Picking Right Name--It’s an Art, Sport

Probably the most illogical and inappropriate nomenclature in existence is the one for athletic teams.

Naming teams is an art that rarely rises above the romantic illusions of childhood; professional football teams whose stars make $1 million and more a year are known by the same kind of names as high school teams--names that are thought to conjure up a hideous countenance and a ferocious nature.

Thus, we have the Chicago Bears, the Seattle Seahawks (a seahawk, by the way, is also known as a jaeger--"a spirited and rapacious bird”), the Cincinnati Bengals and the Detroit Lions.

Each of those animals is endowed in mythology with the qualities of predacious ferocity that are thought important in a football team. Even those named for human beings choose predators--the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Minnesota Vikings, the Los Angeles Raiders.


There has been a tendency in recent years--I think it began with the now defunct American Football League--to give teams abstract names. This fancy has cropped up in basketball; e.g., the Miami Heat and the Utah Jazz. Philosophers may argue whether heat is an abstract noun; but we can hardly call a specific player a Heat or a Jazz.

Comic anomaly sometimes results when a team moves from one city to another, seeking a more supportive audience and higher revenues; for example, the New Orleans Jazz has now become the Utah Jazz, having moved to Salt Lake City, which is hardly the jazz capital of the world. They might as well call themselves the Salt Lake City Hymns.

Our own Lakers brought that name with them when they moved here years ago from Minneapolis, in “the land of 10,000 lakes.” Unless you count Lake Hollywood, which is a reservoir, there isn’t a decent lake within an hour’s drive of Los Angeles. Our own Rams brought that name with them from Cleveland. Whether there are any rams in Cleveland I don’t know; but I doubt if there’s one in the entire County of Los Angeles. But of course the question is academic, now that they’ve moved to Anaheim.

What bestirs these ruminations is a letter from Laura Turtledove of Canoga Park noting that the recent move of the St. Louis Cardinals to Phoenix, Ariz., has made their nickname ridiculously inappropriate.


Mrs. Turtledove and her husband, Harry, were watching the Phoenix Cardinals on Monday night football and she wondered whether there were any cardinals in Arizona.

Her husband, a Ph.D. in Byzantine history, said no; he said the only bird in Arizona that resembles a cardinal is the Pyrrhuloxia, a bird which she describes from her Audubon calendar as “a creature that looks like a cardinal with mange.”

“Honestly,” she asks, “do you think cardinals belong in the desert? When I think of cardinals I picture them flitting about in the snow with chickadees, munching on berry-covered wreaths. Besides, imagine the great cheers one could devise for the new name: Grr ! Grrr ! Pyrrrrh-you-loxias !”

I think Mrs. Turtledove’s idea is inspired; but, alas, I find in my bird guide that the cardinal does indeed exist in Arizona.

Mrs. Turtledove notes that people are often curious about her own name. “It goes back to the 19th Century when the Austro-Hungarian emperor ordered all Jews to take surnames for taxation purposes. Harry’s ancestors adopted the name Turteltaub (Yiddish for turtledove) from the verse in the Song of Solomon: ‘and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.’ When his grandfather came to the States, he anglicized it, but his brother did not.”

Turtledove. A name that conjures up spring, peace, love.

I suggest that the Los Angeles Raiders drop that fear-inspiring name and call themselves the Turtledoves. They couldn’t do much worse as Turtledoves than they’ve done so far this season as Raiders.

For the Lakers, I suggest that they drop that inappropriate name and call themselves the Scrub Jays. That is a common Los Angeles bird; beautiful, aggressive and fearless; he dominates the landscape, fearing neither cats, hawks or humans.


The Rams could call themselves the Anaheim Coyotes, thus not only honoring their new home, but also a scrappy, much-maligned animal who has managed to survive in the heart of the metropolis.

I can’t think of anything else to call the Dodgers but Dodgers.