What do the clubs say they stand for?
Gold Coast Suns
North Melbourne Kangaroos
Port Adelaide Power
St Kilda Saints
West Coast Eagles
Australian sports team names
What makes a good name for a sporting team? It seems that there is no universal answer different sporting organisations use different kinds of names for different kinds of people. Around the world, soccer clubs have shown a fondness for abstract concepts like United, Galaxy and Cosmos. In Australia, the same pattern has been seen with clubs named after things like Glory, Victory, Roar and even FC. For those not accustomed to soccer’s culture, the abstract names can sound a little from outer space. For example, with their name, was Melbourne Victory afraid that fans might think they aspired to Melbourne Nin-all draw? Was Glory and its purple colour coding a reference to morning glories or glory holes?
While soccer fans like abstract names, AFL supporters seem to like things that can fly. Specifically, birds like Swans, Hawks, Eagles, Magpies, Crows and war machinery like Bombers. They also like felines like Lions, Tigers and Cats. Oddly for an Australian game, the AFL only has one uniquely Australian animal as a moniker, the endangered Kangaroos. It has three slightly abstract names in Power, Suns and Dockers. Religion is not forgotten either, with Demons and Saints appealing to two different kinds of flocks. Ironically, the Saints represent an area of Melbourne traditionally thought of as being inhabited by sinners (prostitutes and drug dealers) while the Demons represent the MCC members, who would consider themselves saints (at least publicly.)
Traditionally, rugby league clubs didn't use monikers, but informerly crowds developed their own names for the clubs and these were even weirder than those used in soccer. Canterbury were the Berries and then became the Country Bumpkins. Parramatta were the Fruit Pickers. Penrith were the Chocolate Soldiers, which probably did wonders to help sales of Freddo Frogs at league games. As marketing theory entered rugby league, these names gave way to the names of foreign animals such as Rabbits, Bears, Panthers, Roosters, Bulldogs, and Tigers. When the league started expanding nationwide, the names of American NFL teams like Raiders, Cowboys, Steelers, Mariners, Titans, Chargers, and Broncos were favoured.
Rugby union clubs like to associate themselves with an Australian image. The NSW team is Waratahs, named after a NSW flower and the ACT team is Brumbies, named after the wild horses of the southern highlands. Victoria uses Rebels with a reference to the Eureka Stockade. The two remaining states, Western Australia and Queensland, used the abstract monikers of Force and Reds respectively.
Overall, most sports have steered clear of Australian animals for their monikers. This can be partly explained due to a cultural cringe, and also because the Australian animals don't usually have intimidating sounding names. For example, animals like wombats seem to conjure images of a cross between a rat and a teddy bear wobbling along. Likewise, quokkas sound like some kind of bizarre religious cult. Perhaps the quoll, the mainland’s largest marsupial predator, is the best example of an animal being overlooked because of the sound of its name. A one syllable name tends to be the domain of herbivores like the cow, horse, or sheep. It is in the second syllable where the predators such as tigers, cobras, lions, and pumas rein supreme. Admittedly, a few predators carry over in the third syllable, such as hyena, crocodile and chimpanzee, but these start to develop a comical edge. Fortunately, one syllable names are better than those in the 4th syllable and above, such as hippopotamus and elephants, as these sound ridiculous. On rare occasions, some predators have been able to get away with a one syllable name, such as shark and hawk, but this is only because the k gives their names an abrupt end. Quoll can just be drawn out far too much, almost like an old man drooling.
While teams representing areas of Australia have generally avoided any kind of Australian image, teams representing Australia have gone for something synonymous with Australia, particularly versions of kangaroos. The rugby union team is the Wallabies, rugby league is the Kangaroos and basketball is the Boomers. Soccer is the Socceroos, and hockey is the Hockeyroos. Australian football sort of has a rep team, which plays against Ireland in hybrid code of Irish rules and Australian rules, but the team is unnamed. This is perhaps is a reflection of the unease some of the AFL officials feel by referring to it as a national team.
Aside from Australian football, men's cricket is the only sport that lacks a name for its national team, which is odd considering that it is the most known and widely supported national team. There have been some informal references to them as Emus by Australian players, and Convicts by English cricket fans. This difference in informal naming shows that how a team would like to be thought of, and how they are actually thought of, are not always one and the same.
Women's sporting teams in Australia seem to like firey names such as Fire, Phoenix, Firebirds and Flames. In addition to the firey names, they also seem to like inclement or extreme weather, such as Thunderbirds, Storm, and Lightening. Maybe the marketers have been trying to convey a a feeling that attending women's sport is a very emotional experience.
