Cover Photo Credit: Fort Wayne Mad Ants
Rajahs and Arabs—two nicknames of high schools that I played against each year in my school basketball league. While these may seem very strange, the nicknames stemmed from our valley's connection to the Middle East. The valley had a similar desert landscape and is the largest date-producing area in the United States, a fruit usually grown in the Middle East. Even without these relevant connections, both names are two of the most unique nicknames I have seen for a team at any level.
While Rajahs and Arabs are definitely unique, many minor league teams in the U.S. have similarly different names. If there was one thing that defined these leagues, the ridiculous nicknames always come to mind first. For example, look at this name for a minor league baseball team: the Rocket City Trash Pandas.
I never thought this name would ever be possible for a team, let alone a professional minor league squad. Yet, the name exists and has had positive reactions from the Alabama community where the team plays.
Trash Pandas is definitely unique, but another name is the best unique name in Double-A minor league baseball. How could another team have a better unique name than Trash Pandas?
For this list, I defined "unique nicknames" as names that are not used often in sports. For instance, how many major league, minor league, collegiate, and high school mascots use Eagles, Bulldogs, Bears, Falcons, Warriors, etc.? A lot. While these are common nicknames, I am not suggesting that teams with a them have terrible branding. Many have great brands, but the name is something fans have seen over and over again.
Next, I looked at how names fit into the overall team's market history/culture/geography. For instance, the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers have a very unique name, but their nickname does not fit in with the city; the only lakes around are small ones you find at parks. While the name comes from the franchise's start in Minnesota (Land of 10,000 Lakes), and the team has great branding, the name does not fit geographically. Other teams do a better job and were given higher consideration if they were more reflective of their area. This was a main reason the Trash Pandas were not the top consideration compared to other nicknames in Double-A baseball.
Finally, I chose unique nicknames that have great fan support. For instance, the new expansion team of Major League Rugby, the Los Angeles Giltinis, has a very unique name, but their fans have been in uproar for change forming splinter groups and even starting an online petition. The nicknames I chose allow fans to fully support a team without having to be embarrassed by the name.
For certain classifications like Single-A baseball, I combined Class A Advanced, Class A, Class A Short Season, and Rookie Advanced all together and chose the two best names from each league. For the USL which has several divisions, I chose one name from all the teams.
Without further ado, let's look at each league/level's best, unique nickname.
Triple-A Baseball - Albuquerque Isotopes
Photo Credit: Albuquerque Isotopes
If you recall The Simpsons 2001 episode, "Hungry Hungry Homer," Springfield's baseball team is named the Isotopes and and the main conflict revolves around the team being relocated to New Mexico. In reality, when the real Calgary Cannons baseball team relocated to Albuquerque, local fans voted for the Isotopes name to be the official new nickname to honor the Simpsons' episode and other elements. With massive fan involvement from the start, Isotopes' merchandise sales have been fantastic with a top 25 sales ranking out of all MiLB clubs for 13 seasons. This shows how much the fans have embraced the team.
Not only has the name been embraced by fans, but the logo itself has special symbolism for the area. Certain isotopes of specific elements can undergo fission which splits the nucleus of an atom causing a nuclear reaction. New Mexico was once the site of atomic bomb testing during World War II, and the state still has many nuclear testing sites. To reference this history, the logo has electrons spinning around the red "A" to make the logo look like an atom. The red "A" also has duel meaning being an initial for Albuquerque and "atom." I also love the baseballs that are used as the electrons around the logo's center.
With the state's storied nuclear history, high fan engagement through merchandise sales, and deep logo symbolism, the Albuquerque Isotopes have the best unique name in Triple-A baseball.
Double-A Baseball - Biloxi Shuckers
Photo Credit: Biloxi Shuckers
When I first think of shucking, I think about corn. I never thought that you could use the term for oysters or a baseball team. In Biloxi, Mississippi where the team is based, the oyster fishing industry began in the mid 1800s. Soon after its beginning, business quickly took off with high demand from New Orleans' tourists. This lead to Biloxi's first canning factories and better transportation for the oysters. By 1903, Biloxi was referred to as "The Seafood Capital of the World." Because of this, the Shuckers baseball team name was given to honor that local history.
While Shuckers alludes to the oyster industry's major role in the area, the team's logo is just as great as the name. When shucking an oyster, the shell is opened halfway to get the meaty inside. The logo above shows that half opened oyster from the process. The logo's colors are also Gulf blue, sand, coral, and black: great colors for an oceanfront city. While people may never know the logo's color scheme, I am amazed at the team's efforts to tie them in with the city's geography.
The Shuckers name is a great reference to the local market. With a great logo and fan involvement (team had top 25 MiLB merchandise sales when they first moved to Biloxi in 2015), the name is the best unique name in Double-A baseball.
Single-A Baseball (1) - Florida Fire Frogs
Photo Credit: Florida Fire Frogs
While the most notable frog mascot in sports is Texas Christian University's Horned Frog, I think the Fire Frogs have a better nickname. For starters, the fire frog logo is much better than TCU's. I like the fire color scheme with the flames coming from the frog's backside and around the eyebrows. This makes the frog look more menacing and intimidating. For having a unique name, the designers behind this logo did a great job bringing the fire elements out.
Along with a great logo, I also love the cultural ties this name has with the area. The logo is modeled after the coqui frog, a Puerto Rican symbol. While coqui frogs can be found in Florida, the team stated that they primarily used the frog's image to show how integral Puerto Ricans are to Florida. The state is home to the second biggest population of Puerto Ricans in the United States, and the team wanted to have something that connected to the culture. They also saw that the frog was great imagery to connect to the swampy region where the team plays. These elements show the deeper symbolism behind the name and logo.
