geoffrey gauchet

On Renaming the New Orleans Hornets

Updated 12/4/2012 below

Years and years ago, New Orleans had a professional basketball team named the New Orleans Jazz. A fantastic name for a sports team in this city as it referenced a musical styling that was birthed (at least in part) within its limits. Then, the team moved out to Utah, where they don’t even allow music, from what I understand and we had no pro-basketball for a while.

Then we got the Hornets from Charlotte and hooray! The Hornets, while a fierce-sounding name, doesn’t fit within New Orleans though. Never mind the fact that hornets don’t really infest our city, that’s not even what the name means. 

The Hornets, while in Charlotte, got the name as a reference to Lord Cornwallis describing Charlotte, NC’s resistance to the British invasion during the Revolutionary War as a “veritable hornets nest”. The name was previously used for a minor league baseball team in Charlotte. 

So, as you can see, the name means more to Charlotte than it does to us.

But New Orleans jumped on the insect-related puns and used that. The problem is, there are literally a few hornet-related puns the organization could have used — “horn-ets” because of the brass instruments used in jazz ensembles here; “horn-nets” as in basketball nets — but the franchise decided instead to do nothing but bee-related puns which makes absolutely no sense since bees and hornets aren’t even in the same family. That’d be like using a bunch of bear-related puns if the mascot was a koala. (Koalas are marsupials, not bears. That’s the joke.) 

For instance, hornets live in nests, not hives, as the New Orleans Arena is sometimes called. When good defense is needed during a game, the crowd chants “Bee-fense!”. The email newsletter for the team is called “Bee-Mail”. The horribly wrong list goes on.

So after Saints-owner Tom Benson bought the Hornets and announced he wanted to change the name and branding for the team, I was ecstatic. Finally, a name that represents the city and isn’t entomologically wrong.

Obviously an announcement such as that sparked the creative juices of the hive mind (yeah, I did it) and the suggestions for names flowed like honey from a hornet’s nest.

Look, I get it — people always want to be clever and funny. That’s how I spend 87% of my day (“87” sounds more clever than “90”. That’s a free tip from me to you.) There’s nothing wrong with throwing out a name for the team here and there. And there’s nothing wrong with local radio shows having people call in and suggest their latest id-bee-a.

Actually, there is because all of your ideas are horrible.

Here is a list of actual suggestions from real human beings that thought these up and still let their brain send a signal to their facial muscles and their lungs that these words should exit their bodies.

There’s hundreds more, I’m sure, but I almost joined my buddy Jacob Mayer at the top of the Superdome to jump off of it from reading more comments on the subject.

Aside from most of these just being terrible, they’re all New Orleans clichés. This city has a problem with latching onto its clichés and exploiting them until I’m sick of them, like the New Orleans equivalent of the hipster craft mantra of “put a bird on it” that is “put a fleur de lis on it”. And it’s not that there’s anything really wrong with doing that. T-shirt sales from one of 47 local t-shirt shops prove that we love that sort of shit. But the problem is that everyone’s forgetting one thing: it has to make sense to the rest of the NBA-watching country and the media reporting on these teams.

While the Charlotte definition of “Hornets” was a Revolutionary War reference, to the rest of the country, it was a mean and dangerous insect. It made sense and it worked and no one needed a lesson on what a Hornet was. Could you imagine watching a broadcast of a New Orleans basketball team’s game if their name was “Flambeaux”? “Flam-bee-ox”. “Flambox”. “Falmebox”. Pronunciation alone would be a trainwreck, never mind the fact that no one would know what the hell a flambeaux  is.

Look, New Orleans, every one knows we’re unique and quirky and don’t really fit in everywhere. Do we really need to restate that 82 times every year with a shitty team name?

And then there’s the inverted word order names. “Krewe of New Orleans”, “Port of New Orleans”. They’re cute, sure, but it’s awkward. Anaheim tried it with their hockey team. They were The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim for years (mostly because Disney wanted their trademark to be said first) but now, everyone just calls them the Anaheim Ducks (partly because Disney sold the team, but people called them The Ducks anyway). People get lazy. They don’t like change. Krewe of New Orleans would become New Orleans Krewe. Port of New Orleans would eventually become New Orleans Port, which sounds even worse.

