North Dakota Fighting Null

“The seven names will be put to a public vote at a still to-be-determined date, allowing the masses to bring UND into a new era. And I think we can all agree that as long as voters don’t choose “Fighting Hawks,” everything will be alright.” -Zack Barnett

North Dakota Fighting Space AliensImage by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

North Dakota Fighting Space Aliens
Image by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com North Dakota Fighting Null

The North Dakota Sioux had to find a new mascot due to the NCAA regulations. There are two Sioux tribes in the region and one supported the nickname and imagery while the other opposed it. Boosters and the state dug in their heels, with the former bankrolling a flooding of imagery of the logo while the state passed a law preventing them from changing their name. The result is that the University of North Dakota missed out on their chance at joining the other Dakota schools in the Missouri Valley Conference, and for the last couple of years UND has had no mascot. They’ve just been North Dakota. The law preventing them from adopting a new nickname has lapsed, though, and now it’s time to pick something.

A little while back, James I Bowie at Slate looked at the North Dakota mascot situation and evaluated potential replacements. Bowie makes the following observation:

What, then, will be next for North Dakota? The university has established a “Nickname and Logo Process Recommendation Task Force,” which may in turn appoint yet another committee to help select a new name this year.

In my opinion, universities have often not done a good job of replacing Native American nicknames and logos. Fearful of controversy and hamstrung by committee decision-making processes, they have often selected names and marks that are bland, generic, uninspiring, and lacking in distinctiveness.
Birds are a typical choice. Of Division I schools that dropped Native American nicknames, 39 percent subsequently adopted bird mascots. By comparison, among other Division I schools, only 15 percent have bird mascots.

Colors are also popular in post–Native American nicknames. Fully half feature some reference to color, compared with just 7 percent of other schools’ nicknames.

Sometimes, birds and colors are combined, as in the case of the Miami RedHawks, Seattle Redhawks, Southeast Missouri State Redhawks, and Marquette Golden Eagles. UND would do well to avoid these clichés by selecting a name that is distinctive and memorable.

And what did the students at the University of North Dakota choose? The Hawks. The Fighting Hawks, to be precise.

Are you kidding me?

Have we lost the capacity to name teams? Between the dumb not-plural-noun names that have become more common in Basketball (Heat, Magic, Thunder), the eye-rolling names of Major League Soccer, and the replacement names at the college level, I am beginning to think so.

Fighting Hawks? There were a handful of options that the students voted on: Fighting Hawks, Green Hawks, Nodaks, North Stars, Roughriders, and Sundogs.

It’s almost enough to make me suspect that they rigged the finalists so that people would choose a bland name, but even with these bad options the students chose the worst one. North Stars and Nodaks have a redundancy problem. Roughriders is the name of the CFL team to their north, but all-in-all isn’t a terrible name. Hawks? What the hell? Sundogs was the best one. Even the pre-Sioux name, the Flickertails, is better.

But there were limitless opportunities. They stopped being the Flickertails because they wanted something tougher, with North Dakota State being the Bison. They chose Sioux because Sioux hunt bison. They could have just gone with Hunters. Or Frontiersmen (and Frontierswomen). Or they could have chosen something similarly intimidating, like the Rhonos. Or something uniquely badass, like Otters[1]. Or be the Chargers with a dinosaur mascot. Or the Hellboys (and Hellgirls). The ties to North Dakota may be tenuous, but who cares! Cool!

Instead… Hawks. I fear for the future of my country.


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Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter. ...more →

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171 thoughts on “North Dakota Fighting Null

  1. What’s odd to me is that they had some interesting choices, and went with a thoroughly uninteresting one. It doesn’t seem that we’re incapable of naming teams; collectively, we’re not interested in good names.

    Also, the university president’s speech announcing the new name and what it means is awesome.

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    • Inability to come up with a good name is the curse of our age (see also: bandnames, where “#allthegoodbandnamesaretaken” is a recurring tag for me). I just got a (pretty good!) record by a guy calling himself “Car Seat Headrest”.

      When you are making a Robert Pollard fan who also owns albums by “Kleenex Girl Wonder” and “A Faulty Chromosome” shake his head…you’ve got to try harder.