Like it has been for men, the national teams for women have also embraced Australian concepts. The national women’s soccer team is the Matildas. This comes from the patriotic song Waltzing Matilda, which tells the story of a suicidal sheep thief that carries a backpack. The women’s national basketball team is the Opals, which comes from Australia’s national gemstone. The women’s rugby league team is the Jilaroos, an Australian word for a female stockman/jackaroo (cowboy). Unlike the men, the women's national cricket team has a name, the Southern Stars.
Although flowers have rarely appealed to women sporting teams, in the past it seemed that they appealed to some men. The Demons were once the Fuscias. The Hawks were once the Mayblooms. It is not really clear what the clubs were hoping to achieve with the names. While the names were stronger than other possibilities, such as tulips or daisies, they were nowhere near as imposing as dandylions or snap dragons.
Cricket has traditionally lacked monikers. In the 90s, state teams were given monikers in order to foster a tribal ethic that could counter the threat of baseball, which was trying to develop a tribal-based summer competition. Queensland became the Bulls. South Australia became the Redbacks (spiders). Victoria became the Bushrangers. Tasmania became the Tigers (an extinct marsupial dog) and Western Australia became the Warriors.
When the Big Bash 20/20 league was established in the naughties, marketers went for the kind of abstract names found in soccer fused with the kind of weather-based names found in women's sport. Perth was named the Scorchers, Brisbane the Heat and one Sydney team was called the Thunder. In a quest for alliteration, a few of the teams came up with names that sounded a little silly. For example, Hobart was named the Hurricanes. It seems Tasmanians didn’t realise that in the southern hemisphere, rotating storms are called cyclones. In another quest for alliteration, one Sydney team called themselves the Sixes, which perhaps devalued the catchers, the spinners, the yorkers, the wrong'uns, the bouncers, the sliders, the throwers, the stoppers, the cutters and even the streakers that also win games of cricket, or at least make cricket interesting.
In recent years, there have also been some examples of clubs trying to change their regional name in order to heighten their appeal. For example, when they were trying to become a Sydney and Melbourne team at the same time, the North Melbourne Kangaroos dropped Melbourne from their name to become the North Kangaroos, then droped North to become the Kangaroos. When their new name alienated themselves from both Sydney and Melbourne, they changed back to the Nth Melbourne Kangaroos. Likewise, the Footscray Bulldogs changed to Western Bulldogs to escape the connotations of the Footscray suburb. The Balmain Tigers changed from Balmain Tigers to Sydney Tigers, reverted to Balmain Tigers, then merged with another club to become the Wests Tigers. The Eastern Suburbs Roosters became the Sydney City Roosters then Sydney Roosters. The Cronulla Sharks became the Sharks then the Cronulla Sharks again.
When founding new clubs from scratch, some marketers have gone for an extremely wide net in the regional naming. The West Coast Eagles was based it Perth but named after the WA coastline so it could represent all of Western Australia. It was an odd move considering that Perth is the only city in WA so the club really shouldn’t have feared alienating some hermits living off in the desert or hippies in a coastal Kombie. The GWS Giants chose not to even represent a place at all, but instead used initials to represent the non-defined area of greater western Sydney, which the club said just so happened to include Canberra??? A particularly odd naming was the Brisbane Bears, which was said to represent Brisbane but was located on the Gold Coast???
While the recent trend has been to drop the regional identification or broaden the regional identification, the past trend has been to change the moniker. For example, the Nth Melbourne Shinboners wanted to escape the image of being butchers so they became the Kangaroos. The Fitzroy Gorillas escaped monkey jokes by becoming the Lions and the South Melbourne Bloods metasexualised themselves by becoming the Swans. In a clear case of identity crisis, the Gold Coast Giants rugby league team changed their name to Seagulls, then Gladiators, then Chargers and then went extinct. When rugby league returned to the Gold Coast, the team was called the Dolphins, but since the name was already taken, it had to be changed to Titans.
One team, the Melbourne Demons, embraced the traditional culture of cricket by dropping the moniker to become just Melbourne. It seems that Melbourne developed a plan to cash in on the rise of China and organised promotions that involved players walking along the Great Wall. The aim was to appeal to Chinese sponsors but because superstitious Chinese considered Demons to be unlucky, the club felt it should give itself an exorcism. It was a classic case of a club trying to change its image to appeal to sponsors rather than appeal to fans.
