It all comes back to the Jazz

Jul 5 2013 - 12:40pm

The sixth overall pick in the NBA draft just went to the New Orleans Pelicans. The Pelicans?

After the New Orleans Jazz moved to Salt Lake City in 1979, the former Charlotte Hornets moved in. Next season, the Hornets take the name the Pelicans after the brown pelican -- Louisiana's state bird. (Louisiana's nickname is the "Pelican State.")

When sports teams move, they sometimes keep their names and it feels out of place. The Los Angeles Lakers were originally the Minneapolis Lakers -- named after Minnesota as "land of 10,000 lakes." Lakeless, even NBA.com admits the name isn't a "perfect match." But at least the L.A. Lakers is mellifluous.

Other times, the names just fit. The Utah Jazz appeared in the NBA finals twice in the late 1990's, hosted the all-star game, and featured hall of famers Karl Malone and John Stockton. Although Bleacher Report in 2012 ranked the Jazz the 8th worst name in pro sports, with the team's history and identity, don't expect the name to change any time soon.

The San Diego Rockets basketball team was named after the Atlas rockets produced there. It moved to Houston, home to NASA, and kept its name (joining the Astros baseball team).

Other teams move and change their names later. Football's Houston Oilers moved to Tennessee and became the Titans after a couple seasons.

The etymology of sports team names deserves a closer look. They traditionally reflect the local industry, like the Pittsburgh Steelers, Milwaukee Brewers, Detroit Pistons (automobiles), and the former Seattle Supersonics (for Boeing). Or local vernacular:  the New York Mets derive their name from the urban Metropolitans, according to the team's website. The Minnesota Twins represent the "twin cities" of Minneapolis and St. Paul. (The original Washington Senators relocated there and adopted the more apt name, Twins.)

Creative names pay homage to local lore. The Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens (formerly the Cleveland Browns), were named for the poem "The Raven" by famed resident Edgar Allen Poe. The New Jersey Devils (formerly the Colorado Rockies) were named after the local urban legend of the woods-dwelling "Jersey Devil."

Others sought to outdo one another with the most ferocious animal, which wasn't always indigenous to the area: Lions, Tigers, and Bears.

A few come from popular national movies, like the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (now just the Ducks) and the Toronto Raptors, for Jurassic Park's velociraptors, according to the team's website. A top NASL soccer team in the 1980's, the Chicago Sting, was named after The Sting movie set there.

Some teams are cautious to change their names. A New York Times article last week about the Washington Redskins described the "massive" expense involved in rebranding a team, down to the team's stationery. Change is particularly tough when a franchise has been around for awhile. The Baltimore Colts, home to horse breeding and the triple-crown Preakness race, kept their name and logo in Indianapolis (and won another title there).

The Pelicans have hatched. Starting in 2014-15, the Charlotte Bobcats will reclaim the Hornets name for the city, announced Michael Jordan, owner of the young Bobcats team. It all relates back to the Jazz.

Adam Silbert, an attorney, writes about politics and sports.

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