Houston hockey fans have reason to be cautiously optimistic about the chances of the NHL coming to town. New Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has been outspoken about his desire to see professional hockey return to the Bayou City, even going so far as to meet with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in New York to discuss the prospect. Some would go as far as to call it inevitable.
While it is criminally premature to be discussing team names, Chron.com and Houstorian have already kicked that door wide open, generating results both serious and cheeky—and some that could go either way, like Houston Moon Landers or Houston Whataburgers (if only). Reckless spitballing aside, branding a new professional sports team is a rare opportunity for a city to shape its identity in a discernible and lasting way. Setting some parameters at the outset to guide the conversation might help divert the powers that be away from something nonsensical or worse, offensively generic (looking at you, Texans). So, without further ado, here are three principles that should generally be adhered to when naming a professional sports team.
The Rule of Specificity
A team nickname (e.g., “Astros”) should be readily identifiable with its location name (e.g., “Houston”) because it has specific meaning for that place. Flagrant violators of the Rule of Specificity largely fall into two camps: 1) teams that choose nicknames because of the general virtuous or heroic qualities they represent rather than their specific meaning to the team’s location (no, Atlanta is not particularly known for its falconry, nor Washington for its wizardry); and 2) teams that retain legacy nicknames after a franchise relocation regardless of whether the name has any meaning to the new location (who could forget Louis Armstrong’s classic rendition of When the Latter Day Saints Go Marching In?).
The Rule of Harmony
The location name and nickname should sound like they belong together. The team colors, logo, and mascot should build on this harmony, resulting in a singular, aesthetically pleasing expression of the team. An underutilized trick for satisfying the Rule of Harmony without abandoning an otherwise perfect nickname is to consider alternatives for the location name. For example, the finality of the “ns” at the end of “New Orleans” makes for an awkward lead-in to the word “Saints.” While the name “New Orleans Saints” still works given how well it satisfies the Rule of Specificity, a more harmonious name might have been “Louisiana Saints” or “NOLA Saints.”
The Rule of Distinction
A team name should be distinct enough from other team names, proper nouns, or well-known phrases so as to avoid any confusion. This rule derives more from practicality than anything else. For example, out of context, “Houston Texans” just sounds like “Houston, Texas.” Meanwhile, New Yorkers have to contend with the unfortunate reality of having teams named “Mets,” “Jets,” and “Nets.”
(A fourth rule that should go without saying—but this day and age, probably does not—is that the name should not be offensive or controversial).
There are of course plenty of pro sports team names that do not adhere strictly to these rules yet work nonetheless. And the rules are especially forgiving when it comes to professional soccer teams, given the traditional naming conventions unique to that sport. Nevertheless, following these principles should result in a meaningful, timeless team name more often than not. With that in mind, here are a few prospects for an eventual hockey team in Houston:
Bayou City Buffaloes or Bayou City Buffs – A double nod to Buffalo Bayou, which is both the spine of Houston and the place of its birth, as well as a throwback to the Houston Buffaloes minor league baseball team, also named for the Bayou.
Houston Wildcatters – A fitting name for the Energy Capital of the World, and the closest thing to a Houston Oilers revival without a relocation from Edmonton—a move that almost happened twenty years go. This name was on the shortlist for the team that ultimately became the Texans.
Houston Hurricanes – This one would only be possible if the Carolina Hurricanes relocated—which is to say, it is very possible. Such a move would make Houston home to not one, but two teams whose original names made even more sense after relocating (the other being the Rockets, formerly of San Diego). While Houston is not the only city routinely impacted by tropical storms, Harvey was an unprecedented, generation-defining natural disaster unlike anything any other US city has experienced. If Chicago can name its soccer club after a fire that occurred 150 years ago, Houston can lean into its hurricane heritage.
Houston Rodeos – Sleep on this one before dismissing it outright, it might grow on you. The Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo is not only the premiere event in Houston, it is the largest rodeo in the world. Rodeos are also strongly associated with Texas, and Houstonians are very proud of their Texas heritage and the unique role Houston plays in Texas’ history. The name violates the Rule of Distinction, but it is worthy of consideration nonetheless.
Houston Apollos or Space City Apollos – Houston really does not need a third pro sports team (fourth, if you count the defunct Houston Comets) named for its association with NASA. But if a space name has to be in the mix, the Apollos should be the favorite.
One final thought: Hockey fans are already clamoring to revive the name “Houston Aeros,” but this would be a mistake for several reasons. One, it is so close to “Houston Astros” that the two names are almost indistinguishable in print from a short distance away. Two, the uninitiated will hear “Aeros” as “Arrows,” which is not conducive to expanding the fan base beyond legacy Aeros fans. Three, the name really has no meaning for Houston other than its connection to the former hockey team. True, the prefix “aero” is part of the space vernacular, but it is more commonly associated with aviation generally rather than space exploration specifically. Indeed, the logo for the former Houston Aeros was at different times a bomber and a fighter jet, neither of which are particularly meaningful to Space City. Nostalgia is no excuse for squandering the opportunity to come up with a name that is truly emblematic of Houston. Though a few Aeros fans may disagree . . .