From the logo's colors to the cultural connections, the Florida Flame Frogs are one of the best unique names in Single-A baseball.
Single-A Baseball (2) - Auburn Doubledays
Photo Credit: Auburn Doubleday
How many professional teams do you know of that are named after historical figures? The only one that comes to mind are the Buffalo Bills who I believe have the best unique name in the NFL. (Check out why here). The Auburn Doubledays are one of the only other teams nicknamed after a historical figure. Abner Doubleday was a general for the Union army in the American Civil War fighting in battles such as Fort Sumter, the Second Battle of Bull Run, Gettysburg, and Antietam. He grew up in Auburn, New York where the team plays, and for some reason is credited with inventing baseball even though this is disputed. All-in-all his contributions as a general and being from the town, are a great story for this franchise.
The other great part about the nickname is the logo. The one above is a secondary logo for the team, but I like it better than their primary logo. The old Civil War era mustache and Union Army blue soldier's cap perfectly tie in to Doubleday's occupation as a Union general. I also like how the logo's colors follow a patriotic theme. This nicely ties in with the Washington Nationals' colors who are the major league parent club.
With the historical connections through the name, logo, and colors, the Doubledays are the other best unique nickname in Single-A baseball next to the Fire Frogs.
NBA G-League - Fort Wayne Mad Ants
Photo Credit: Fort Wayne Mad Ants
Generally, I do not like bug-related sports names, however, this name has much more history and flair than others. After a six year basketball absence, Fort Wayne welcomed the new franchise through a fan-vote that chose the Mad Ants as its name. Not only did they choose it as a unique one to get behind, but fans chose the name to salute General "Mad" Anthony Wayne who the city and fort were named after. Like the Auburn Doubledays, this is a great connection to a historical figure.
While the name has relevant historical ties, the brand is more focused on insect imagery that looks sleek and modern. I like the colors they chose for the logo since they tie back to the Indiana Pacers parent club. I also appreciate that the ant design is not goofy with perfect touches like angry eyes and basketball abdomen. For a minor league basketball logo, this one looks great and further builds on the unique nickname.
The Mad Ants have the best unique name in the G-League with ties back to the city's history and a sleek logo.
American Hockey League - San Jose Barracuda
Photo Credit: San Jose Barracuda
Barracuda are one of my favorite underwater creatures. They are intimidating, sharp, and beautiful. Since this team is the affiliate minor league team for the NHL's San Jose Sharks, I like the consistency of having the team named after another ocean predator. The team's initial presenting sponsor is also Barracuda Networks which gives the name extra significance.
The best part about this nickname is the logo. While the logo does have the same colors as the Sharks, the barracuda caricature is terrifying. From the angry eyebrows, orange eyes, hard scowl, and sharp teeth, this barracuda depiction is very menacing. I admit, the logo does look like a it came straight from the 90s, but I think that it still works well. Plus, the barracuda is wearing hockey gloves while wielding a hockey stick showing connections to the sport.
With great consistency between the parent club and a wonderful logo, the San Jose Barracuda have the best unique nickname in the AHL.
ECHL - Wheeling Nailers
Photo Credit: Wheeling Nailers
When I first saw this logo without the name, I got a Hanniball Lecter mixed with a medieval knight vibe from it and instantly fell in love. The Wheeling Nailers logo is the best part about the nickname. When I see this, I feel spooked and intimidated. The colors are similar to the parent club Pittsburgh Penguins', and behind the factory worker mask are cut nails that reference the town's major nail plant a few blocks away from the arena. From these elements, the logo really brings out the name.
Behind the logo is the local history that inspired the name. Wheeling's main industry was steel where a local nail plant, LaBelle Nail Plant, had made cut nails for over 160 years until its closure in 2010. The city got its nickname, "Nail City," in the late 1800s, and cut nails manufacturing continued to be a big part of the local economy until the late 1990s. This history helped give the hockey team its unique name.
With a terrifying logo and great local connections, the Wheeling Nailers have the best unique nickname in the ECHL.
United Soccer League - Tacoma Defiance
Photo Credit: Tacoma Defiance
In soccer, most teams are named after their city with the acronym FC (Football Club) either before or after. Out of those that do not solely use FC and the city name, Tacoma Defiance has the best nickname. For one, look at the logo. The boat being shrouded by the tentacles of some kraken-like creature is stunning and scary. The colors all work well together, and create such a unique look to a name that would make any fan proud.
Alongside a great logo, the Defiance's name comes from some local features. Because of how long the coastline is with rough elements that would be hard for invading ships to attack, President Andrew Johnson set aside the peninsula as a potential West Coast military base in the late 1800s. The base was never built, but the area was kept as 760 acres of natural forest, beaches, and flower gardens known as Point Defiance Park. A combat craft named the USS Point Defiance was also commissioned out of the area and saw service during the Vietnam War. These two reasons show how integrated the Defiance name is with the local area.
With a great logo and references to the local area, the Tacoma Defiance have the best name in the USL.
Minor league sports have a vast array of unique nicknames. From names with appealing logos, great colors, historical connections, and local tie-ins, each U.S. minor league/level has one great team name that combines many of these elements. For a quick recap, here are the best unique team names:
Triple-A Baseball: Albuquerque Isotopes
Double-A Baseball: Biloxi Shuckers
Single-A Baseball (1): Florida Fire Frogs
Single-A Baseball (2): Auburn Doubledays
NBA G-League: Fort Wayne Mad Ants
American Hockey League: San Jose Barracuda
ECHL: Wheeling Nailers
United Soccer League: Tacoma Defiance
Like the Rajahs and Arabs in my high school basketball league, these minor league team nicknames are zany and unique that as sports fans we usually don't get at the highest levels. Even though they may not be as mainstream as major league names, these names are just as polished and have been embraced by fans far and wide.