I’m on a bit of a nickname kick, as you know if you read my last posting about nicknames given to the 50 U.S. states.
Some things actually cry out for catchy names. You couldn’t very well talk about a college sports team as “that Harvard squad” or “the Texas A&M team” or “those Clemson lads” time after time. What would the play-by-play announcer, or the cheerleaders, say if there were no nicknames? “Go, you Auburn boys!”? What would the team mascot be?
While we don’t give nicknames to the company accounting department or a utility repair crew, sports teams need razzmatazz.
No one seems to know which college came up with the first team nickname. When the initial collegiate football game was played in 1869 between neighboring Rutgers and Princeton in New Jersey, accounts describe only the competition between two “sides,” a la soccer terminology.
Yale University — like Princeton a member of the prestigious “Ivy League” of private northeastern colleges — is said to have come up with the first sports mascot: a living bulldog that waddled the sidelines. Some time earlier, the school had adopted the “Bulldogs” team nickname that it has kept to this day.
Other early collegiate team names were unremarkable Tigers, Lions, Bears, Cougars and the like. Ferocious or, like the bulldog with the overbite, tenacious, but predictable. Running low on animals, some schools tacked on a color. Fifteen colleges now send out “Golden Eagles” squads, and there are Golden Bears, Golden Panthers — even Golden Bulls.
Black Bears, Blackbirds, and pesky Black Flies, too. Feisty Blue Hens and a howling Red Storm as well. There’s even a Cardinal team — not the bird but the color. Stanford University chose that deep-red hue as a nickname! Like several other institutions, it had decided that the politically incorrect “Indians” nickname that it had been using would no longer do.
To jack up the pugnaciousness of their squad names, many colleges preceded them with aggressive adjectives. You’ll find scrappers like Fighting Saints, Fighting Sioux, and Fighting Illini all across the land. (With regard to the last of the “fighters,” Illini appears to be a contrived variation of “Illinois” — the Indian tribe after which the Midwest state and its big university were named. The origin is so complex that the university archives department devotes an entire Web page to it.)
Some names have a curious pacifistic ring. Three college teams call themselves “Quakers,” named for the Society of Friends whose members refuse to go to war.
After a while, just about every sizable or savage creature had been exhausted: beavers, bison, bobcats, broncos, gators, jaguars, longhorn cattle, moccasin snakes, moose, rams, sharks, and wildcats — not to mention bees, fire ants, kangaroos, gorillas, and even Great Danes, those giant dogs.
So newer colleges, especially, got creative. After all, rooting for your school’s team is supposed to be fun. Rather than dream up a new color hawk or a more menacing type of turtle, they dared to be quirky.
Here’s my Gallery of Originality — college team names that, while brilliant, must be a challenge to work into school fight songs:
The Ambassadors of Ozark Christian College in Missouri. More peace-loving jocks. All talk, little action. Fight song: “Negotiate, you mighty Ambassadors! Negotiate!” (Really, what kind of “sport” DO they engage in? Debates?)
The Anchormen of Puget Sound Christian College in Washington and Rhode Island College on the other coast. Surely they don’t mean news announcers, unless they’re modeled after the Howard Beele character in the movie “Network,” who rants about being “mad as hell” and “not taking it any more” after a nervous breakdown. No, these anchormen are rowers. Fight song: “Pull!!!!!”
The Armadillos of Our Lady of the Lake University in Texas. Armadillos are homely burrowing mammals, so lethargic that they’re common road kill. A curious choice for an athletic team. Anteaters (University of California-Irvine) and Aardvarks (Pikes Peak Community College) are ugly as sin and slow-footed in the wild, too. Fight song: “Look out for that truck!”
The Banana Slugs of the University of California-Santa Cruz. Talk about slow! And slimy. Hard to tackle, however. Fight song: “Ooze on down the field!”
The Battling Bishops at Wesleyan colleges in North Carolina and Ohio. Do they battle each other? So much for church decorum.
The Blue Boys of Illinois College. They’re not named for the iconic Thomas Gainsborough painting of the 1770s or the blue-faced Blue Man mime troupe that cavorts in Las Vegas and on tour. The name was inspired by returning northern soldiers, dressed in blue, from the U.S. Civil War of the 1860s. The women who play sports at Illinois College aren’t Blue Girls, though. They’re the “Lady Blue.”
Coming up with female equivalents of sports nicknames such as Brewers (Vassar), Leathernecks (Western Illinois), and Lord Jeffs (Amherst) is a challenge. Brewerettes? Most schools give up trying and just stick “Lady” in front of the name. Or they contrive a gender-specific alternative such as Northland College’s Lumberjills to go with the male Lumberjacks team in Wisconsin.
The Boll Weevils of the University of Arkansas-Monticello. Imaginative, I’ll give ’em that. What other team is named for a parasitic cotton pest? That school’s women are too dignified to be sap-sucking beetles. They’re delicate “Cotton Blossoms.”
The Diplomats of Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania. If Missouri weren’t so far away, they’d make ideal arch, if not fierce, rivals of Ozark Christian’s Ambassadors.
Talk about meek and mild. Five colleges call their teams the Engineers. Their plays are precise, however.
The Ephs of Williams College in Massachusetts. An Eph? Well, the college was founded by a Col. Ephraim Williams, which doesn’t help explain the school’s sports mascot: a purple cow.
The Gentlemen of Centenary College of Louisiana. Another prospective, and civilized, foe for the well-mannered Ambassadors and Diplomats, as would be the Governors of Austin Peay State University in Tennessee and the Judges at Brandeis University in Massachusetts.
The Gorloks of Webster University in Missouri. The Sports Logo Pundit Web site reports that a gorlok is a creature with “the paws of a speeding cheetah, the horns of a fierce buffalo, and the face of a dependable Saint Bernard” dog. It blows the school’s cover, however: the name is a combination of intersecting streets in the school’s hometown.
The Ichabods of Washburn University in Kansas. The name did not derive from Washington Irving’s fictional headless horseman, Ichabod Crane. Ichabod Washburn founded the school. Couldn’t they at least be the Fighting Ichabods?
The Magicians of Lemoyne-Owen College in Tennesee. A tricky bunch.
The Phantoms of East-West University in Chicago. Ideal for a slick if not brawny sports team. Now you see ’em . . .
The Pointers of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. They’d be good if they weren’t always giving away their plays.
The Prophets of Oklahoma Baptist College. They just know they’re going to beat you.
The Rocks of Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania. I’d pit them against the Spires of Saint Mary College in Kansas. It would be a contest between a rock and a hard place.
I could go on being clever, or begin to be, depending upon your viewpoint, with college teams like the Trolls (Trinity Christian), the Wasps (Pepperdine), the Wonder Boys (Arkansas Tech), or the Zips of Akron U. in Ohio.
Wish I were young and strong enough to organize and name a team of my own. The Teddy Bears. Or, more ominously, the Battlin’ Bloggers.
Ted's Wild Words
These are a few words from this posting that you may not know. Each time, I'll tell you a little about them and also place them into a cumulative archive of "Ted's Wild Words" in the right-hand column of the home page. Just click on it there, and if there's another word that you'd like me to explain, just ask!
Decorum. Proper behavior or manners.
Ominous. Threatening or menacing, as in “ominous clouds on the horizon.” The term comes from the same root as “omen.”
Pugnaciousness. Belligerence, especially from a hard-bitten person who’s spoiling for a fight.
Razzmatazz. Razzle-dazzle. Clever plays by a sports team, designed to outwit the opposition.