Overall, there seems to have been a balancing act between going for something so generic that the club’s image can appeal to everyone while still leaving scope for an identity so that the club can appeal to someone. According to surveys and attendance figures, the club that has done this the most effectively is the Collingwood Magpies. The suburb of Collingwood was traditionally known as Melbourne's toilet where the dregs of society congregated after their latest crime spree and sewage settled after heavy rains. (Bondi or Toorak it was not.) As for Magpies, they are birds that hit you from behind when you aren't watching while Magpie suits were the names given to Convict uniforms in the penal era. The appeal of both the suburb and the Magpie moniker seems to indicate that sometimes a name that sounds bad is really quite good. Furthermore, trying to appeal to everyone results in a club appealing to no one. In sport, it is not possible to be all things to all people, and clubs are really quite boring when they try to be.
Australian names in use by professional teams
Tasmanian Tigers (Cricket) Not forgotten
Vic Bushrangers (Cricket) Get the helmets on
SA Redbacks (Cricket) Got some bite
The Kangaroos ( Footy, league) On the hop
The Wallabies (Union)
NSW Waratahs (Union) Flowering
ACT Brumbies ( Union) The bush capital
Boomers (Basketball) -
Cairns Taipans (Basketball) - Got some venom
Parramatta Eels - (League ) One for the bottom feeders
Cronulla Sharks (League) Blood in the water
Collingwood Magpies (Footy) This one will hit you from behind
Adelaide Crows ( Footy) As the crow flies, players fly away
West Coast Eagles (Footy) Flying high
Central Coast Mariners (Soccer) - From across the seas
Western Sydney Wanderers (Soccer) Gone walkabout to Parramatta Stadium
Melbourne Rebels (Union) A place for the private school boys to break some rules
Queensland Reds (Union) That's whathappens if you spend too much time in the Queensland sun
Odd names in use
Perth Glory (Soccer) - Glory holes?
Sydney FC (Soccer)- Might have been an attempt to copy the web address of a footy club, or perhaps creating a moniker was beyond them
Queensland Roar (Soccer) - At least the two year olds can have fun making noises
Melbourne Victory (Soccer) - Perhaps they didn't want fans to think they aspired to be Melbourne Nil-all Draw
Western Force (Union) - Going to the dark side
Port Adelaide Power - Powering down
Melbourne Storm (League) - Dreary name that hasn't taken Melbourne by storm
Sydney Swans (Footy) - One for the ballerinas
Saint Kilda Saints (Footy) - About as much imagination as Sydney FC
The Allies (Footy) - Gearing up for the Axis of evil
The Big V (Footy) - For some, a big letter compensates for being a small state
Adelaide 36s (Basketball) - Since they wanted to name themselves after a number, 69s might have held more emotional appeal
Fremantle Dockers - (Footy) Wharfies didn't sound as cool as a made up word
Canberra Cosmos (Soccer) - One from outer space
Northern Spirit (Soccer) - A spirit that just wasn't shared
South East Melbourne Magic (Basketball) - Not even Merlin could save this one
Geelong Supercats (Basketball) - If Supercats had been good, then Superdupercats would have been even better
Sydney Storm (Baseball) - A name that did not take Sydney by storm.
Gold Coast Rollers (Basketball) - Rolled over and died
Gold Coast Charges (League) - Batteries not included
Gold Coast Sea Gulls (League) - Had to scavenge for chips
Illawarra Steelers (Rugby league) Swallowed by a dragon
South Queensland Crushers (Rugby league) - Crushed under the weight of a merger
Western Reds (League)- Alliteration gone wrong
Gold Coast United (Soccer) - This one didn't unite the Gold Coast and definately not soccer.
Canberra Canons (Basketball) - Expired like a pop gun
Perth Wildcats (Basketball) - Feral cats have lost their appeal
Nth Queensland Cowboys (League) - Australian names such as Stockmen or Jackaroos just don't seem to match it with that Texan strut
Brisbane Broncos - (League) Could have gone for Brumbies, but the American word seemed more impressive
GWS Giants (AFL) - Big in America, dwarfes in Australia
Gold Coast Suns (AFL) - Would have expected more imagination on Gold Coast beaches
Gold Coast Titans (League) - Greek gods of property development
Canberra Raiders (League) - Canberra wanted more than just taxes
Activity 1 - Assess the names
Below are some Australian concepts. Assess whether they would be suitable for naming a professional sporting club