Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Washington Nationals Are Poorly Named

Image is everything in this day and age. Everything has to be catchy and up-tempo. Products need to be buzz-worthy and brand names need to roll off your tongue. The Washington Nationals have a poor product name. It's too stodgy and conservative. Plus, it suffers the most because it doesn't really mean anything. Take, for example, the Texas Rangers. That's a cool name even if steeped a bit in sleepy history. At least it's cool history of a bunch of mean hombres that rode around on fast horses shooting bad guys without asking questions first. But the Nationals? What does that mean?

Yes, we know that the "Nationals" hearkens to the "nations capital." But is that cool like the Rangers? Or the Pirates? Or the Reds? Check that. The "Reds" is a really stupid name and is lucky it outlasted the Joe McCarthy era. Anyway, you get the idea. How can you ever get excited for a brand with a heavy name like the Nationals? You can't. It speaks of old era and lead weight. It causes us all to remember that Washington doesn't work very well and hasn't in quite a long time. It centers itself in an area that many across America view with scorn and acrimony. We are "nationalistic" in our sympathies, but against our nationalistic government that we view as too large and too unwieldy.

It is an upgrade from both prior versions of the Washington "Senators." Now that's worse. Raise your hand if you are fond of most of our nation's senators these days. Don't see many hands out there. Oh, sure, the Senators could bring back thoughts of those Romans. But those senators took out Julius Caesar and we all loved him. So even that didn't work.

New York's national league team has a problematic name. What is a met? But we all know that is short for Metropolitan. And the New York Metropolitans would have been just as stodgy as the Washington Nationals. So the "Mets" was a good replacement for that. But again, the Mets have an image problem and that name doesn't help. Their predecessors, the Giants and the Dodgers, had exciting names. The Mets are kind of inert next to those two names, right? Plus, when they are going poorly, it's too easy to rename them the Mutts. That's not good.

The whole point of discussing the Mets is that the name really doesn't help the New York team that shortened down a overbearing and longer name. Many Washington fans simply call them the "Nats." And while "Nats" is cooler to say and rolls off the tongue better, they become synonymous with pests. Nats are pests right? Well, gnats are. Is that what you want your team to always be considered? Pests? Even in its best connotation, pests are "gamers" that play above their ability and pester the supposedly more talented team. No, you want your team to signify being dominant when they are good. The Giants may not have always been giants, but when they were giants, they were Giants, not pests.

Now the Nationals aren't alone. What good is naming a team the Athletics? Isn't that kind of stupid? All ball players are athletes, even the worst of them. But when you shorten that name to the "A's," that becomes cool and allows them to wear cool yellow home jerseys and white spikes. So, even if their full name is stupid and meaningless, their nickname isn't. The Nationals are meaningless and their nickname equals pests.

And Washington has never had a good sports name. The "Redskins" are not politically correct. The "Generals" doesn't work. The "Capitals?" That's as bad as the "Nationals." The aforementioned Senators were not a cool name. If a team is going to represent something as myopic as our nation's capital, then it has to have a cool name.

Another problem with naming this Washington Nationals team is that there are two Washingtons. There is the state, which avoided the problem by naming their team for the city in which they play (Seattle). And then there is the city that houses our government. But "Washington" isn't even its name. It's Washington, D.C. And it's bad enough that none of us actually understand why our nation's capital has such a city name. To name a team after said city doesn't help. And even if the city was named after our most famous founding father, George Washington has an image problem too. He is known far more for his wooden teeth and his imperious and imposing portraits that we saw as kids to have any kind of warm fuzzy about him. He has a stodgy image which belies the swashbuckling and interesting character that he was.

So nothing works here. Last year, the Stephen Strasburg phenomenon was cool. Having him play for the Washington Nationals sapped some of that cool. The image we have of Bryce Harper is cool. But he is a prospect for the Washington Nationals, which isn't cool. So say someday this team actually becomes a good team. A lot of that buzz will be dissipated by having such a boring and nondescript name.

But there is a problem with a baseball team name. Once it arrives, it is set in stone because baseball is all about setting itself up as enduring and timeless. Change doesn't happen quickly. And when big changes happen, they don't always happen all the way (hello DH). So once an MLB team has a name, how dare you ever consider changing it? But it shouldn't be so. The Cleveland Indians need to change their name and their awful logo (Chief Wahoo must die). And the Nationals need to change their name.

What would you name them? The DC ACs? The DC Electrics? This Fan doesn't have an answer. You need a marketing team to help you with that. But anything would build a more image-conscious rallying point than the Washington Nationals do. This Fan didn't mean to pick on the team and its fans. There is empathy for those fans as all fans of baseball are passionate and nuts about their team. We root for them to have their day in the sun. We just don't want that glorious day to be dappled in the gray of a name like the Nationals.

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