20 most obscure team nicknames in pro sports

Most pro team nicknames make sense at some level. But there are a fair number of head-scratching nicknames. Here are 20 with explanations on their selection:

1.New York Rangers

New York Rangers' Ryan Callahan, right, and Anton Stralman (6) celebrate Callahan's game-winning goal against the Carolina Hurricanes in overtime of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, April 25, 2013. New York won 4-3. (GERRY BROOME/AP)

Aren’t rangers generally associated with the West’s wide-open spaces rather than the concrete canyons of New York? Yes, but what many don’t know is that the Rangers hockey team, which dates to 1926, was originally owned by Madison Square Garden. The Garden’s president back then was G.L. “Tex” Rickard, which prompted sportswriters to call the team “Tex’s Rangers.”

Green Bay Packers (NFL)

Green Bay Packers cornerbacks Tramon Williams (38) and Charles Woodson (21) and safety M.D. Jennings (43) fight for possession of a jump ball with Seattle Seahawks wide receivers Charly Martin (14) and Golden Tate (r.) in the final seconds of the fourth quarter of an NFL football game, Sept. 24, 2012, in Seattle. Tate was ruled to have come down with the ball for a touchdown, and the Seahawks won, 14-12. (STEPHEN BRASHEAR/AP)

In 1919, Earl “Curly” Lambeau, an original Packer player, convinced his employer, the Indian Packing Company, to buy the team uniforms and let it practice on company property. As a result, the team started off as “the Indians,” but soon switched to “Packers,” a name that caught on in local press accounts. The name made even more sense after the Atlas Packing Company took over the team as it became a charter member of the National Football League. There was some interest in 1922 in calling the team the “Big Bay Blues” because of their blue and gold uniforms, but Packers remained the more popular choice, and after a financial reorganization in 1933, the franchise officially became the Green Bay Packers, Inc. It wasn’t until 1950, however, that a decision was made to switch from blue to green jerseys, which made more sense given the city’s name.

Calgary Flames (NHL)

Calgary Flames' enforcer Brian McGrattan laughs with referee Stephen Walkom in a break during the second period of their NHL hockey game against the Anaheim Ducks' in Calgary, Alberta, April 19, 2013. (TODD KOROL/REUTERS)

If either of the NHL’s teams in Alberta, Canada, were to be called the Flames, it might seem more logical if it were Edmonton, given its oil fields. The Calgary Flames, however, simply inherited the nickname when the Atlanta Flames relocated in 1980. Thus, they join such teams as the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz in keeping nicknames that don’t really fit their current communities. Flames, however, was an odd choice even when the team was in Atlanta, since it referred to a terrible event in city history, namely the fire that leveled Atlanta during the Civil War.

Kansas City Chiefs (NFL)

Kansas City Chiefs general manager John Dorsey (l.) stands with newly signed quarterback Alex Smith following an NFL football news conference at the team's practice facility in Kansas City, Mo., Wednesday, March 13, 2013. (ORLIN WAGNER/AP)

The name Chiefs, one might assume, was inspired by the native Americans who lived in the US heartland. That’s not really the case. In fact, oil tycoon Lamar Hunt, the team’s owner, selected “Chiefs” in honor of Kansas City Mayor H. Roe Bartle, whose nickname was “The Chief.” Bartle, who served as mayor from 1956 to 1963, was instrumental in bringing Hunt’s Dallas Texans to Kansas City in 1962, a move aimed at finding a market where the franchise, then in the AFL, would have the football market all to itself (rather than having to compete with the NFL’s Cowboys). Regardless of what inspired the Chiefs nickname, the team has made a connection with native Americans in other ways, such as using an arrowhead logo and playing in Arrowhead Stadium.

Los Angeles Clippers (NBA)

Los Angeles Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe goes to the basket during the first half of Game 4 in a first-round NBA basketball playoff series in Memphis, Tenn., Saturday, April 27, 2013. (DANNY JOHNSTON/AP)

Like many team nicknames, “Clippers” grew out of a name-the-team contest. Fan input was solicited when the franchise, which began as the Buffalo Braves in 1970, moved to San Diego in 1978. The team wanted a fresh, new identity, so selected Clippers since great sailing ships were often seen in San Diego Bay. Just as the Lakers once kept their nickname upon moving from Minneapolis to Los Angeles, so too did the Clippers in moving up the coast to L.A. in 1984. 

Cleveland Browns (NFL)

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Greg Little (15) and teammates participate in drills during minicamp at the Browns training facility Wednesday, April 17, 2013, in Berea, Ohio. (TONY DEJAK/AP)

What is a Brown, anyway? Good question.  In this case, the Brown is Paul Brown, who became the team’s first head coach when it was a member of the All-America Football Conference from 1946 to 1949 before joining the NFL in 1950. Originally, Cleveland Panthers was selected in a name-the-team contest, but a local businessman blocked its use because he still owned the rights to that name, which had been adopted by a defunct 1926 team that played in the first American Football League. A second name-the-team contest was held to find a replacement, and since many people had already taken to calling it “Brown’s team,” Browns became the popular choice. Although Paul Brown wasn’t crazy about the idea, it worked for Ohioans, who admired Brown’s incredible record as a high school coach in Massillon, Ohio, and for guiding Ohio State to a national championship. At various times, the team has used a cartoon creation called Brownie the Elf as a mascot, but it has never been used as a logo on the team’s helmets, maybe because he’s a little too childish looking.

