Team Name Changes

September 9, 2013

To celebrate the launch of a new NFL season, here is a sneak peek into our newest title with a sports-themed story about team name changes throughout history. Story will soon appear in Uncle John’s Perpetually Pleasing Bathroom Reader.


Name Changers

Meet the new team, same as the old team—just with a different name.

Team Name ChangesNew York Titans

The Tennessee Titans weren’t the first Titans in pro football. the first were the New York Titans, a charter member of the American Football League (later absorbed by the NFL) in 1960. The name was a wry reference to the New York Giants of the NFL—in mythology, titans are bigger, stronger, and tougher than giants. the name only lasted for three years. By then the team was playing in brand-new Shea Stadium, located directly beneath the flight paths of two major airports, LaGuardia and JFK, hence the new Jets. (It also rhymed with the name of Shea Stadium’s other team, baseball’s New York Mets.)

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

After more than a decade of trying to persuade major league Baseball for an expansion team, Tampa Bay finally got one in 1995, to begin play in 1998. Owner Vince Naimoli wanted to name his team the Sting Rays, after the sea creatures that populate the ocean near tampa. But the name was already in use by the minor-league Maui Stingrays, and Naimoli refused to pay the relatively paltry $35,000 it would have cost to get the rights. so he took suggestions from the community, and out of 7,000 entries, he picked the Devil Rays. almost immediately, the team began receiving complaints from people who felt the name celebrated satan. so Naimoli commissioned a telephone poll: should he name the team “Devil Rays” or “Manta Rays”? Devil Rays won, so the name stuck. So did the complaints. In 2007, Naimoli formally dropped “Devil” from the name.

New York Highlanders

The New York Yankees are the most storied team in pro baseball, but they weren’t always in New York. In 1903, the original Baltimore Orioles franchise moved to New York City and changed their name to the New York Highlanders. to avoid confusion with the other local team, the Giants of the National League, sportswriters gave the Highlanders a nickname: “the Americans,” because they were in the American league. That’s a long word to fit into headlines—which is why New York Press editor Jim price started calling them the “Yanks” or “Yankees.” It caught on, and the name was officially changed in 1913.

New Orleans Hornets

The Charlotte Hornets of the NBA moved to New Orleans in 2002, after owner George Shinn made good on a threat to take them away if the city didn’t build him a new arena. Tom Benson, owner of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, bought the team in 2012 and wanted to change the name to something more local. (Hornets are native to the Carolinas; they’re not widely found in the Bayou.) He approached the owners of the Utah Jazz, which in 1979 had moved from New Orleans, an important city in jazz history, to Salt Lake City, not an important city in jazz history. The Jazz refused to give the name back, so after considering “Brass,” Benson announced a new name for the 2013 season: the Pelicans, named after Louisiana’s state bird.

The Charlotte Bobcats

When the Hornets moved to New Orleans after 14 seasons in Charlotte, feelings were mixed. the team’s owner, George Shinn, was controversial and many people in Charlotte were glad to see him go. But the city was still a big basketball market, so the NBA publicly promised Charlotte a new team. And later that year it got one, with an ownership group originally led by BET Network founder Robert Johnson and now led by former NBA superstar Michael Jordan. Since beginning play in 2004, the Bobcats (the name was selected in a “name the team” contest) have brought in huge crowds—but no playoff appearances. looking for a new start in 2012, Jordan announced that for the 2014–15 season, the team would be using a new name. Well, an old new name, really: the Charlotte Hornets, which they grabbed barely a month after the New Orleans Pelicans gave it up.