but I’m not sure that would exclude the Big Four. A wildcard would be Whirlwinds, but it’s hard to see that nickname working well at the pro level.
Category #12: Active Objects
Another category of monikers is the animate (but not living) objects. This isn’t quite like the inanimate monikers like Spurs and Nets, and is more like the Jets or Sabres. Arrows is a solid nickname, especially if used alliteratively. Comets is another good one, and with the folding of Houston’s WNBA franchise, it is underused. Aces would be a fun one for a Wild West type team, like AAA’s Reno Aces. The Las Vegas UFL team uses Locomotives, and that’s a nickname that could work in the Big Four. Another could be Racers, a more active name than Pacers.
Category #13: Colors!
Finally, we’ll talk about the most colorful monikers of all: colors! Colorful nicknames were once the standard, especially in Major League Baseball–where a team’s nickname reflected their socks. The Big Four currently has three: Reds, Browns, and Blues. Blues is more of a music genre nickname, but it’s a color nonetheless. Cardinals also have their roots in the color Cardinal red rather than the bird. Taking a look at other available colors reveals a lack of possibilities. Oranges is tough to separate from the fruit, and Syracuse already uses Orange. Yellows sounds like cowards. Greens sounds like a salad. Purples…it just doesn’t work. Continuing in the Browns tradition of neutral colors, Grays is perhaps the best possibility of all. The old Negro League Homestead Grays nearly influenced the name choice of the Washington Nationals a few years back. Tans is short and to the point–I could see it. Another muted color nickname is Maroons, which has been used in the NFL and NHL. The metallic colors also have promise, with Silvers taking second place to Golds, of course.
There are the fifty. Next up on Sport Change will be the rankings of the Top 25 Potential Big Four team nicknames. Stay tuned.