Indiana Pacers (NBA)

Indiana Pacers guard George Hill (3) looks to pass the basketball guarded by New York Knicks guard Raymond Felton during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game in Indianapolis, Feb. 20, 2013. (BRENT SMITH/REUTERS)

As one might guess, “Pacers” stems from its connections to racing – both auto and horse. A group of investors in the original franchise, which began its existence in the old American Basketball Association, selected the nickname as a way of recognizing the Indianapolis 500 and its pace cars and the pacers at the state’s harness racing tracks. This dual tribute probably explains why the team has never used a race-car logo and instead has used a stylized “P” with a basketball.

Detroit Red Wings (NHL)

Detroit Red Wings players Johan Franzen (l.) and Niklas Kronwall walk onto the ice for pregame warmups wearing former Red Wings player Gordie Howe's No. 9 jerseys to celebrate his 85th birthday before the start of their NHL hockey game against the Chicago Blackhawks in Detroit, March 31, 2013. (REBECCA COOK/REUTERS)

The NHL’s Motor City entry began as the Detroit Cougars in 1926, and changed its named to Falcons for the 1930-31 season as it searched for a new identity after a mostly losing history. Faced with major financial struggles, Jack Adams sold the team to grain and shipping tycoon James Norris Sr. in 1932. Norris had once played amateur hockey in Montreal for the Winged Wheelers, so decided to rename the team Red Wings and adopt a winged wheel logo that tied in well with Detroit’s reputation as America’s automaking capital.

San Diego Chargers (NFL)

San Diego Chargers tackle Jeromey Clary, left, blocks tackle King Dunlap during the teams' voluntary minicamp practice Thursday April 18, 2013, in San Diego. (LENNY IGNELZI/AP)

According to various sources, the Chargers owe their name not to any connection to electrical charges but to credit cards. The team’s first owner, Barron Hilton, reportedly was looking to generate interest in credit-card commerce in 1960 when “flashing plastic” was a relatively new option and his company’s Carte Blanche card business was struggling. Of course, a credit card isn’t an exciting image, so the Chargers opted for the team’s now-famous lightning bolt logo. During its first season, the team played in Los Angeles, and at a Santa Monica cocktail party at Hilton’s home, two players – Jack Kemp and Ron Mix – modeled the uniforms with the lightning bolt motif. The team moved to San Diego in 1961.

Kansas City Royals (MLB)

Kansas City Royals' James Shields pitches in the first inning of a against the Boston Red Sox in Boston, Saturday, April 20, 2013. (MICHAEL DWYER/AP)

While “Royals” might seem a rather randomly selected name, it actually was inspired by one of the city’s proudest traditions, The American Royal, a combination livestock exhibition, rodeo, and horse show, which dates to 1899. Coincidentally, three years after the Royals became an expansion Major League Baseball team in 1969, basketball’s Cincinnati Royals were relocated to Kansas City and were renamed the Kings to avoid confusion with the baseball Royals. The Kings moved on to Sacramento, Calif., in 1985.

Nashville Predators (NHL)

Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne (35), of Finland, skates to the goal in the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday, April 14, 2013, in Nashville, Tenn. (MARK HUMPHREY/AP)

The Predators take their name from the prehistoric saber-toothed tiger, a ferocious-looking species of cat that went extinct 10,000 years ago. The tie-in to Nashville is that the partial remains of one of these tigers, including a fang, were discovered under a street in 1971. In 1996 a hockey arena was built near the site. These facts came together in fan voting in 1998 for the city’s NHL expansion team. Clearly, “Saber-toothed Tiger” was too much of a mouthful, so Predators sufficed. 

Buffalo Sabres (NHL)

Buffalo Sabres' Jochen Hecht (55), of Germany, celebrates with Drew Stafford (21) after an NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders' in Buffalo, N.Y., Friday, April 26, 2013. Buffalo won, 2-1. (GARY WIEPERT/AP)

Two factors reportedly influenced the selection of “Sabres” when the team was founded in 1970. One was that the owners wanted to break free of buffalo/bison variations, such as used by the NFL’s Bills and minor league baseball’s Bisons. Then, too, they supposedly had an interest in knights and chivalry themes, so when a name-the-team contest suggested Sabres, that was an attractive choice that was unclaimed by any other major pro team. 

Los Angeles Dodgers (MLB)

Los Angeles Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu, of South Korea, pitches to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the second inning of a game in Los Angeles, Sunday, April 7, 2013. (REED SAXON/AP)

Because of the prominence of the Dodgers, the history of their nickname is probably not so much of a mystery to many fans. Still, those less familiar or unfamiliar with the team’s existence in Brooklyn may not realize that Dodgers is short for Trolley Dodgers, of which there were many in the trolley-laced New York borough during the early 20th century. Less well known is that when the team began play in the National League in 1890 they were called the Bridegrooms because seven of the players had married only two years before. This was an age of relative informality in which team identities were subject to change. Brookyn’s team also answered to Wonders, Fillies, and Superbas at various times, and when Trolley Dodgers (later shortened to Dodgers) achieved its permanent status is unclear. 

