Anthrocide is the official website for D.L. Hamilton, author of several Christian novels and essays.

NFL Team Names

Team names should have one of two characteristics. Either they should be evocative of something that would be an asset in football (courage, power, ferocity, speed, etc.) or something unique to the area in which they reside, so long as that unique entity is not a liability in football. For example, the California State University, Santa Cruz has as their team name the “banana slugs.” Banana slugs are, indeed, native to the Santa Cruz area but are one of the dorkiest team names ever since nothing about the repulsive banana slug is in any way an asset to any sports endeavor. That is, unless at some point they come up with a competition for disintegrating into a mucous glob when salt is poured on you.

Meeting the first criteria, a name suggesting ferocity, for example, generally negates the second. In other words, for Detroit to use the name Lions is fine given the characteristics of a lion, regardless of the fact that there have never been any actual lions in Detroit (unless in a zoo or circus).

With this in mind, here is an assessment of NFL team names.

Good Names

  • Bears: Good choice, Chicago. Ferocious and powerful.
  • Lions: Another good choice, Detroit, and for the same reasons.
  • Vikings: The Vikings were known as a fierce, warlike, barbaric people. Historically intimidating people groups are accepted for teams even if they were notoriously ruthless. However, there are limitations. Certainly racial concerns have arisen in recent years (since the Vikings were white they are fair game). Also, some barbaric, unscrupulous peoples are not usable. For example, a team named the L.A. Nazis or the L.A. Islamic Terrorists would not fly. “Vikings” also works from the locality angle since there is such a large Scandinavian population in Minnesota.
  • Falcons: Atlanta’s name works because the falcon is a hunter (not prey) and swift in flight.
  • Panthers: Similar to lions and fine for Carolina.
  • Buccaneers: Another case of a name from a ruthless, bullying group. Chasing down and plundering one’s opponent is a positive in football so it works for Tampa Bay.
  • Giants: New York’s name, since it refers to stature and power, works well.
  • Eagles: Philadelphia’s choice, like Falcons, is quite good.
  • Rams: Bolstered especially by the curved ram-horn emblem on the helmet, this might be one of the best of all even after the move from LA to St. Louis.
  • Ravens: This is a locality-appropriate name. It refers to Baltimore native son Edgar Allen Poe whose poem, “The Raven,” is one of his signature works. Also, given that Ravens (and their close cousins, crows) are pretty crafty and, in literature, sinister it fits well for a team name.
  • Bengals: An all right name for Cincinnati’s team but why Bengals instead of the more generic Tigers is questionable.
  • Titans: Given that they were mythological godlike giants, the name works okay. However, given that, in mythology, they were defeated one could question their particular choice. This is similar to the use of Trojans or Spartans, both of whom were notoriously defeated during their history. But most people associate Titans with something large and powerful so it’s an acceptable name for Tennessee to use.
  • Dolphins: Another locality-appropriate name, since Miami is on the ocean in which dolphins live. Dolphins are deemed smart, sleek, fast, and fearless.
  • Jets: New York’s team name is all about speed, unless one tries to tie-in the West Side Story gang famous for fighting the Sharks. Either way the name is all right.
  • Broncos: Given that a “bucking bronco” is seen as powerfully throwing off one who tries to tame it, Denver’s team name works well.
  • Packers: This one almost dropped to the next list. A local name tied to the team’s Green Bay origin. They were originated by a group from the local meat-packing industry. That makes for a nice history and, granted, they go way back, but the name is still somewhat lame in a football sense. Still, given the local-appropriateness and that it is not totally anti-football in the impression it gives, it is allowed into the “good” name list but only in Green Bay.
  • Steelers: Same story as for the Packers except it was the Pittsburgh steel factories rather than packing houses. The strength and hardness of steel and the homonymic connection to stealing (the ball) enable it to work somewhat better.

