Tag Archives: Names

Let’s Play Ball, Language Lovers!

As all of Canada began cheering, “Go, Jays, Go,” at the start of the Toronto Blue Jays’ 2016 Major League Baseball season, my thoughts turned to team names and their intimidation factor.

blue-jay-1238211_640Historically, many team names were chosen to exude a strength that caused their opponents to shudder.The blue jay may not be a muscular, frightening creature like a tiger, but at least, jays strike fear in the hearts of other avian species with their sneaky, destructive ways.

By comparison, pity the poor baseball player who opens the season in the minor leagues. It’s likely that he will be wearing a uniform featuring an oddball creature such as a grasshopper (Greensboro, North Carolina) or a Flying Squirrel (Richmond, Virginia). Great for marketing, but tough on the ego!

Minor League Marketing

Minor league teams are generally farm teams for the major league clubs. Minor league management signs contracts with the big guys to train players on their behalf. The minor league affiliates benefit from a steady supply of potential future stars, but one of the problems they have is that the talented players can be called up at any time to the next level of play. They can’t bank on their stars being around for an entire season, so they look to catchy names, branded gear and clever promotions to fill the ballpark seats.

“The minor leagues are all about cheesiness and entertainment,” wrote Brandon McClintock, a correspondent for Major League Baseball. “One of the wackiest, and greatest, things associated with minor league baseball are the team names.”

Offbeat Monikers

The Blue Jays can relate to this assertion since their Single-A affiliate is named the Lansing Lugnuts. Lansing, Michigan, is part of the massive automotive empire that once fanned out from Detroit, and lugnuts are essential for holding wheels in place. A local association and a lively name: who wouldn’t want to own a Lugnuts T-shirt or pay a visit to the ballpark?

Lugnuts players should rejoice that they don’t play in Montgomery, Alabama. The Tampa Bay Rays AA team in this Southern city is called the Montgomery Biscuits. Sure, I love biscuits and gravy, but wearing one on my uniform? What is the team cheer, I wonder? “C’mon, Buttermilk”?  Or “We rise to the occasion?”

rubber-duck-248093_640Residents of Akron, Ohio, don’t have much better luck. Their AA team, an affiliate of the nearby Cleveland Indians, is called the Akron Rubber Ducks. The name pays homage to the local rubber industry that produces automobile tires, but wasn’t there a more fearsome way to do so? Do the players threaten to drown opponents in the bathtub?

Animation Appreciation

At least, the ballplayers in Albuquerque, New Mexico, have a fashionable, funny story to explain their oddball team name, the Albuquerque Isotopes. The Colorado Rockies’ AAA affiliate takes its name from an episode of the popular television series, the Simpsons.

In this animated comedy series, Homer Simpson, the family’s father figure, works at the Springfield, Massachusetts, nuclear plant. The Hungry, Hungry Homer episode homes in on his dismay at the possibility that the town’s baseball team, the Springfield Isotopes, will be moving to Albuquerque. When the city of Albuquerque needed a name for its minor league team, the amused owners called it the Isotopes in a case of life imitating art. At least, the players can proudly boast, “We’re da’ bomb!”

Of course, I’m looking at the names from a player’s point of view. The same names that cause grown men to shudder as they sport the team logo on their chests are a marketer’s dream. They’re unique and interesting, and they draw baseball fans from other cities to the ballpark to enjoy their curiosity and buy their merchandise. I’m sure there are few complaints at the cash register.

So, Blue Jays fans, what do you say? Would you rather be cheering a dust devil (Tri Cities, Washington) or a Mudhen (Toledo, Ohio) instead?



Filed under Language

The Name Game, Part 2

“A rose is a rose is a rose,” 20th-century author Gertrude Stein famously said, and on a superficial level, that’s true. However, names are also about identity — how you see yourself and how others see you.

It’s an issue that Anna Maria Tremonti, the CBC journalist, explored this week in a CBC radio panel discussion about how to refer to the group that the U.S. and its allies are fighting in Iraq and Syria.

Prime Minister Trudeau calls the group ISIL, while French Prime Minister Francois Hollande calls it Da’esh and the group itself prefers the term ISIS. Why all the confusion? Does it matter?

Yes, it does matter, because a name is an identity. The group, says The Guardian, refers to itself as  the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a name that it uses to proclaim itself a caliphate, or an Islamic state for all Muslims. (The term al-Sham refers to the western portion of the Middle East).

The term ISIL, used by Trudeau and U.S. President Barack Obama, is the acronym for Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, the English term for al-Sham. It’s convenient, but it also confers a legitimacy on the group that many people question.

Many of the group’s opponents believe it’s wrong to call the violent group a state because that term generally implies laws and governance. They gravitate toward the appellation preferred by France, Da’ esh, shorthand for the group’s full Arabic name. It has added appeal because its plural form, daw-aish, translates to “bigots who impose their views on others.”

So, a rose may be a rose, but in the case of ISIS /ISIL/Da’ esh, the name you give it may indicate whether it smells sweet to you or not.

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The Name Game

“What’s in a Name?”  the playwright, William Shakespeare, famously asked in Romeo and Juliet. Quite a bit, says Jessica Taylor, a lecturer in linguistic anthropology at the University of Toronto.

Linguistic anthropology is the comparative study of the ways language shapes social life, and Taylor offered some insights into names during a lesson at last week’s SPUR Young Scholars Day at the university.

Names, she said, not only identify individuals, but they point to social meanings that may vary according to culture. In Italy, for example, Romeo is a serious name that translates to Pilgrim to Rome.  To English speakers, however, the name often connotes a lover, a colloquial meaning based on the hero in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Different versions of a name can also indicate how close a relationship two people have. The boss may call his employee James; his best friend may call him by his nickname, Jim; while his mother may be one of the few people who calls him Jimmy, his childhood nickname.

These linguistic layers of meaning  certainly cast a different light on the rest of the quote from Romeo and Juliet:  “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”


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