Wednesday, June 29, 2016

What's In a Name? Or, the Charlotte Hornets Debacle

I'm big on the meanings of names. Not in a hyper-Dickensian, Aged Parent kind of way, but in a practical, "Hey, that's interesting" sort of manner. You may recall that I wrote a two-part post about my own name back in 2014, for example. And so it should not come as a shock to anyone that I have very strong feelings about the history of the Charlotte Hornets, North Carolina's only NBA team.

Way back in the mid-1980s, construction began on a new arena in Charlotte that was to be called the Coliseum. The building was a sort of salmon pink, and it was elliptical in shape. Odell of Charlotte was responsible for its design. George Shinn used the Coliseum to convince the NBA to place a team in North Carolina, and that's when the Hornets were born. They went on to play their inaugural season in 1988.

Not so many years later, in 2002, the Hornets pulled out of Charlotte and moved to New Orleans without changing their name. It's not completely unheard of for a team to move; one need look no further than the NFL's Rams, who started in Cleveland, moved to Los Angeles, decamped to St. Louis, and have now returned to California. But in this case, the name change seemed imperative. 

Because the Hornets moniker didn't come from the mascot playbook, like a spartan or a warrior. The Hornets were part of North Carolina history, after a fashion.

Charlotte, which is in Mecklenburg County, was named for King George III's bride, a German princess called Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz at the time of her marriage and later Queen Charlotte. During the American Revolution, when colonists were busy rejecting the authority of King George all along the eastern seaboard, General Lord Charles Cornwallis declared that Charlotte the town was "a hornet's nest of rebellion." While in modern times Charlotte is referred to as the Queen City, North Carolinians clearly never forgot what Cornwallis had to say, and that is how the basketball team got its name.

New Orleans, of course, is a fine city with its own historical significance. But the team had no business parading around Louisiana with its original appellation intact. Meanwhile, Charlotte's replacement team was called the Bobcats. Not a bad mascot, as far as that goes, but lacking all of the character of its predecessor. Lucky for all of us history buffs out there, the Hornets returned to North Carolina in 2014 with their name and team history intact (alas, their bangin' original logo was replaced with something more modern and streamlined). The replacement team in New Orleans has a mascot more appropriate to that state: the pelican. 

I do hope that we have all learned our lesson from this arena-hopping time in Hornets history. Because names can be extremely important, and not just when you've chosen to take the stage name of Holden McGroin.


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