Anaheim Ducks (NHL)

Anaheim Ducks right wing Teemu Selanne (r.) hugs defenseman Sami Vatanen after Vatanen scored his first goal in the NHL, in the first period against the Columbus Blue Jackets during their NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., April 17, 2013. (MIKE BLAKE/REUTERS)

Here’s a big clue about the origins of the team’s nickname: They once were the Mighty Ducks.  That’s what the Walt Disney Company, based in Burbank, Calif., decided to name the NHL expansion team that it launched in 1993, a year after the release of “The Mighty Ducks” movie. The Disney comedy about a youth hockey team was such a hit, it led to a cinematic trilogy. After Disney sold the team in 2006, the new owners decided that one way to distance itself from the movies was to drop “Mighty” and just go by “Ducks.”

Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL)

Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Mathieu Garon (32) studies the against the Buffalo Sabres during the third period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, March 26, 2013, in Tampa, Fla. (CHRIS O'MEARA/AP)

This name makes total sense once you know that Tampa Bay claims to be the lightning capital of the world. Executives of the new expansion team reportedly decided on the name "Lightning" in 1990 during a meeting when a bolt of lightning flashed across the sky. Today, 'Bolts' is used along with Lightning, with the word featured on some of its uniforms. Games air on Bolts TV.

Baltimore Ravens (NFL)

Baltimore Ravens first round draft pick Matt Elam, a safety from the University of Florida, speaks at an NFL news conference at the team's practice facility in Owings Mills, Md., Friday, April 26, 2013. Elam was selected 32nd overall in the NFL draft. (PATRICK SEMANSKY/AP)

The reigning Super Bowl champions credit Edgar Allan Poe, who lived in Baltimore, with inspiring the team’s nickname. In fact, it can be traced to Poe’s most famous poem, “The Raven,” published in 1845, which begins, “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary.…” Ravens are a type of large crow with a sharp beak, just the kind of menacing appearance well suited to a football team.

Toronto Raptors (NBA)

Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (r.) drives past New York Knicks guard Pablo Prigioni during first half NBA basketball action in Toronto on Friday, March 22, 2013. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press/AP)

When Toronto was selected as an NBA expansion city in 1993, there was public sentiment for naming the team Huskies, to honor the Toronto Huskies, who played one season (1946-47) in the Basketball Association of America, the progenitor of today’s NBA. There was only one problem: The Minnesota Timberwolves already had a mascot and logo that promised much look-alike confusion if Huskies was adopted.  As a result, management threw open the task of finding a distinctive nickname to the public in a nationwide contest. Since the dinosaur movie “Jurassic Park” was popular at the time, the idea to call the team the Raptors, short for velociraptor, was the winning suggestion.

Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL)

Columbus Blue Jackets' RJ Umberger plays against the Phoenix Coyotes during an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 16, 2013, in Columbus, Ohio. (JAY LAPRETE/AP)

When Columbus was awarded an NHL expansion franchise in 1997, it chose Blue Jackets as its nickname to celebrate the city’s Civil War history. During the war, a major training camp for Union soldiers was located on the outskirts of Columbus. The state provided 300,000 troops to the war effort.

Cincinnati Reds (MLB)

Cincinnati Reds mascots, l. to r., Mr. Redlegs, Mr. Red, and Rosie Red, stand with a young fan during the national anthem prior to a game against the Miami Marlins, Friday, April 19, 2013, in Cincinnati. (AL BEHRMAN/AP)

This might seem an unusual entry on a list of obscure team nicknames, but let’s face it, the use of the name Reds isn’t quite as clear as the name Red Sox. Both, however, refer to the color of the teams’ socks. At the turn of the last century, fans knew Cincinnati’s club as the Red Stockings. That morphed into Reds, but during the height of the anti-communist Red Scare of the 1950s, the team actually changed its official name to Redlegs for a time to avoid negative associations. As that concern faded, “Reds” was revived and the 1975 and 1976 championship teams became known as the Big Red Machine. Today, a Mr. Redlegs mascot entertains fans at Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park.

Winnipeg Jets (NHL)

Winnipeg Jets' Paul Postma (4) celebrates his goal with his teammates during the first period of their NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders in Uniondale, N.Y., April 2, 2013. (SHANNON STAPLETON/REUTERS)

Unlike the New York Jets football team, which once played in Shea Stadium near LaGuardia Airport, the Winnipeg Jets can claim no such connection to airplanes or an airport. The team’s founder, Benny Hatskin, reportedly simply liked the name, and besides, he already owned a junior team with that name in the Western Canada Hockey League. So when Winnipeg became a charter member of the professional World Hockey Association, a rival to the NHL, in 1972, it too was called the Jets. Better yet, Hatskin talked the league into contributing toward a $1 million bonus used to sign Bobby Hull, “The Golden Jet,” away from the NHL.