WTBU Sports staff poll: The 10 Best & Worst team names in American sports

By: Joe Pohoryles

Two major American sports teams from Washington each dropped major news about the status of their respective team names on July 23. In Washington, D.C., the NFL franchise formerly known as the Redskins announced it would go by the Washington Football Team for the 2020 season, giving the organization more time to decide on a permanent name for 2021 and beyond.

In Washington state, the Seattle NHL expansion franchise announced its name as it prepares to take the ice in the 2021-22 season: the Seattle Kraken. The hockey world was buzzing over the name as it was so unprecedented and put hockey in Seattle one step closer to reality.

One team loses its name while another gains theirs, and to mark the occasion, nine WTBU Sports staff members contributed to an AP-style poll ranking the 10 best and 10 worst team names in the four major American sports (NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL). These are the results:

The 10 Best Team Names in American Sports

10. Dallas Cowboys (14 points)

Joe Pohoryles: As a Washington Football Team fan, it pains me to admit this, but the Dallas Cowboys objectively have one of the best team names in sports. The city of Dallas itself is far from the Wild West, but the Old West trope and Texas fit wonderfully.

Seth Helman: It fits geographically, and it sounds cool.

T-9. Minnesota Timberwolves (15 points)

Ethan Fuller: The Wolves are a fairly common animal and mascot for sports teams, and Minnesota found an upgrade for their basketball franchise. Timberwolves are native to the larger Great Lakes region, so this team name is not only unique and imposing, but also a specific nod to Minnesota’s wilderness. It’s impressive for a team to pull out a one-of-a-kind nickname when it basically has lakes and woods to work with.

Patrick Donnelly: This one is just cool. Who doesn’t love wolves? 

T-9. Milwaukee Brewers (15 points)

Hannah Yoshinaga: It’s a good name for the region given Milwaukee’s well-known beer industry. It’s also nice to see something that creative and untraditional outside of the Minor League Baseball leagues. 

Donnelly: More love for the geographical and cultural references; this perfectly encapsulates the vibe of the country’s beer capital.

7. Detroit Pistons (17 points)

Pohoryles: With Detroit being the car capital of the country, there aren’t too many names more fitting than the Pistons. It’s versatile in that it can also lean into the animal world by depicting the Mustang horse, something the franchise has done in the past.

Chad Jones: I really like when team names have to do with the cities they play in. The Pistons represent Detroit’s rich history in car manufacturing. 

6. Colorado Avalanche (18 points)

Yoshinaga: It’s always cool when teams have names that don’t end in “s.” There’s also something simultaneously mysterious and intimidating about an avalanche. 

Jones: The Avalanche fits since it’s an act of nature that occurs throughout Colorado. 

5. Seattle Seahawks (22 points; 1 first-place vote)

Dylan Woods: The Seahawks are another mascot that I picture coming into your home with no regard for human life. A seahawk will swoop into your open window, snatch all your expensive jewelry, and slash your throat with its talons on the way out. I’m not even sure a seahawk is a real bird, and we better hope not because eventually those things are coming for the top of the food chain. Either that, or we have to figure out a way to keep them at sea. I can deal with a normal seahawk doing laps in the ocean, but once those things get on land, who knows what will happen next.

Yoshinaga: The name really captures how much of a role the port system and ocean play in the culture of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. Even though a seahawk isn’t a real bird, it’s still a unique name that suits the team well.

Brady Gardner: It’s unique, it’s representative of the city, and it’s an alliteration? 10/10.

4. Baltimore Ravens (23 points; 1 first-place vote)

Pohoryles: There are plenty of bird names out there, but the Ravens have to take the cake. You’ll find Eagles and Falcons at thousands of high schools across the country, but you rarely see any teams use this fierce black bird as a mascot. The name’s reference to the most famous work of Baltimore poet Edgar Allan Poe only makes the name more fitting.

3. New England Patriots (24 points)

Jones: The Patriots work because the name calls back to Boston’s importance during the American Revolution. 

Gardner: If your location was once a group of Revolution-Era colonies, it would be rude not to be “the Patriots”. 

Pohoryles: It may not be the most unique name out there, but it’s far from the most common, and representing the entire New England region, the site of this country’s revolution, the name “Patriots” fits perfectly. 

Donnelly: Synonymous with winning and a reference to the American Revolution, this name just fits.

2. Arizona Diamondbacks (28 points)

Akshai Wadhwani: It’s a really cool name based off of a really cool animal.

Donnelly: I love nods to the geography and nature around a place. Named after a pretty badass snake with a baseball pun woven in, this name is awesome.

1. Seattle Kraken (40 points; 4 first-place votes)

Helman: Seattle is a city on the water and the people behind Seattle’s NHL expansion team did an amazing job of paying homage to that heritage. I highly suggest reading their website that goes into detail on how they chose the team name and colors, but aside from the thought that was put into it, the name just sounds cool. You’re named after a giant sea monster and you join the small group of teams not ending in the letter “s”. A+ for creativity.

