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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Basic Biittner : What's in a (nick) name?

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Congratulations to the University of South Carolina, which won their second straight College World Series in Omaha on Tuesday night.

South Carolina, like most schools, has a team nickname/mascot, which in their case is the Gamecocks.

What is a gamecock, you might ask? No, it's not that thing that one bats back and forth in a badminton match - that's a shuttlecock. Before you get your mind to wandering to places where it maybe shouldn't go, I will tell you what a gamecock is. A gamecock, or game fowl, is "a type of rooster with physical and behavioral traits suitable for cockfighting." Though the folks at PETA may object, that indeed is what the University of South Carolina's long-time nickname is.

Have you evered wondered about about some other team nicknames? I'm not talking here about Lions,Tigers and Bears (Oh My!), because we all know what those are. No, I'm talking about some of the other nicknames which draw a "Huh?" response from sports fans.

Take the Georgetown University Hoyas, for example. A "hoya," it turns out, is a species of tropical climbing plants, native to southern Asia, Australia, and Polynesia. Common names for this genus are waxplant, waxvine, waxflower or simply hoya. This genus was named by botanist Robert Brown, in honor of his friend, botanist Thomas Hoy. So those fierce Hoya teams of Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Allen Iverson and Coach John Thompson are named after a waxy plant? Who knew?

Then there is Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. The University's main claim to fame for years was that they were the Alma Mater of famed crooner/actor Bing Crosby. A few decades later, one of the great all-time point guards in NBA history, John Stockton, came out of Gonzaga, and in recent years, the school's men's basketball team has become somewhat of a power. Though the team is often referred to as the Zags, that's just a shortened version of Gonzaga. Their real nickname is the Bulldogs.

And how about the University of Maryland Terrapins? A terrapin, in case you didn't know, is a species of turtle, native to the coastal swamps of the eastern and southern United States. So the Maryland Terrapins, or Terps, as they are sometimes referred to, have a turtle for a mascot. Not really inspirational, is it?

Sportswriters, particularly in baseball, have often coined "alternate" nicknames for teams. For example, the New York Yankees are often referred to as the Bronx Bombers, the Pinstripes, and a few names I can't mention in a family newspaper; the Chicago Cubs are sometimes affectionately referred to as the Cubbies or Bruins; the White Sox are also known as the Pale Hose, etc. Before the Houston Astros took that nickname (after they moved into the Astrodome), they were known for a brief time as the Colt .45s, in honor of their Wild West image. People must have gotten a little uncomfortable with that, though, because they quickly became known as simply the Colts, as in a male horse. A similar situation arose when the NBA's Baltimore/Washington Bullets underwent a nickname change to the Wizards, when some Washingtonians became uncomfortable with the nickname's connection with violence.

Anyway, back to "two-nickname" teams. Georgia Tech University is the Yellowjackets, named of course after the bumblebee. An old fight song, the Ramblin' Wreck of Georgia Tech," though, has led some writers to refer to them as the Ramblin' Wreck (especially in 'down' years?).

Notre Dame is (are?) the Irish, but they are just as often referred to as the Fighting Irish.

You might ask, what is a Buckeye? The nickname/mascot of THE Ohio State University is not some vicious fighting animal, but rather a tree. Or perhaps the nickname derives from the Buckeye chicken, which is a breed that originated in Ohio. Buckeye is also a type of butterfly found in the U.S. and Canada, so I guess you can take your pick. With what is going on with the school's football program right now, the butterfly might be a better team symbol at this point - at least until the troops can be re-stocked, so to speak.

Okay, we took care of Buckeyes. How about another Big Ten team with a similar nickname - our own beloved Iowa Hawkeyes? Well, the term "Hawkeye" has nothing to do with the hawk. The term originally appeared in James Fenimore Cooper's 1826 book 'The Last of the Mohicans,' as a nickname for character Natty Bumpo. It was later used, in its plural form, to describe the people of Iowa (for some reason), and the University of Iowa then adopted it as the nickname for its athletic teams.

I guess we Hawkeye fans should be grateful that the team did not come to be known as the Nattys, Bumpos, or Natty Bumpos!

Before I close, though, I'm certainly not going to let my Iowa State friends off the nickname/mascot hook. The ISU athletic teams' nickname, of course, is the Cyclones, and that's pretty descriptive and understandable, much like the Miami Hurricanes and Storm Lake Tornadoes.

Unlike most of the other teams we've mentioned, though (with the exceptions of Georgetown and Ohio State), the team's mascot has nothing to do with its nickname. Since it would be awfully hard to dress up someone in a Cyclone suit to parade around the field or court, I can certainly understand that. But the "Cy the Cyclone" mascot seems to me to be a more suitable (pardon the pun) outfit for the Gamecocks' mascot.

I'm just sayin' ...

Dan Whitney
Basic Biittner