Just Call Us "Ray" Now

April 13, 2017

Sports teams: They’re institutions for major cities for decades, as loyal fans wear team colors and team logos with pride. And then the team goes and changes their name. (Usually for a good reason.)
Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Anaheim Angels


Since its inception in 1965, the Major League Baseball team in Houston has endured a number of major changes short of actually moving cities. The team was initially called the Houston Colt .45s (the first pro sports franchise to be named after a name-brand gun, and to also have a decimal point), but changed to the Astros. The Colt Firearms Company was considering a lawsuit, but also Houston being the home of NASA’s mission control, provided the new name.


The Tampa Bay Devil Rays explored a few “Ray”-based names before it began play in 1998. A phone poll suggested fans preferred Manta Rays to Devil Rays, but Devil Rays won out. Ironically, team owner Vince Naimoli had wanted to go with Sting Rays, but would’ve had to have paid $35,000 to a minor league team that already had the name to get the rights. After fielding complaints from religious people who didn’t like the word “devil” in the name, Naimoli dropped all adjectives and changed the team’s name to just “Rays” in 2007.


In 2002, the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets moved to New Orleans. Charlotte got an NBA expansion team in 2004, which was named the Bobcats. But the fans wanted the old name back, and team executives worked for years to see if they could get their old team name back from the team that was still using it. A deal was reached and in 2012, the Charlotte Bobcats became the Charlotte Hornets (again) and the New Orleans Hornets became the New Orleans Pelicans.


The American League’s team in southern California has changed its name several times—but not the mascot. The Angels entered the league in 1961 as the Los Angeles Angels. To position itself as more of a regional team (and to differentiate itself from the Los Angeles Dodgers), the team became the California Angels in 1965, and stayed that way until 1996. Then they switched again, going from regional to ultra-specific as the Anaheim Angels, named for the L.A. suburb where home games were played. And in 2005, the name was changed again to incorporate both Los Angeles and Anaheim into the name. The team’s full, official name is the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.


Before beginning its first season of play in the American Basketball Association in 1967, the Denver Larks were sold and were subsequently renamed the Denver Rockets. But when the ABA folded and a few of its teams, including the Rockets, were absorbed into the NBA, the Rockets became the Nuggets—because the NBA already had the Houston Rockets.

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