- Photo illustration: Lisa Tate

"Innovative" Team Names

Today, it seems sports teams are often the target of controversy, but you can't go wrong celebrating innovation and machinery.

25w ago

Every few years, people to begin changing, cancelling, and challenging what they deem as unsavory professional sports teams names, but if they want to avoid controversy all together, my suggestion is just naming teams that celebrate mechanical "things that go" and the innovative industries that support them.

Here are some professional sports team names taken from fast-moving, high flying, heavy hitting machines, and those who make them:

Detroit Pistons

How can you not pay homage one of the important parts of motors in Motor City? Detroit’s NBA basketball team name actually pre-dates their life in Detroit. They stated way back in 1941, as the Fort Wayne (Indiana) “Zollner Pistons,” because their first owner, Fred Zollner, named them after himself and his own piston manufacturing company. When they moved to Detroit in the 1950s, Pistons was still a perfect fit in a city known for its automobile industry.

New York Jets

There are several professional sports teams in the New York area, and the NFL's Jets football team started in 1959 as the Titans of New York (one of the original AFL teams). When they moved to Shea Stadium in the mid 1960s, the name “Jets” was adopted. This was an obvious choice at the time, due to Shea’s location near New York’s LaGuardia Airport.

There is another “Jets” team in professional sports, the National Hockey League, Winnipeg Jets. Like jet planes, they moved around a bit. The original Jets moved to Arizona in the 1990s to become the Phoenix Coyotes, but a new Winnipeg Jets franchise was formed in 1999. Some sports sites say the team was named after a Western League team of the same name, but according to NHL’s official site, the team was named “Jets” because its owner was a big New York Jets fan. Fortunately, Winnipeg is a hub of the Royal Canadian Air Force, so it worked out fine in the end.

Detroit Red Wings

The name of this long-time NHL hockey team doesn’t directly refer to the automobile industry. Like many teams, they went through other names during their first years (Cougars, Falcons), and when they were purchased by James Norris in 1932, they became the “Winged Wheelers” after a hockey club to which Norris once belonged. The “Red Wings” logo, however, includes the wheel to celebrate Detroit’s automotive industry.

Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames

Both these teams today have an oil industry connection (much like the former NFL football team, Houston Oilers), although Edmonton’s is most straightforward. Edmonton is the “oil capital of Canada.” Easy enough. The Calgary Flames name, however, is more indirect. Like many new teams, there was a “name the team contest,” when they begin in Atlanta Georgia in the 1970s. The winning name, “Flames” actually referred to the burning of Atlanta during the Civil War. Thankfully, when the team moved to Calgary, the meaning of the name was modified to give a shoutout the area as an oil region.

Houston Rockets and Astros

Houston's NBA basketball team, The Rockets, originated in San Diego, Calif. in 1967 and there was contest to name them, as well. Rockets won out, because San Diego was part of a fast-growing space industry. The team moved to Houston in the early 1970s, but the name is still fitting since Houston is home to NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center.

Similarly, Houston’s MLB baseball team, The Astros, was named in 1965 also an homage to Houston space age industry, although they started out three years earlier as the Houston Colt .45s.

West Ham United “Hammers”

This Premier League football team is not only a good play on the “West Ham” name, but it goes back before that. West Ham was once called the Thames Ironworks with many of its players coming from the shipbuilding industry, with hammers being a common tool of the trade.

Pittsburgh Steelers

This NFL American football team was first called the “Pirates” when it was founded in 1933 (now used by Pittsburgh’s baseball ), but the team underwent bit of a reinvention in 1939. As such, yet another “name the team” contest was held in the local newspaper, and “Steelers” beat out several other suggestions as an homage to the Pittsburgh’s steel mill industry. The logo is even based on the American Iron and Steel Institute’s logo showing the three materials needed to create steel: Coal (yellow), Iron Ore (orange/red), Steel Scrap (blue).

In today’s world when we all try too hard not to offend anyone, you still can’t go wrong with celebrating the ingenuity of the mechanically inclined.

What other innovative sports teams belong on this list, professional or minor league? Also, what do you think would be a great “things that go” themes sports team?

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Comments (2)

  • Most people got no problem with 95% of team names. The only ones people got problems with are the redskins name (which has now been changed) and the Cleveland Indians mascot, both of which are just straight up racist 🤷‍♂️ like the redskins was never even a good name to begin with so I’m glad they’ve changed it. Look to the Chiefs for a more classy approach to Native American based team names

      5 months ago