Questionable or Borderline Names

  • Saints: This one almost moved to the next (bad) list. New Orleans is all about Jazz, of course, and “When the Saints Go Marching In” has long been a staple number in the New Orleans jazz world. While that’s roughly equivalent to the Ravens’ story, there is little about a “saint” that evokes any idea of ferocity, agility, or strength. The fleur-de-lis design, one supposes, is to link “saint” to “crusader” but they also ended-up losers. If one deems saints as, in some cases, miracle workers or empowered by God, that might be an angle. But even if one ignores the Biblical indications that all Christians are saints, the idea of a brave believer being burned at the stake for his or her faith does not translate easily to a winning juggernaut of a football team.
  • Cowboys: Dallas’s use of this as a team name fits insofar as cattle-raising is locality-appropriate. But the closest thing to a noteworthy character quality might be a sort of rugged individualism—not what one looks for on a team (think Terrell Owens, here). Plus, in and of themselves cowboys are not particularly intimidating or necessarily even highly skilled. After all, they are called the cowboys, not the gunslingers.
  • 49ers: Okay, so back in 1849 a bunch of people dropped everything and went looking for gold in California, which made San Francisco a boomtown. That makes this a locality-appropriate name. But other than them being on a quest for “paydirt” the connection to a fearsome or skillful football team is tenuous at best. Perhaps their tenacity can be considered as a football asset.
  • Seahawks: This one also almost moved to the next list. Why? Because, as near as I can discover, there is no such thing as a “seahawk.” One source identified it as synonymous with a “Jager Gull.” The only image of a Jager gull I could find looked like, well, a gull. Gulls carry no reputation for predatory behavior or speed or even intelligence, and certainly nothing resembling what the name (and the hook-beaked logo) suggests. Thus, it is an invented creature. Still, the use of “hawk” in the name puts one in the desired frame of mind and “sea” as the lead-in to Seattle is hard to argue with.
  • Colts: The name for the Indianapolis team is analogous to the baseball Cubs. Why choose the young of an animal rather than the more powerful, capable adult? The Steeds or Stallions would be much better. Still, race horses, mostly under the cutoff age of four, are technically “colts” so from a speed standpoint it works. However, the average person thinks of a colt as a very young, frolicking little horse offering no intimidation at all.
  • Bills: The logo and city name Buffalo already works. Adding “Bills” to it sounds all right since “Buffalo Bill” Cody was a Wild West showman in the 19th century. But if one really thinks about it, what would a “Bill” actually be?
  • Patriots: The idea here is of Revolutionary War participants (given that this was originally the Boston Patriots, later expanded to the New England Patriots). Thus, the Minutemen might work better. To call one a patriot does not particularly suggest any of the football qualities described at the outset. A person working in a USO and rallying support for America is a patriot but not particularly intimidating or skillful.
  • Chiefs: The Kansas City name is problematic on several points. One, it is odd to contemplate a whole team of “chiefs.” The old adage regarding “too many chiefs and not enough Indians” comes to mind. It is difficult to wrap one’s mind around, for example, a whole company full of CEO’s. Secondly, it gets back to the ethnic concept which has become so unpopular, furthered along by the use of the Native American arrowhead. Then of course there is the incredibly annoying tomahawk chant the name engenders which should be banned from all sports. Still, the objections are mostly subtle and the idea of a group of warriors-in-charge is probably the immediate image invoked so it can be tolerated.
  • Raiders: This is pretty much a made-up name. The Oakland logo shows a football helmeted figure with an eye-patch, fronting a pair of crossed sabers, somewhat Jolly Roger style. The concept apparently is one of a pirate, who could indeed at times be a “raider.” But then, so could a Narc or a frat-house member sneaking into a sorority. Without the logo the closest to a football appropriate connection one would make would be to a guerilla band conducting a raid on an enemy. It kind of, sort of works but, again, if one ignored the Oakland concept and was asked to draw a picture of a “raider” probably no two people would come up with anything even similar to each other, let alone to a pirate with a football helmet.
  • Chargers: Upon hearing the name, the immediate image is that of a large, powerful steed with a knight in full armor astride it. However, San Diego’s use of the term has nothing whatever to do with horses. Instead they have bolts of electricity on their helmets, apparently indicating that the “charge” in Charger is an electrical charge. The only electrical “charger” I know of is a battery charger. Certainly that sits at the extreme edge of representing football qualities. Here again the name has sort of been made-up to be what the team wanted. But as a team name it is shaky at best.

