How much does a 21st century city, like San Diego, need a catchy slogan?

A sociologist argues San Diego needs a new slogan for the 21st century:

“San Diego: First City of the 21st Century.”…

Industrial sociologist Walshok, whose book on San Diego as a center of innovation in science, technology and other sectors is due out next year from Stanford University, said this area has a public relations problem — no catchy “narrative” that sells.

“L.A. has the movies, San Francisco has the Gold Rush,” she said. “But I think our capacity to innovate and reinvent is our DNA. That’s what the community has been able to do in the 21st century. It isn’t a process that just happens in the lab. It’s in the ecology of the people, the neighborhoods, the diverse talent … ”

Walshok’s moniker recalls former Mayor Susan Golding’s formulation of a slogan coined in the 1990s, “San Diego: The First Great City of the 21st Century.”

While I get the idea behind the slogan, I’m not sure it really captures the idea of innovation and reinvention.

Looking beyond San Diego, is a slogan necessary for a 21st century city? Does it really encourage business growth from outsiders who see and like the slogan or is it more about people in a community developing a unifying theme that helps bring them together? I suspect it is more of the second. Slogans could help a city establish its own character and this is not unimportant. It might indicate that the local business community has banded together for booster purposes. It could reflect history and aspirations while also highlighting a strength that sets the city apart from other cities. Of course, slogans can be used for marketing purposes but it takes some time and sustained pressure for the concepts to sink in.

Here is a quick summary of a 2005 survey about city nicknames:

In 2005 the consultancy Tagline Guru conducted a small survey of professionals in the fields of branding, marketing, and advertising aimed at identifying the “best” U.S. city slogans and nicknames. Participants were asked to evaluate about 800 nicknames and 400 slogans, considering several criteria in their assessments. The assigned criteria were: whether the nickname or slogan expresses the “brand character, affinity, style, and personality” of the city, whether it “tells a story in a clever, fun, and memorable way,” uniqueness and originality, and whether it “inspires you to visit there, live there, or learn more.”

The top-ranked nickname in the survey was New York City’s “The Big Apple,” followed by “Sin City” (Las Vegas), “The Big Easy” (New Orleans), “Motor City” (Detroit), and “The Windy City” (Chicago). In addition to the number-two nickname, Las Vegas had the top-rated slogan: “What Happens Here, Stays Here.” The second- through fifth-place slogans were “So Very Virginia” (Charlottesville, Virginia), “Always Turned On” (Atlantic City, New Jersey), “Cleveland Rocks!” (Cleveland, Ohio), and “The Sweetest Place on Earth” (Hershey, Pennsylvania).

Outside of Las Vegas, aren’t the more informal nicknames on this list a lot more prominent than the official slogans?

Studying the declining use of nicknames in sports

Nicknames for professional athletes are on the decline – and there are academics to prove it:

But most famous athletes are now best known by their given name. The Yankees won generations of championships with men known as Babe, Iron Horse, Joltin’ Joe, Scooter, Yogi, Catfish and Mr. October. More recently, they won with players named Derek, Mariano and Andy. Alex Rodriguez — A-Rod — has what passes for a nickname these days.

The sociologist James Skipper, author of “Baseball Nicknames: A Dictionary of Origins and Meanings,” found that the use of nicknames peaked before 1920. It has since been in steady decline, dropping quickly in the 1950s.

Using a baseball encyclopedia listing all major league players from 1871 to 1968, Skipper found that 28.1 percent of players had nicknames not derived from their given names. (Lefty, Red and Doc were most popular.) No doubt the percentage has since dipped precipitously.

“The era of the colorful nickname may be over,” Skipper concluded about 30 years ago…

“Their own names now act as brand names,” said Frank Neussel, editor of Names: A Journal of Onomastics, and a University of Louisville professor of modern language and linguistics. “Your identity is not your nickname. It’s your stats.”

I’ve always heard old-timers talk about this downturn in sports nicknames and I have found it difficult to understand what the big fuss is about.

Based on what is said here, here is one possible sociological explanation for this trend: athlete’s names have become McDonaldized in the interest of efficiency and marketing. Single given names, like Shaq or Tiger, seem to be best. More whimsical nicknames might detract from what really is important now: endorsements and championships (which also happen to lead to more endorsements).

Perhaps the litmus test for the average sports fan today is what they think of Chris Berman’s insistence on using crazy nicknames. Since I tend to find him bearable, perhaps this indicates I’m not ready just yet to give up on the more joyful side of sports.

And what do the athletes themselves think of this shift?