Last week, news leaked that the New Orleans Hornets are planning to change their name as soon as the 2013-14 NBA season. And that new name will be…? The Pelicans. Yep, like the bird. Of course, online reaction to the new name seems to have been mostly negative, with people complaining that the noble pelican hardly makes for a scary or intimidating foe. But I say tell that to the fish who are just swimming down a river, minding their own business, who suddenly find themselves being digested alive inside the belly of a Louisiana brown pelican. And, anyway, since when did we decide all team names had to be scary? Knicks, Nets, Magic, Trail Blazers, Lakers? Those names hardly inspire trepidation.
The real story here is the simple fact that the Hornets are changing names at all. If they were going to do it, the logical time would have been 2002, when they moved to New Orleans from Charlotte. That’s normally when teams change names. However, after ten years in the Big Easy, new owner Tom Benson has decided it’s time to give the Hornets name back to Charlotte and give his team more local flavor.
So how rare is it for a team to change names without relocating? Pretty rare. I found about 15 solid cases of teams making a fairly clean and sudden break. And here they are. Check ’em out.
The Tennessee Titans are the only team on the list that (like the New Orleans Hornets) relocated and gave the old name a shot before decided to go in a new direction. When they moved to Nashville after the 1996 NFL season, they were the Tennessee Oilers for two full seasons. Then, for the 1999 season, they became the Titans.
The new name worked wonders: that season the newly minted Titans came within a few feet (literally) of winning the Super Bowl.
15. Tennessee Oilers/Titans
When it came into existence in 1998, the baseball team in Tampa Bay, Florida, was called the Devil Rays. And as you can see here, they had some of the ugliest, most ill-conceived uniforms in the history of baseball. Then in 2008 the team dropped the "Devil" and just became the Rays. They also got their current uniforms which, while extremely bland, are vastly superior to the originals.
Why the switch? I guess they were just tired of looking like a bunch of idiots.
14. Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays
The baseball team currently playing their games in Philadelphia was founded as the Philadelphia Quakers in 1883. However, by 1980, they had officially become the Phillies. Apparently it was popular at the time to name teams after the city; I guess this is the only team with which that trend stuck.
13. Philadelphia Quakers/Phillies
This team actually changed names before they even played a game. An original member of the defunct ABA, they were supposed to be called the Denver Larks. Ouch. Luckily the team was sold before their first season, and the new owner decided to call them the Rockets—much better name, ridiculous rocket-playing-basketball logo.
When it was announced that the Rockets would be one of the ABA teams absorbed by the NBA in 1974, the team was forced to change their name because the NBA already had a Rockets (i.e., Houston). So they held a fan contest and the most popular name was the Nuggets—which was the city's first NBA franchise from that played from 1948-50.
12. Denver Rockets/Nuggets
When this team was founded as an original member of the AFL in 1960, they were called "The Titans" because, in ancient myth, Titans are bigger and stronger than Giants—the other football team in New York.
Personally, I think that is an awesome name and history. So it's a real shame that, in 1963, they decided to change their name to the Jets simply because their new stadium was located between New York's two major airports. (Though, in fairness, jets were the "next big thing" in the 1960s, so it seems very modern and hip.)
11. New York Titans/Jets
What, did you think by "name changes" I meant only the team's mascot? No way. The city is part of the name, too. And, strange enough, there are two cases (of which I am aware) in which teams changed the city/location name without leaving the city limits.
The first is the Angels. First they were the Los Angeles Angels (1961-65). Then they were the California Angels (1965-96). Then they were the Anaheim Angels (1997-2004). And now, of course, they are the ridiculous Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (2005-).
Now, to be fair, technically the first name change (from Los Angeles to California) did coincide with a move–from Los Angeles to Anaheim, about a 35 minute drive away. But in the case of the other changes the team didn't even move stadiums.
In 1997, Disney bought the team (remember the film Angels in the Outfield?) and renovated the stadium. The city of Anaheim kicked in $30 million toward the renovation with the stipulation that "Anaheim" appear in the name of the stadium and the team. When current owner Arte Moreno acquired the team in 2005, he wanted to change the name back to the original Los Angeles Angels for historical and marketing reasons. But he was hamstrung by that legal stipulation. So they became the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim...and everyone laughed and laughed.
