Discussing why a professional sports team would adopt the name the Pelicans

It appears the New Orleans Hornets will adopt a new name: the Pelicans. Here is some discussion on TrueHoop about the meaning of the name and other names that were in the running:

And yet, if you put a gun to my head and said: Come up with a funny name for a minor league baseball team I’d say “Pelicans” and I’d worry that it wasn’t realistic. Like, what owner would name his team for an unathletic bird noted for how much marine life it can carry in its big mouth?

In terms of specifically dissecting the Pelican and noting its awkwardness, I think that is fair, but I think the qualities of the bird do not necessarily translate into the perception of the team. Magic is not the “sportiest” of names. It’s either weak in some sense or cheating (is there a rule against sorcery?), right?

Not to pick on the Magic, of course. The Celtics aren’t meant to be pagans. The Knickerbockers don’t have people’s unsundry parts in them. Those names are “made” by their legacies. It is the duty of every franchise to build that legacy to overcome all of these, at first, imperfect names. And upon the fanbase. They have to “own it,” to use the parlance of our time.

People in New Orleans dislike change, but they love New Orleans. There’s nothing like some hate from north of I-10 to get some New Orleanians to love what those “Yankees” hate.

It’ll work.

And a quick look at three other possible names:

The colors were purple, red and black primarily, they had the voodoo dolls, the graveyard, bones and mojo for mascots, and more. It was fantastic, local, recognizable, edgy. Voodoo is currently owned by the new AFL, as Benson folded his team prior the older AFL folding. The Shreveport-Bossier City Battlewings (north Louisiana for those playing the home game) moved here, donning Voodoo garb. This was at least one obstruction to this…

Krewe was another good choice. “Krewe of X” is used to describe the people in parades in many cases (I was Krewe of Endymion after the Super Bowl, for instance). This has clear cultural relevance and built-in mascots, branding, etc. It would be a beacon for those three people who’ve never heard of Mardi Gras. Krewe of New Orleans … the party has arrived.

Brass was another good name. It’s evocative of Jazz, and was the name of an ECHL team (minor league hockey) here in New Orleans (yes, really) that folded shortly after the Hornets relocation. You can write the branding for it quite easily.

I suspect this analysis is right: local fans could get used to all sorts of names over time. I would assume that winning more would make a sports team name more permanent. While there may have been other reasons for these switches, think of the Charlotte Bobcats and the Washington Wizards. Perhaps some cities are even better suited than others to adopt stranger or more local names. And yes, a number of professional pro sports team names don’t make a lot of sense given their current context and era. For people who like local color, it is almost too bad sports teams aren’t required to have names that match their current community. Finding the best local names could be a fascinating exercise…

But I wonder if this is part of a larger shift in the names of sports teams away from fierce animals or creatures. Just as first names in the United States can change (here is a sociologist talking about the decline of the name Mary but the resurgence of the name Emma), the names of sports teams can change. Think of the new team names in the four major sports in the last two decades and it is an odd collection of old-style and new names. This may have to do with branding: new kinds of names offer new opportunities. Take the Oklahoma City Thunder. Their name is not shared by another team in the four major sports and is not found too frequently elsewhere. It could lead to all sorts of new marketing opportunities though it might be difficult to come up with appropriate mascots and train copy editors to use the name correctly.

Of course, one innovation of the future could be that more American sports team adopt corporate names. This could be a lucrative revenue stream.

Baby names and growing entropy

In recent years, the percentage of people who give their babies popular names has dropped. In other words, the range of baby names has increased and more people are seeking unique names. One baby name expert explains why sociologists have taken an interest in this trend:

“The more diverse naming styles become, the more we are going to read into somebody’s name,” Wattenberg said. She analyzed baby name statistics from the U.S. Social Security Administration to calculate a measure called Shannon entropy from the field of information theory. This measure is used to describe the information contained in a message – in this case, how much is communicated by the choice of a name…

Wattenberg calculated a sharp rise in name entropy over time. She found that this measure of the information carried by names has risen as much in the past 25 years as it did in the full century before that. (The measure is independent of the number of babies born.)…

“Sociologists love names,” Wattenberg said. “They’re practically the only case of a choice with broad fashion patterns that there’s no commercial influence on. There’s no company out there spending millions to convince you Brayden is a perfect name for your son.” (Studies have shown that movies, celebrities and other cultural trends do have an impact on the popularity of certain names.)

To understand how the meaning communicated through names has evolved, Wattenberg suggests thinking about an office with a dress code requiring all employees to wear gray or blue suits to work every day. Seeing a man dressed in a blue suit in such an environment would tell you very little about that man’s taste or personality.

Compare that to an office with no dress code. Here employees’ sartorial choices vary widely, so the outfit worn by anyone in that office could tell you a fair bit about that person as an individual. In this case, the same blue suit might reveal significant clues about its wearer.

The same goes for names. In an era where there are a lot more choices available, each choice carries more weight.

This sounds like an interesting analysis. And it sounds like Wattenberg is on to something – sociologists in the last few decades are very interested in how people make decisions that involve symbols, values, and meanings. In a name, parents have a fairly unconstrained choice.

While this is interesting, I want to know more:

1. Even if parents have a lot of choice in choosing names, why have they, as a whole, shifted toward a wider range of names? The article suggests it is indicative of individualism – but why choose to be more individualistic with baby names? How has this happened?

2. Do these new names affect the children’s lives? If parents are giving kids more unique names, are there any consequences to this?

3. Have other countries experienced similar trends? Or is this individualistic trend an American phenomenon?

From pop culture to your baby’s name

An article from the Chicago Tribune examines the impact of pop culture on baby names. According to the story, the names of some of the characters in Twilight have become more popular:

Bella, the name of the love-struck heroine of Stephenie Meyer’s vampire novels, hadn’t quite cracked the Social Security Administration’s list of the top 200 girls’ names in America when the first “Twilight” book was published in 2005. Today, it’s at No. 58, higher than Miley, Kingston or Maddox. Cullen, the last name of Bella’s vampire beau, Edward, is in the top 500 boys’ names for the first time in more than a century.

Other pop culture characters have supposedly influenced naming including Piper from Charmed and Samantha from Bewitched.

To look at the changes in baby names over the years, visit this page from the Social Security Administration. It is very interesting to look at how some names move in and out of popularity.