The Inherent Beauty of Big Ten Naming Conventions Should Be a Guide for the Rest of the Country

By Johnny Ginter on January 31, 2020 at 10:10 am
Brutus Buckeye

There are rules!

If you want to name a sports team, no matter what the scope or athletic endeavor, from a weekend tiddlywinks beer league to an expansion NFL franchise, there is a set-in-stone mathematically proven method involved in picking a permanent nom de plume. Violate these rules if you want, but you'll end up with an overly workshopped disaster that people will eventually put up with but never love.

Also, in case there's any confusion about where I'm going with all of this, the "Buckeyes" is the perfect sports team name.


Yesterday reports surfaced that as part of their rebranding efforts associated with a new stadium and an attempt to reinvigorate interest in the club, the Columbus Crew was maybe possibly kind of starting to perhaps think about changing the team name. This made some people upset.

From Michael Arace at the Dispatch:

It is the right of new owners — who laid out scores of millions to buy the team and build a stadium, and are investing in talent — to put their spin on things. But if they’re planning on a massive rebranding, they’re going to alienate a population and a culture of people who expended blood, sweat and tears so that their public trust could be run through Cleveland.

This is true! It is also true that "The Crew" is a dumb name and casual fans like myself probably wouldn't care too much about them changing it. "The Crew" was an awkward, extremely 90's attempt to get The Youth to take off their Skip-Its, put down their Tamagotchis, and instead drink their Surge sodas in Columbus while watching a totally rad soccer game. It is a relic of all the obnoxious and aggressively irritating marketing decisions of a few decades ago, and not a representation of all the fun and aggressively irritating marketing decisions of a few decades ago.

"The Crew" and how it was originally branded also has nothing to do with Columbus, which experienced by far its largest period of growth (which eventually allowed it to support an MLS team) through white collar industries after World War II. It's a neat idea to honor blue collar factory workers with a team name, especially in the Rust Belt, but maybe not in a Midwest city that ducked much of the history and angst associated with that.

So if you're attempting to culturally ingratiate yourself with a region, it's probably important to pick something that the region actually identifies with; the "Blue Jackets" and its associated historical meaning might be an overestimation of how much Ohioans (NOT ME) give a shit about the state's significant Civil War heritage, but at least it attaches culturally to something.

But anyway, the whole thing was likely a subtle social media temperature check to gauge public reaction (mostly negative), and later in the day the club stated that "The colors Black & Gold and the moniker 'The Crew' are critical parts of our club’s identity ... [A]ny reports suggesting a departure from the above by the club would be inaccurate."

That's probably slightly less of a confirmation that nothing will change for the team than some might think (the word "moniker" can mean a lot of things in branding), but also a sign that once picked, a name usually sticks.


Weirdness is subjective, but a good way to figure out whether you're on the "Tigers" end of the sports naming spectrum or the the "Banana Slugs" end of the sports naming spectrum is to simply look at a list of Big Ten sports team names:

Indiana Hoosiers Yep! Sorta? Name for Indiana denizens.
Maryland Terrapins Hell yeah. Yes. Some guy found turtles in a creek.
Michigan Wolverines Kinda. Admittedly yes. Wolverines are scary? Eh.
Michigan State Spartans No. Mmmmm no. Pulled out of someone's ass.
Ohio State Buckeyes Yuuuuup. Yuuuuup. TREES ARE COOL AND ALSO
Penn State Nittany Lions Yeah. Close. A student with a bad
understanding of both geography
and biology.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights Eh. Nah. Almost. But no. Some bored coeds. Used to be
a giant chicken. Woulda been
Illinois Fighting Illini Not really. No. Uhhhhhhhhhhh...
Iowa Hawkeyes No, but kinda
Sure. Literally from Last of the
Minnesota Golden Gophers Hah! Yeah. Indeed. Adding "Golden" to things makes
them better.
Nebraska Cornhuskers Maybe too
In a Nebraska-y
Northwestern Wildcats *long sigh* NO. Who cares?
Purdue Boilermakers Absolutely. Yes. It's an engineering school and
they make cool shit. Including
Wisconsin Badgers Yes. Yeah I'll give
it to 'em.
Miners burrowing into hills.

Most of these are cool, in a very odd and special way that gives the warm fuzzies as I bear witness to the endless permutations of tough animal or human mascots from other conferences. Some schools in the Big Ten fall into this trap, but that only serves to highlight the differences between the Spartans and the Buckeyes. The Brutus Buckeye we know, for example, is the result of mad student scientists experimenting for generations to find the optimal way for a coed to wear a big nut on their head. That is extremely weird, as is the idea of an anthropomorphic nut man, and so it is good.

Thus, the Big Ten has one of the best lineups of team names in college sports, and it's because they harken back to stories and ideas that are unique and particular to a specific space and time. Because life is a rich tapestry, that means that pretty much anything can be a mascot or team name.



Just because pretty much anything has the potential to be a mascot or team name doesn't mean anything should.

Seattle is getting an NHL franchise and they're trying to figure out what to name themselves. Various suggestions have emerged, like the Seals, Evergreens, or Pyroclastic Flows, but right now the frontrunner appears to be the "Seattle Kraken." This is infuriating for a few reasons, which I'll now explain in painful detail.

To begin with, a kraken has next to nothing to do with Seattle or the Puget Sound region. Yeah, it's a big scary monster in water, but it's a big scary monster in Atlantic water and emerged out of Scandinavian lore. So where the hell did this idea come from, you ask?

Woah wait, you haven't seen the 2010 Liam Neeson vehicle Clash Of The Titans? The one where he's Zeus and then says the thing? Okay, well, here's him saying the thing:

HE SAID THE THING! The thing, it was said, it's pretty great everybody. He said it. "Release the kraken!" So great. Someone make a .gif. This is absolutely an excellent basis for a multi-million dollar and near permanent marketing decision.

Anyway, that's pretty much it. The crossover appeal of easily distracted nerds who profess to love referential humor and then quickly get bored of it with uh... hockey was too much to resist and there have been some reports that yes, this is really going to happen.

Two things. I myself am an easily distracted nerd, and I'm here to issue a warning to Seattle: chasing internet adulation is a fool's errand. The people who give you props for naming your team after a meme are not the same people who are going to pay money on a consistent basis to watch the Kraken finish 9th in the Western Conference five years in a row. Snakes On A Plane cost 33 million dollars to make.

The second thing is that a perfectly acceptable alternative already exists! "Seattle Sockeyes" is a great confluence of local culture and general weirdness and should the team wrestle the rights to that name from (no shit) a hockey-centric erotica writer, they'll have the best team naming story in the history of sports.

When I was a kid, I loved Ohio State because as an Ohio native and therefore a Buckeye, I felt that every team named as such was my representative in sports. And I was right. "The Ohio State Buckeyes" is a perfect representation of the best of the inherent weirdness of sports while also nodding the the history of a particular time and place, and as a brand/name/idea it is beautifully organic piece of who we are.

Everyone else should be so lucky.

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