Pohoryles: For a major port city that has “sea” in its name, an intimidating squid monster makes for a perfect name/mascot. It’s fresh, fitting and fun; those who don’t agree can go back to yelling at clouds.

Donnelly: Maybe I’m still riding the wave of the team announcement and jersey drop, but this name rocks. Add in the jokes and wordplay for the fanbase and arena that can come out of it, on top of the buzz around the team, and you’ve got a home run. It also helps that the jerseys are fire.

Woods: I guess I just like the Seattle names. There is no recency bias with this pick. I don’t care what anybody says. The Seattle Kraken have the best name in sports before even playing a game, and it might not even be close. According to Oxford, a Kraken is “an enormous mythical sea monster said to appear off the coast of Norway.” With all due respect to Oxford, I picture something a little more graphic. To me, a kraken is a destroyer squid ready to come and kill half the population of a summer beach town. You don’t want to mess with a kraken, and even still it might rip your tonsils out and eat them as an appetizer for pure pleasure. Guaranteed they will have the league’s best defense and top the NHL in penalty minutes by the year 2023 or you can have your money back.

Others receiving votes (min. 11 points):

San Diego Padres (11 points)

Houston Rockets (11 points)

On every ballot, the Seattle Kraken were either ranked first or not listed at all among the 10 best teams. Additionally, 45 other teams received at least one vote in the best names category, but most totaled 10 points or fewer.

Now on to the worst teams:

The 10 Worst Team Names in American Sports

T-10. Nashville Predators (16 points; 1 first-place vote)

Yoshinaga: When I think of the word “predator,” a sports mascot isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Enough people have negative associations with the word “predator” that frankly, it’s an inappropriate name.

Wadhwani: It’s one of the worst because it makes phrases such as “My son/daughter just loves the Predators” acceptable to say.

T-10. San Francisco 49ers (16 points)

Pohoryles: I understand the regional significance, and it’s certainly unique, but that doesn’t necessarily make it cool. Numbers/years as a team name? I never understood the appeal. The franchise has a rich history, but the name is just dumb.

Gardner: Some love it, some hate it… sorry, I’m just not a fan of a team named after a year.

T-10. Montreal Canadiens (16 points)

Wadhwani: Naming your team after a group of people never ends well. Just ask the Washington Football Team.

Helman: It’s uncreative.

T-10. Minnesota Wild (16 points)

Jones: The Wild does attempt to honor Minnesota’s many National Parks, but comes off as an awkward team name. 

Pohoryles: While Minnesota owns one of the best logos in the NHL, its team name is lackluster. It fits the region, but they could have gone with something better and less vague than just the “Wild.” What is the “Wild” even supposed to be? The woods? The animals in it? All of the above? It’s just not a good name.

T-8. Orlando Magic (17 points)

Jones: The Magic is too goofy of a name for a professional team. 

Donnelly: Another lazy one. I guess Disney World is there, but come on. The Magic just doesn’t really make me think of winning, but maybe that’s just historical bias.

T-8. Washington Nationals (17 points; 1 first-place vote)

Fuller: What is a National? It’s not a political figure or a state capital reference. Merriam-Webster essentially defines a National as an informal term for a citizen of a country. That’s got about as much pizzazz as whole wheat bread.

Gardner: You don’t get a free pass on this either! Even something corny like the Eagles would be better than this.

7. Philadelphia 76ers (18 points)

Gardner: See: the 49ers. Get a new schtick.

Pohoryles: Just reread what I wrote for the San Francisco 49ers. It directly applies.

T-5. Oakland Athletics (20 points)

Gardner: Are you an Athletic Club, like European soccer (sorry, football) teams? Or are your players “Athletics”? I’m lost.

Jones: The Athletics are too simple and not creative at all.

Donnelly: As much as I love the A’s color scheme and throwback jerseys, their name is just a let down. I mean, of course they’re athletic – it’s a professional sports franchise for crying out loud.

T-5. Utah Jazz (20 points)

Yoshinaga: This name worked when the team played in New Orleans, but not anymore. 

Wadhwani: Jazz is a music genre, not a plural noun. If you want to argue against that, then give me a reason why the NHL shouldn’t add the Boise Folktronica to next year’s Central Division.

Donnelly: The Jazz monicker should have stayed in New Orleans, enough said.

4. Brooklyn Nets (21 points; 1 first-place vote)

Pohoryles: The Nets name was chosen in part because it rhymes with two other New York teams: the Jets (cool name) and the Mets (not so much). It was also chosen because basketball is played with a net… this should not be how a team is named. Imagine a football team called the Endzones or a baseball team called the Home Plates. The solidarity would be cooler if the New York market had only the Jets and Mets to root for, but with the Giants, Knicks and Yankees there for fans to choose from as well, it sort of defeats the purpose.

Donnelly: I appreciate the effort in relating things to basketball, but it’s just so unoriginal.

3. Cleveland Browns (41 points; 2 first-place votes)

Helman: They named the team after poop and, well, that’s how they play. Maybe think of something that doesn’t make people want to throw up and you’ll play better.

