Mike Sorensen: School nicknames, mascots can bring out passion from fans
August Miller, Deseret News archives
SALT LAKE CITY — We've heard a lot about mascots and nicknames lately, how the University of Utah might get rid of the "Utes" in favor of a less-controversial "Red-Tailed Hawks" and how a local school board vetoed the mascot choice of new Corner Canyon High School students supposedly because of suggestive connotations.
Nothing is happening with the Utes — at least for now — while the decision on the Corner Canyon mascot continues to receive national publicity, although not in a positive way.
A couple of weeks ago, CNN's Anderson Cooper talked about it in his closing segment, the "Ridiculist," making fun of the Draper, Utah school for associating the term "Cougars" with older women who pursue younger men. And the latest Sports Illustrated featured Corner Canyon Cougars controversy for it for its weekly "Sign of the Apocolypse."
Some folks around here believe the real reason for the rejection of the Cougars nickname may have had more to do with the Utah-BYU rivalry and the strong feelings on each side.
After all, the new high school is halfway between the two universities and within the school boundaries there are large factions of fans for both rivals. It's understandable if some Utah fans didn't want their new school to be known as "Cougars" with blue-and-white school colors. What if a new school in northern Utah County voted for the nickname "Utes" with red and white colors? That certainly wouldn't fly.
Whatever the real reason for the board vetoing Cougars (which had received a plurality of just 23 percent from the students), I like the fact that the school will have a different nickname of "Chargers," one that is unique to Utah high schools. After all, we already have three high schools in Utah with Cougar mascots (Kearns, Union, and Monument Valley).
Why not come up with something that sets your school apart from others?
Herriman High, which opened just two years ago, chose "Mustangs," a fine name, except that four other high schools in Utah already have the same moniker.
In fact, among the 138 high schools in Utah, Mustangs is tied for first among most common nicknames, along with "Tigers," "Eagles," and "Warriors."
Actually Eagles is the most popular if you include the Golden Eagles of Maple Mountain and the Flying Eagles of West Ridge and the Soaring Eagle of Juan Diego.
"Eagles" also happens to be the most popular nickname for colleges in the United States.
I found this out by perusing a list of more than 1,500 four-year colleges compiled by a guy named Adam Joshua Smargon.
The Eagles nickname is found at 61 colleges, followed by Tigers with 46 and Bulldogs with 39. Other popular names with more than 30 colleges are Wildcats, Cougars (there it is again), Pioneers, Lions and Warriors.
Still, I prefer the unusual nicknames.
In Utah, it's hard to beat the Templars of Manti or the Beetdiggers of Jordan.
Some of my favorites among the colleges are the Campbell College Camels, the Brooklyn College Bridges, the South Carolina-Sumter Fire Ants, the UC-Santa Cruz Banana Slugs and the Hardrockers of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.
And how about the Long Beach State baseball team, which call themselves the "Dirtbags" or the Wayland Baptist women's basketball team, called the "Flying Queens."
Most of the most common nicknames for sports teams are animals or birds. But I feel bad for some of the common animals and birds that never get any love. I'm talking about animals such as the elephant, giraffe, hippopotamus and rhinoceros.
Wouldn't it be cool if you were a basketball team called the "Giraffes?" Just think how intimidated your opponent would be, knowing they were playing the Giraffes?
On the other hand, elephants, hippos and rhinos might be appropriate names for your football team, but maybe not so much for your women's gymnastics team.
As for the University of Utah, if it ever decides to change its name, let's hope it doesn't go for Red Hawks. After all, there are already nine other colleges around the country that use that nickname.
I'm thinking something more along the lines of Unicorns. Not only would it be unique, it would have nice alliteration — the Utah Unicorns.
Whatever happens, there's sure to be some controversy if and when Utah ever makes a change. School nicknames have a way of bringing out the passion in fans.