They say the only constant is change, and it seems that even applies to the nicknames of sports teams, both pro, and college. Recently, Washington, D.C.'s and Edmonton, Alberta’s football teams announced they would adopt new nicknames, abandoning Redskins and Eskimos, respectively. Cleveland’s baseball team is also seriously considering a new nickname.
Many fans are upset, feeling it is an affront to tradition and the teams’ long histories. However, over the years, many pro sports teams have changed nicknames for various reasons. Not all had the long history of Washington’s or Edmonton’s football teams, or Cleveland’s baseball team, of course. However, the nicknames were changed with very little fuss.
The Boston Braves became the Boston (later Washington) Redskins
The Redskins started in 1932 in Boston with the almost-as- controversial name, Braves. They played their home games in the same ballpark as baseball’s Boston Braves. However, when they moved in with the Red Sox in 1933, the nickname was changed. In 1937 the team moved to Washington, D.C.
The Washington Nationals became the Washington Senators
The original Washington Senators were established in 1901. In 1905, they changed their name to the Nationals. Some fans and journalists still called them the Senators, while others went with Nationals. The names were used interchangeably until 1956 when the official name was changed back to Senators. After the 1960 season, they moved to Minnesota and became the Twins.
Washington Bullets became the Washington Wizards
Washington, D.C. sports teams sure like to change names, and the city’s basketball team is no exception. Washington’s NBA team started in 1961 as the Chicago Packers before they changed the nickname to Zephyrs in 1962. In 1963, the team moved to Baltimore and was renamed the Bullets. In 1974, they moved to Washington but kept the nickname. In 1997, uncomfortable with the violent connotations associated with the name Bullets, team owner Abe Pollin held a contest to find a new nickname with Wizards being the winner.
Cincinnati Reds became the Cincinnati Redlegs (for a few years)
In April of 1952, Cincinnati Reds general manager Gabe Paul announced the team would henceforth prefer to be called the Redlegs. No immediate reason was given for the change. Later, it was explained that the nickname was closer to the club’s original nickname Red Stockings. Many speculated, though, that the name was changed in reaction to the Red Scare of the time. Senator Joseph McCarthy, and others, tried to expose communists, or Reds, in the government, as well as in Hollywood seemingly tainting the nickname. In 1959, the team went back to being the Reds.
The Memphis Pros became the Memphis Tams, then the Memphis Sounds
The first major league sports franchise to call Memphis home was a basketball team called the Pros. They played in the American Basketball Association (ABA) and arrived in 1970 from New Orleans, where they had spent three seasons as the Buccaneers.
In 1972, the team was sold and subsequently renamed Tams, an acronym for Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi. The logo was a tam O’shanter hat. Two years later, the team was taken over by the league and renamed the Sounds. In 1975, the team moved to Baltimore but disbanded before playing a game.
The Kansas City Wiz became the Wizards, then Sporting Kansas City FC
Charter members of Major League Soccer (MLS), the Kansas City Wiz played their first match in 1996. The following season they were renamed the Wizards after the threat of legal action from the electronics chain known as The Wiz. In 2011, the team became known as Sporting Kansas City, following an MLS trend to use European-style nicknames.
This change did not go as smoothly as the team had hoped. The “Sporting” part was inspired by Iberian clubs that have historically fielded teams in multiple sports. Fans and journalists immediately pointed out the inaccuracy, as management was running only the soccer team. Plans were afoot, as it were, to field lacrosse and rugby squads. Only the latter appeared, making the name of the soccer team technically accurate.
The Denver Rockets became the Denver Nuggets
The Denver Rockets were members of the American Basketball Association (ABA) starting in 1967, the league’s first season. One of the more successful ABA teams, both at the gate and on the court, the team became one of the four clubs absorbed by the rival National Basketball Association (NBA) in 1976.
As early as 1974, there were rumors that some ABA clubs would join the NBA, with the Denver Rockets being one of them. The problem was, there already was a team in the NBA with the same nickname. That team got its start in San Diego in 1967, the same year the Denver Rockets first hit the court. They moved to Houston in 1971. Back in Denver, a name-the-team contest was held, and Nuggets was chosen as the winner.
Houston Colt .45s became the Houston Astros
Houston joined the National League in 1962 with a team called the Colt .45s, a name that was selected from a name-the-team contest. They used that nickname for three seasons. In December 1964, with the team’s new home, the ultra-modern Astrodome, nearing completion, club owner Roy Hofheinz announced the team would henceforth be known as the Astros.
“We think in keeping with the situation in which we are the space capital of the world,” he told the press, “the name was taken from the stars and indicates we are on the ascendency."
The New Orleans Hornets became the New Orleans Pelicans
The New Orleans Hornets were established in 2002 when controversial team owner George Shinn moved the Charlotte Hornets, who began play in 1988. The team was purchased by Tom Benson, owner of the New Orleans Saints of the National Football League in 2012. The first order of business for Benson was changing the name. The new owner wanted something more reflective of New Orleans, and the name Pelicans was adopted for the 2013 season.
With New Orleans’ team now known as the Pelicans, the Hornets name was available for Charlotte’s team to take back. See below.
The Charlotte Bobcats became the Charlotte Hornets
When the Hornets left for New Orleans, Charlotte was promised an expansion team which they received in time for the 2004/05 NBA season. The winning entry in a name-the-team contest, Flight, was discarded by the team’s owners who instead opted for Bobcats, the name they used for the next 10 seasons.
After the original Hornets, who had moved to New Orleans, announced they were changing their nickname to Pelicans, an effort began to return the Hornets name to Charlotte. In 2014, it became official as the Bobcats were renamed the Hornets. Along with the name, Charlotte also got back the franchise history and records dating back to 1988, while the Pelicans reset theirs to start from 2013.