Jones: The Browns (and Reds) are literally just colors.

Donnelly: Another one that just puzzles me. As a kid, I always thought they were just for the color brown, but after learning the name is for franchise legend Paul Brown, I still don’t get it. Like, you’re the Browns, but your most identifiable color is orange? And why name a team for a person?

Woods: It may be hard to differentiate the name from the state of the franchise, but the Browns have got to have one of the most god-awful names in sports. Initially, they were named after head coach/owner Paul Brown, so I guess it makes a little bit of sense. But when I think of the Browns I immediately think of something else that is the color brown, and that is poop. The Browns represent poop with their mascot, level of play, and organizational hierarchy. Turns out Paul Brown didn’t have the foresight to realize that one day most people would forget about his last name and just focus on the word, which is the color of human waste that a sports team is now named after.

2. The Washington Football Team (42 points; 1 first-place vote)

Pohoryles: There isn’t much to say about a team with no name. It’s just bland. With a proper rebrand, Washington could escape from this basement, but for now, it sits among the worst. I personally believe ‘Redwolves’ would vault them into top 10 territory because, as Patrick Donnelly pointed out, who doesn’t love wolves? Maybe I’m biased, but it would at least be better than nothing.

Donnelly: I mean this speaks for itself. Of course Washington had to drop the old name, but why not just go on a blackout or social media hiatus until they hammer it out? Now they’ve become even more of a laughing stock.

Woods: This name may be as bland as a piece of white toast, but at least it gets the point across: There is a team in Washington (well, not quite Washington) that plays football. Dummies across America finally know of one sports team that exists. At least for that, I will not put them as the worst name in sports. But for now, as Dan Snyder sifts through copyright paperwork, the team formerly known as the Redskins continues to make themselves look like garbage. The Washington Poverty-Stricken Earthquake Victims actually has a nice ring to it. And I’m sure no one has put in a trademark claim for that yet.

1. Cleveland Indians (48 points; 3 first-place votes)

Woods: If you take half a step back and realize that a baseball team is named the Indians, then you will start to realize how crazy the first half of this sentence is. A baseball team is named the Indians. Nope, they couldn’t go with some bland name like the Lions or something that Cleveland is famous for, like the LeBrons. Instead, they dove into the uncharted waters of naming your team after a group of people. And not the “Buccaneers” or the “Pirates” or something like that. They named their team based on a nationality, and not even the nationality that any of the players are from or where they play their games. The Cleveland Belgians would make as much sense. What went into the selection of this name I cannot even begin to fathom. What should we name our team after? Oh I don’t know, how about those people that live halfway across the world that five hundred years ago we actually thought lived here? That’ll do.

Yoshinaga:  It’s 2020. There’s no call for having your mascot be an ethnicity, especially when that mascot is an offensive misnomer to begin with. 

Pohoryles: The Redskins would have earned top prize (or I guess, lowest prize?), but now that that name is no more, it goes to the next name under scrutiny. The team’s longtime logo, Chief Wahoo, was the most egregious in pro sports, and it was only retired in 2018. A group of marginalized people shouldn’t be used as mascots, especially not with an outdated term and a degrading logo. Even in a vacuum, the name “Indians” just isn’t a cool-sounding name for a sports team. Reverting to the “Cleveland Spiders” would easily move them into the top five best names.

Others receiving votes (Min. 11 points):

Washington Wizards (13 points)

Philadelphia Phillies (12 points)

Cincinnati Reds (11 points)

19 teams received points on both the best and worst names list:

San Diego Padres (Best- 11 pts, Worst- 3 pts); Orlando Magic (Best-10 pts, Worst- 17 pts); Philadelphia Phillies (Best-9 pts, Worst-12 pts); Toronto Maple Leafs (Best- 9 pts, Worst- 5 pts); New Orleans Saints (Best- 9 pts, Worst- 4 pts); Washington Capitals (Best- 6 pts, Worst- 9 pts); Tampa Bay Rays (Best- 6 pts, Worst- 6 pts); Nashville Predators (Best- 6 pts, Worst- 16 pts); New York Yankees (Best- 5 pts, Worst- 8 pts); Minnesota Twins (Best- 5 pts, Worst- 5 pts); Oklahoma City Thunder (Best- 5 pts, Worst- 6 pts); Denver Nuggets (Best- 5 pts, Worst- 1 pt); St. Louis Blues (Best- 4 pts, Worst- 3 pts); The Washington Football Team (Best- 4 pts, Worst- 42 pts); San Francisco 49ers (Best- 3 pts, Worst- 16 pts); Kansas City Royals (Best- 2 pts, Worst- 7 pts); Vegas Golden Knights (Best- 2 pts, Worst- 2 pts); Washington Wizards (Best- 1 pt, Worst- 13 pts); Los Angeles Lakers (Best- 1 pt, Worst- 7 pts)

Do you agree with the picks? Let us know who got snubbed.

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