The Violets Problem: What’s In A Mascot Name?

Last week, the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets announced that they would be switching their team name to the New Orleans Pelicans. Pelicans? Why would a name as intense as the Hornets be revoked for the Pelicans? The answer is that Tom Benson, New Orleans’ resident billionaire, owns the Hornets. When he purchased the Hornets last season, he wanted to give them a name that would tie them to New Orleans. The Pelican is the state bird of Louisiana. Additionally, there have been various teams in New Orleans known as the Pelicans over the years (the last being the Triple A baseball team in 1977). Now that the Hornets will be known as the Pelicans, the Charlotte Bobcats might take the name Hornets (the Hornets first home was in Charlotte before they moved to New Orleans).

This past fall, NYU was facing a name crisis of its own. NYU’s athletic teams have been known as the Violets for over 100 years. During an Inter Residence Hall Council meeting, the name Trail Blazers was proposed as a switch because the NYU seal is a man running (and blazing a trail). According to Carlyle Court’s Hall Council President Rob Varon, “The concept was a little flawed and those proposing the new name thought this would bring unity. However, I thought it was a little too extreme. Not many other schools in the country have their seal as their name. For example, the Ohio State University’s seal is not a buckeye but their teams are known as the Buckeyes.”

The good news is that NYU is not switching the name anytime soon. But New Orleans and NYU aren’t the only teams that have interesting backstories for their names and mascots.

Chicago, a huge Midwestern financial center known for its bull and bear markets, has a football team known as the Chicago Bears and a basketball team known as the Chicago Bulls. However, neither team’s name originates from the financial aspect. The Bears derived their name from the baseball team, the Chicago Cubs, in 1922. When the Bulls were preparing to enter the NBA, owner Richard Klein was trying to think of a name that would tie the team to the city’s origins in meat packing. He originally thought of Matadors or Toreadors but did not want his team to have a three-syllabled name. His son responded, “Dad, that’s a bunch of bull!” and the name Bulls stuck.

The Las Vegas 51’s of the Pacific Coast League, the Triple A baseball affiliate of the New York Mets, take their name from the military base, Area 51, located 80 miles north of Las Vegas. Their logo on their hat is a grey alien, which makes light of the rumored aliens thought to inhabit the military base.

The Milwaukee Brewers of Major League Baseball are known as the Brewers due to the brewing industry for which Milwaukee is famous.

The New Jersey Devils of the National Hockey League are known as the Devils due to the urban legend of the “Jersey Devil.” As the story goes, a witch gave birth to a half man, half beast, which terrorized New Jersey’s Pine Barrens. The story is often considered the East Coast version of the Bigfoot.

And NYU is not the only college with a unique nickname. Others include the Stanford Cardinal which many think refers to the bird, while in fact, the name in fact refers to the color of the university’s jerseys, cardinal red. And the UC Santa Cruz sports teams are known as the Banana Slugs, named for the famous inhabitants of its forest-filled campus.

Alas, the NYU Violets might not be the most fearsome name in the college athletic ranks. However, with over 100 years of history attached to it, the name Violets is here to stay.

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One Comment

  • Sol Wahba
    February 2, 2013

    Great article!!

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