10. California/Anaheim/Los Agneles Angels
After going by the Florida Marlins since 1993, the team changed its name to Miami Marlins this past season. This was partly the result of an attempted re-branding—new stadium, new uniforms, new name—and partly the result of the fact that the city of Miami paid for the stadium, so they were going to get their name on the team.
Of course, one might wonder why any municipality would want to be associated with this organization.
9. Florida/Miami Marlins
When this franchise was founded as a minor league team in 1900, they were called the Cleveland Lake Shores. (Pretty clever.) When they officially became a major league team in 1901, they switched things up and called themselves the Bluebirds, usually shortened to "Blues" by the newspapers. In 1902 they tried changing their name to the Broncos, but nobody was having any of that, so they held a fan contest in 1903 to come up with yet another name—their 4th in 4 years—and the fans chose the Cleveland Naps. Seriously. The name was inspired by the city's favorite player, Napoleon "Nap" Lajoie.
Finally, in 1915 they decided to copy the Boston Braves and named themselves the Cleveland Indians—a politically incorrect moniker they have to this day.
8. Cleveland Blue Birds/Broncos/Naps/Indians
It's hard to believe now, given the current statuses of the two organization, but originallythe Pittsburgh football team wanted to be like the Pittsburgh baseball team.
No, really. The Pirates baseball team was founded in 1882 and had been known as the Pirates since 1891. The football team was only founded in 1933, and they ripped off not just the team name but their colors as well. It wasn't until 1940 that they became the Pittsburgh Steelers.
7. Pittsburgh Pirates/Steelers
Leave it to Texas to name their first first MLB team after a gun. The Astros were originally known as the Colt .45s from 1962-64. However, by the mid-60s the American space program—which was headquartered in Houston—was the coolest thing on earth. So everything associated with the franchise got changed to reflect this. First the team built the revolutionary Astrodome, which had a new space-aged artificial grass called AstroTurf. Then they changed the name of the team to the Astros, too.
6. Houston Colt .45s/Astros
This franchise actually changed their name twice while located in DC. First they were the Capital Bullets in 1973-74. Then they were the Washington Bullets from 1974-97. And of course in 1997 people realized it was weird to glorify bullets in a city with such a tragically high murder rate, so they changed names again and became the Washington Wizards.
5. Capital/Washington Bullets/Wizards
The Chicago Bears are one of only two remaining NFL franchises, and for the vast majority of their existence we've known them as the Chicago Bears. However, they were actually founded in 1919 as the Decatur Stanleys—named after a cornstarch company—and when they moved to Chicago in 1921 they kept the name Stanleys for one season. Then, in 1922, they changed their name to the Bears.
And by the way, the other original NFL team still in existence? That would be the Arizona Cardinals. And interestingly enough, though they are now on their third city (Chicago, then St. Louis, now Phoenix), they've kept the Cardinals the whole time.
4. Chicago Stanleys/Bears
Believe it or not, when the Red Wings joined the NHL in 1926, they were called the Cougars. Then from 1930-32 they were called the Falcons, before finally becoming the Red Wings.
The funny thing is, in most cases when teams changed named in the olden days, they went from names that sound really strange to us now to names that sound more typical. But it's the reverse with the Red Wings. They went from names that sound pretty cool now to a name that sounds very anachronistic to modern ears.
3. Detroit Cougars/Falcons/Red Wings
From their founding in 1901 until 1907, the baseball team that currently calls Boston home was called the Boston Americans—which was actually kind of cool, if also a little generic. However, in 1907 team owner John I. Taylor decided to calle the team the Red Sox, obviously referencing the color socks worn by the team on the field.
This nomenclature was hardly original. Teams in Chicago (the White Sox) and Cincinnati (the Red Legs) had been named after their hosiery preference for years.
2. Boston Americans/Red Sox
What? The Yankees changed names?
Yep, they did. When the team first moved to New York—yes, moved to New York–from Baltimore, their stadium was built at one of the highest spots on the island of Manhattan. For that reason the joint was called Hilltop Park, and the team became known as the Highlanders.
When the team moved to the Polo Grounds next to the Harlem River in 1913, the Highlanders name no longer made sense. So the team officially switched to the nickname the press had already given them: the New York Yankees.