As naming professionals, we’re always searching for inspiration. Sparks of naming creativity can pop up in the most unexpected places, stimulating our own creative process. We’ve recently found such a stimulus in a surprising area: minor league baseball.
The Depressing State of Major League Baseball Naming
First, let me rant a bit about naming in Major League Baseball. The recent expansions and moves offered opportunities for naming brilliance, and all we got was disappointingly humdrum names. It doesn’t take much creativity, after all, to name teams after vaguely menacing animals. Apparently all of the ferocious or interesting animals were taken, either in baseball or other sports, so we ended up with the Marlins and the Devil Rays. Of course, they renamed the Devil Rays to just the Rays, making it even less evocative. Miami is one of the most exciting, diverse, and culturally rich cities in the United States. Saddling them with a dull name like the Marlins is just bad marketing. Calling a team in the National League the Nationals is just silly and dull; maybe the Senators sounds old-fashioned, but at least it has some style to it.
Earlier naming efforts were equally unimpressive. Why name a team the Mariners when there’s already a team called the Pirates? Perhaps the Astros seemed like a cool and futuristic name at the time, but now it just feels vague and tired. Rangers is a nice enough name, but Padres is just odd. I don’t know, maybe Expos is cool in French Canadian, but in American English, it suggests nothing of interest.
Giving credit where credit is due, Diamondbacks is a pretty good name for an Arizona team, and personally I think Rockies is a great name for a team in Colorado. Those team names say something about where the teams are from. creating a strong brand identity. Solid naming choices, to be sure, but nothing to spark the imagination.
The Amazing Variety in Minor League Names
If you want to see some real variety and creativity, you have to look to minor league baseball. That’s where local creativity and truly local brand identity really shines. For instance, Pensacola, Florida has the Blue Wahoos. That’s a fish, just like the Marlins, but who would want to be a Marlins or Rays fan when you could root for the Wahoos?
Even a team like the Auburn, New York Doubledays, located near Cooperstown and the Hall of Fame, has a meaningful name which leads to a strong brand. There is more to naming than ferocious animals, after all. The Tulsa, Oklahoma Drillers have a similarly well-chosen name that sounds strong and powerful and pulls on local spirit and pride. Allentown, Pennsylvania has the IronPigs and Omaha, Nebraska has the Storm Chasers. These are interesting names that pull on the personal experiences of the fans.
My personal favorites are the cat and dog names. There are the New Britain, Connecticut Rock Cats and the Midland, Texas Rockhounds. A similar pairing are the Charleston, South Carolina River Dogs and the Sacramento, California River Cats. Lincoln, Nebraska has the Saltdogs. Best of all are the Batavia, New York Muckdogs. Now that’s a team I’d be proud to root for!
Evocative Names Inspire Strong Brand Identities
These evocative minor league teams inspire powerful logos that leave a strong impression. Compare the Muckdog or River Cat logo to the Rays or the Mariners or the Nationals and you see the difference clearly. Part of the issue is that minor league teams have more leeway to be audacious. But the main point is that you can’t design an exciting logo for a boring name. If the name lacks character, the entire brand identity will lack character as well.
The Benefits of Taking a Chance in Branding
If you want to generate excitement and real loyalty, a name that speaks to your customers on a personal level is more likely to succeed. The minor league teams seem to get that, and their naming and branding reflect that. The major league, teams, though, are too afraid to take risks, and their branding suffers for it.