The name has to be something that means something to the city, of course, but also be something the rest of the country “gets” and is maybe a bit more subtle.

“Hey, we have a lot of oak trees here! Name the team New Orleans Oak Trees!” is an awful, awful thought that an actual adult conjured.  I get it — our oak trees are beautiful and the way they canopy streets like St. Charles is majestic — but “Oak Trees” is a terrible name. New Orleans Oaks sounds marginally better and is less obvious. And trees have been team names. Standford University’s mascot is the cardinal, which is a type of tree and not a bird. (Or it references the color red, but still isn’t about the bird, hence the singular “cardinal” and not “cardinals”). But Oaks still sucks.

Like I said: you can’t pick names just because they mean something to New Orleans. For instance, naming the team New Orleans Debris makes sense to us. Debris is the stuff left over from cooking roast beef (gravy and meat parts!) and we use it to make sandwiches. To the rest of the world, debris is trash or garbage or litter. Things you don’t really want to put in people’s heads about our city.

Speaking of putting bad ideas in people’s heads about our city…

“Hurricanes” isn’t that terrible of a name, and it may get shortened to “Canes”, which reminds me of sugar cane, so that’s not bad. But while we reflect on Katrina as a sad time but also a chance to rebuild and revive and restart, the rest of America just remembers a guy walking around with a bin full of Heneiken and stories of rape and murder in the Superdome and a bunch of people that should’ve known better than to live below sea level. To sum it up: Katrina reminds people that they hate New Orleans, but more importantly, they hate New Orleanians. Do we really want a team name that evokes those thoughts and ideas?

Aside from drinking, voodoo, and throwing beads 365 days a year if we take our tops off, New Orleans is about music. That’s why Jazz worked. The two best names I’ve heard so far are centered around music — New Orleans Rhythm and New Orleans Bounce. Rhythm is self explanatory. Bounce sounds fun. Bounce is a crazy style of music pioneered in the 1980s (and pretty much only performed) here in New Orleans. Names like DJ Jubilee (“What’s the name o’ yo’ schoo-ool?!”) and Big Freedia are often thrown around with the genre. It’s slowly getting recognized across the country. I’m not a big fan, but it’s part of our culture. And, also, basketballs bounce. It works and makes sense. The rest of the country will interpret it as the basketball bounce and understand the word. 

I’ve also seen New Orleans Revelers and I’m not opposed to that name either. It sounds like a soccer team name, but it could work for an NBA team.

There’s a reason there are people that get paid handsome salaries to name and brand products (a sports team is a product. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.). That reason is that they’re a little bit better at it than you are.

In the end, there will probably be some sort of vote that may or may not go to the public on a website or something. There will probably be 5 or 6 names, all of which will be awful, except for one that will be somewhat less awful and you’ll vote for it, but no one else will and then we’ll get to hear Rob Nice begging us to cheer “For your… Krewe. of. New Orleans!”

I hate all of you.

UPDATE: One of the Hornets fan forums picked up this post. I’m not really going to comment on their comments because commenting on comments opens a void in the Internet and then we’ll all be dead and Skynet will rule the Earth. However, I will tackle one thing: I didn’t offer any of my own suggestions because it’s not my job to. Check out the 3rd-to-last paragraph in my post: “There’s a reason there are people that get paid handsome salaries to name and brand products (a sports team is a product. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.). That reason is that they’re a little bit better at it than you are.” That applies to me as well. I’m not in advertising or marketing so I’m not going to pretend I’d come up with a good name.

I will gladly tell you that your opinion is wrong though.

UPDATE 2: I forgot to mention, and with the topic coming back up this week, that I am a big fan of naming the team the Pelicans. For one, our state bird is the brown pelican, and also it’d be an homage to our former baseball team of the same name. In fact, Tom Benson owns the rights to the Pelicans name, making this a slam dunk (YUP!) of a name.


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