What’s in a Name?

Within 24 hours of the Washington Redskins announcement that they were beginning an internal review of their nickname, the Indians announced their plan “to determine the best path forward with regard to our team name.” In light of current events, and considering the history of controversy surrounding the team’s name, it is unsurprising to find the Tribe at this juncture. Although there have been discussions regarding the team’s nickname in the past, this time feels as though something substantial will happen. With that in mind, have a look at some of the names suggested on social media and in various articles over the past few days.


Changing the name to Tribe does make a certain amount of sense. Tribe and Indians have been used interchangeably over the years and appears to be a natural progression. Retaining the Native American theme would allow the organization to transition to a new name without massive changes in logo, design, merchandising, etc. It would allow the team to remain connected to the name it has used over the past 106 years. However, those that view the use of Native American names and its imagery as problematic are likely to be against the use of Tribe as well. The Indians’ front office may want to steer completely clear of names that invoke the names and legacies of Native Americans.

Naps, Fellers, Dobys, etc.

Previously, the Indians have been named after a player. In this case, that player was Nap Lajoie. Cleveland used the name Naps from 1903-1914. Along with Lajoie, Bob Feller and Larry Doby have had their names come up as possible replacements for Indians. On its surface, this would be a fine way to honor the team’s past while trying to move forward. Again, the problem with these suggestions is the current environment. As daily reports come in regarding the destruction of statues and the removal of names from buildings due to opposition to the views of the honored individual, one can imagine the Tribe’s front office being hesitant to change its name to that of a former player. The risk being that something about that player’s character or views will come to light, which will not be favored by various groups now or in the future. The safe bet would be for the team to look elsewhere for a new name.


The Hope Memorial Bridge is the inspiration behind this name. The 5,865-foot art deco truss bridge runs east-west over the Cuyahoga River, ending just short of Progressive Field. Near both ends of the bridge a pair of figures sculpted in the sandstone pylons stand. These four figures are known as the “Guardians of Traffic.” There are a lot of strengths in this name’s favor. It seems unlikely to offend and is connected to Cleveland. Further, the name represents a positive quality, protection. The sculptures themselves provide a logo and mascot for the organization. This is a safe option for a name change.


When the Indians were established in 1901 as a charter team in the American League, they were originally known as the Blues. The name lasted for one season as it was changed to Broncos in 1902. Before the AL team, another team called the Cleveland Blues played in the National League from 1879-1884. Therefore, this name does have a historical connection. With the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, this name could play well because of its musical connotation. Subsequently, the name could be viewed as honoring a musical genre associated primarily with the black community. A major drawback to changing the name to the Blues is the fact that an NHL franchise already uses this name, the St. Louis Blues. Although certain names are used by multiple franchises, e.g., Giants and Cardinals, the fact that in the four major sports leagues only one new/relocating franchise in the past 45 years has taken a name already in use (i.e., the Carolina Panthers) weigh heavily in favor of Cleveland preferring to change its name to one not already in use by another professional franchise. This seems especially likely in this era where companies increasingly stress the importance of marketing and branding.


The Buckeyes played in the Negro Leagues from 1942-1950, winning the 1945 Negro World Series. They were based in Cleveland from 1943-1948 and 1950 while splitting time with Cincinnati in 1942 and playing out of Louisville in 1949. Once again, this name has a connection with the city and its baseball history. A major advantage of using this name would be as a means of honoring the Negro Leagues and the black players who were never allowed to play in the majors. The big obstacle would be the massive university in Columbus who employs that name for its teams. Ohio State University would unlikely stand by idly while another team in the state used “Buckeyes .” The argument can be made that Cleveland could change its name to the Buckeyes, but OSU has trademarked the term “Buckeyes” for merchandising purposes, at the very least. This could potentially be a major headache for the organization if it believes it has to go to court to sell merchandise using the name “Buckeyes.”. Therefore, it seems unlikely that Cleveland would go in this direction.


As with many of the other names suggested, this name has a history with the city of Cleveland. The Cleveland Spiders played in the American Association and the National League from 1887-1899.  A strong argument can be made for the possibilities regarding logos, merchandise, mascots, marketing materials, etc. for this name. Further, this team had some success, winning the Temple Cup (precursor to the World Series) in 1895. Unfortunately, the 1899 team is considered one of the worst teams in baseball history, producing the worst single-season record of 20-134. For a team trying to win its first World Series since 1948, it may not want to be saddled with a name that has that distinction. With that being said, it appears that this could be a strong contender for the change.

Clearly, this is not an exhaustive list. We would love to hear your suggestions. Let us know what you think on Twitter @CLEsportsTalk.

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