July 13, 2020
WRITTEN BY: Seth Borenstein
Washington, perhaps the nation’s most reviled city, needs a new nickname for its football team. What could possibly go wrong?
Naming opportunities are rife with ridicule, partisanship and humor: Washington Gridlock, Washington Swamp Monsters, Washington Bureaucrats, Washington Subpoenas, Washington Scandals or Washington Pardons. And then there’s the Capitol Indictments, Deep Staters or Deplorables if you really want to get partisan.
On the traditional and of course more likely side are Red Tails, Warriors, Generals, Monuments, Senators, Cherry Blossoms, Red Wolves or even Hogs (which pays tribute to an offensive line from long ago).
After dumping its longtime name, Redskins, which was considered racist, the team is said to be zeroing in on a new name, but dealing with trademark issues. Since mid June, 14 different trademarks have been filed by people for a potential Washington football team, including Red Tails, Red Wolves, Monuments and a version of Hogs. Most are by the same person.
That means football team owner Daniel Snyder will likely have to pay off someone to get the name he wants, said Alexandra Watkins, whose real title is chief executive boss lady of Eat My Words, a branding company. Rebranding with new names happens a lot in the corporate world and often involves a reluctant owner, like Snyder, she said.
“Most companies go through two or three name changes in the life of a company,”said Phil Davis, founder of Tungsten Branding in North Carolina.
In the case of the Washington football team, where racism is an issue, both branding experts Davis and Watkins recommend a clean sweep, wiping away issues of racism and being more inclusive and embracing. So choosing a new name like Warriors, which can still be considered racist to some, would not be smart, Watkins said.
“Anything with any historic significance that’s negative they should just stay away from,” Watkins said.
She likes Red Tails, which is a hawk, sounds similar to the team’s original nickname and pays homage to the Tuskegee Airmen, the group of African American fighter pilots who broke down racial stereotypes during World War II.
Stay away from politics, Watkins advised.
“People hate politics,” Watkins said. “Sports is a great uniter. Where politics is the great divider.”
However, David Litt, a former speechwriter for President Barack Obama and former chief Washington writer for Funny or Die, says as a Washington resident: “I would like to bring back the Washington Senators. You know we deserve at least some senators here in D.C.”
Key to branding is being clear, concise, compelling and consistent, Davis said. And do it in only one or two words.
One issue is the city of Washington itself.
“It’s the only equal opportunity hated city,” Davis said. “Both sides hate it.”
So that gives the opportunity for a little fun like Swamp Monsters or Gridlock, which Davis likes.
Normally Watkins loves using humorous names, reeling off her favorites: the yogurt chain Spoon Me, Denver’s Church of Cupcakes, San Francisco’s TMI Colonics. But for sports teams, she said it’s not right, especially for a team that has upset people in the past with their name: “They need to be serious.”
Still, there is the opportunity for humor, especially at the expense of a football team that hasn’t won a playoff game since 2005 and has gone 132-187 this century.
“’Not an embarrassment’ would be an exciting thing to call the team from Washington,” said comedy writer and Washingtonian Litt. He also praised this tweet from “The Daily Show” writer Jason Gilbert: “They should rename it the Washington Liberals Watching the Supreme Court because they usually have to settle for 3 wins per season.”
Eric Dezenhall, who has been in Washington since working for the Reagan White House and now runs a crisis communications firm, has some suggestions of his own.
“If your objective is to appease the cultural left, there is the Washington Inclusives,’’ Dezenhall wrote in an email. “For a Trumpian theme, the Washington Tweets, Washington Covfefes or Washington Combovers could work.
“If we want something that everyone has in common, why not the Washington Smart Phones, after all, nobody’s watching the action on the field anymore?”
About Phil Davis
Brand Naming Expert
With over twenty-five years of company naming and branding expertise, Tungsten founder Phil Davis is a marketing and advertising veteran, having personally named over 250 companies, products and services worldwide. As a sought-after naming expert, Phil has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Inc.com, Businessweek, Entrepreneur, and Newsday.