Really, Really Horrible Names

  • Redskins: This has to be the worst team name anywhere ever. Even if political correctness ordinarily frustrates or irritates a person, this should be the exception. Interestingly, the logo is not of a cartoon-y “Indian” (ala the Cleveland Indians) but of an impressively noble-looking Native American brave. Yet, even a noble depiction cannot overcome the slander of the name itself. It is exactly the same as having a Samurai warrior logo and calling the team the Washington Slant-eyes. It is simply outrageous. I personally would consider it an acceptable change for Washington to keep the logo and rename itself the Warriors, but then I’m not a member of the ethnic group involved so maybe what I consider inoffensive doesn’t really count.
  • Cardinals: Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing inherently problematic about the use of the cardinal bird as a team name. Sort of. The cardinal is a beautiful bird but beauty is not football imagery. It was (and in baseball still is) however, very much a locality-appropriate name in St. Louis since Missouri is privileged to have an abundance of cardinals within its borders. On its own, however, it does not work as a football team name any more than the nightingale or sparrow. In Arizona, not particularly known for cardinals (not even the Catholic kind), it is just plain dumb.
  • Browns: I discovered that a Cleveland newspaper contest back in the 40’s resulted in a team name of the “Brown Bombers,” the nickname for the boxing great of that day, Joe Louis. It was then shortened to Browns. However, almost nobody remembers the name’s origin and Mr. Louis is no longer a household name (something everyone except the very shortsighted could have predicted). Now the name just sounds stupid.
  • Texans: So, I think we all know that people from Houston are Texans. We also know that people from Miami are Floridians and people from Atlanta are Georgians. So what? This might be the least creative name ever.

5 Comments so far

  1. scott October 20th, 2006 8:29 am

    Pop, it’s good to see you having a blog. However, I must point out that it was Edgar Allen Poe, rather than Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote “The Raven”. Stevenson may be a native son of Baltimore, but i’m sure you’re thinking of Poe.

    An excellent post, however! Kudos all the way around.

  2. dlh October 25th, 2006 6:56 am

    Um…Yeah. Apparently I had a monumental brain-fade and wrote the wrong 3-named author. I honestly did know that it was Poe who wrote “The Raven” and that lived in Baltimore. Actually Stevenson lived primarily in California during his stay in America.

  3. CCblaze February 11th, 2009 6:59 pm

    Umm i pretty much agree to the teams in the list i live in Minnesota so i agree we have a good name but i only wish we could play as well as are names sounds *ouch* that stung but I’ll live.

  4. lawree50 January 15th, 2010 1:36 pm

    I enjoyed your commentary on team mascot names. One thing to note. Although the Cardinals have a bird on their helmet, that is not where the name came from. They were sponsored by an athletic club in Chicago (they are actually the oldest continuously operating team in the NFL) and were on Racine St. A college (I can’t remember which one) donated their old jerseys to the team, and their coach described the jerseys as “Cardinal Red”. They became the Racine Cardinals, then Chicago, then St. Louis, finally Arizona.

  5. lawree50 January 15th, 2010 1:41 pm

    I found the story behind the Ravens name also interesting. Edgar Poe assumed the middle name Allen after his parents died and he was “adopted” by Mr. Allen of Richmond, VA. He married his first cousin when she was 13 (He was a pedophile), he was addicted to cocaine and was an alcoholic. Those characteristics almost seem perfect for a mascot name.

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