On Tuesday, Yahoo! Sports reported that the New Orleans Hornets will change their name to the Pelicans for the 2013-14 NBA season. The team has not confirmed the report, meaning that this is likely a trial balloon to see how well the name catches on in the public.
Based on early internet reaction, that balloon would seem to be deflating. Everywhere you look, someone seems to be poking fun at the Pelicans.
But you know what? I think Pelicans is a fine nickname, and I hope Tom Benson sticks to his guns with the change.
For one, it is refreshing to see a newly-branded pro sports team in this era with a plural noun for a name. Magic? Heat? Thunder? Every name in the WNBA? I’ve had enough of that stuff.
You may note that “Hornets” already fits this description. The trouble with that nickname is most people still associate it with Charlotte.
Say “Hornets basketball” and the first thing that comes to mind is Larry Johnson, Muggsy Bogues and Alonzo Mourning hooping it up in teal. There is a movement in Charlotte for the current franchise to get the name back — the Bobcats were named for team founder Bob Johnson, who didn’t exactly do anything worth getting named for. New Orleans seems willing to play ball with Charlotte getting the Hornets name back.
It has also been noted that a pelican is not a particularly fierce bird, but how violent are cardinals or orioles? No one has any issue with those team names, though both have existed for well over a century. The same is true for the Pelicans — New Orleans’ minor league baseball teams were known as the Pelicans from 1887-1959, with a temporary one-year return in 1977.
The last incarnation of the Pelicans is notable for a couple of reasons. They were a minor-league team that played in the Superdome. They also produced a pair of future major league managers — Jim Riggleman and Tony La Russa.
Are there cooler nickname possibilities than the Pelicans? Obviously. Anything with such a goofy-looking bill will always be viewed somewhat comically. But the pelican is Louisiana’s state symbol, and hasn’t been laughed off the flag or the state seal just yet.
Plus, let’s be serious — we’re talking about a league where a team was named after a dinosaur in Jurassic Park, and not even the kind that ate Wayne Knight. And where Jazz play in Utah. And where Lakers, whatever a Laker is, play in Los Angeles. Honestly, Lakers is probably the worst nickname in sports, and it isn’t even close. We’re just used to it. We can get used to Pelicans, too.