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      • Oh, it’s just that musicians are oft uncreative things.

        “The Glitch Mob” — how’s that for a name? (yes, it’s taken.)
        Hydrogen Jukebox

        You can come up with nearly anything, and make it interesting enough to be a name. It’s just a moniker, after all.

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      • “OK, what are we gonna name the band?”

        [Scans the room.]

        “How ’bout Fold Out Ottoman?”

        “No, we picked that last time.”

        “Area Rug?”

        “That’s the name of Steve’s band. Remember? You were here when he picked it.”

        “Oh yeah. Let’s see… Glass Coffee Table? Ikea Lamp? Makeshift TV Stand? Bending Book Shelf?”

        “Bending Bookshelf! That’s gold.”

        “OK, should we be The Bending Book Shelf?”

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      • My best friend was in a band called The Drinks. Which I can mention freely because try googling them. You wouldn’t find them even before they broke up. (You will find another band because sigh.)

        You know what’s not enticing on a bar marquee? “Tonight… The Drinks!”

        They could have at least gone with “Half-Price Drinks”

        Anyway, you can listen to a bit of the music of the late, lamented “Drinks” (ugh) here.

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        • It’s not JUST that they are corporate names, it’s that they change annually now so nobody is ever sure they are talking about the same thing. Far be it from me to suggest that the ginormous, taxpayer-funded, hella-expensive structure be called by one single consistent name for an extended period, but….

          It’s like they are collecting more AKAs than most career criminals now.

          Which, come to think of it…

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        • Not all corporate names are as bad as others. For instance, “Citi Field” for a team that plays in New York City kinda sorta works. If you didn’t know what it was named for, you wouldn’t really think about it. I feel similarly about Miller Park and Coors Field… yes, those are corporate names, but they are really closely linked with the respective cities and they roll off the tongue pretty easily; they aren’t a mouthful. Lastly, if I’m not familiar with the corporation in question, I similarly just think about it as the stadium’s funky name. I never heard of Pac Bell (Pacific Bell, I guess?). I’ve heard of Pac Bell Park and that is easy to say so I don’t think of whatever Pacific Bell does (phones?) when I hear the name, I think of Barry Bonds. So that is probably a fail by Pac Bell but a win as far as stadium names go.

          The ones that really suck are ones like TD Bank North Garden. Ugh. US Cellular Field. Gross. Though at least the latter just gets called “The Cell” which is kind of cool.

          Ultimately, though, it is really hard to care about these things. That is just how things work now. Shaking your fist at it isn’t going to do much for you. However, if things like what really do happen, I find that objectionable. If the taxpayers ostensibly paid for naming rights and then had them sold out from under them, that is highly problematic.

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          • Miller, Coors, and Wrigley are also family names in addition to being corporate names. Going to a game at Miller Park seems more personal than TD Bank North Garden. Citi Field is one of the least worst offensive corporate names because it sounds almost normal.

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            • I think the question is, “If you didn’t know it was a corporate sponsor buying naming rights, would you guess that it was?”

              Tropicana Field (in Tampa/St. Pete) is another one that works because it just sort of sounds like an adjective for the area.

              And then there are companies whose names are very generic. The United Center… is that named for the airline? Or just a kumbaya moment? I like to pretend it is the latter.

              And some names seem so out of place that I don’t associate them with the company at all. I only recently realized that the Staples Center was named for the office supply store because, I dunno, it just never occurred to me to link those two.

              All that to say is that corporate stadium sponsor names are weird but a weirdness we are likely stuck with.

              Just wait until the jerseys start carrying ads. And they will. Oh they will!

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          • When I lived in the Seattle area some years back, before the Supersonics got stolen by Oklahoma, they used to play in Key Arena even as the Mariners played ball at Safeco Field.

            Which was kind of cool because nobody outside Western Washington really recognized ‘Key Bank’ or ‘Safeco Insurance’ allowing Seattle Fans to just say they watched sports at the ‘Key’ or the ‘Safe’. Which only got a little diluted with Century Link Field for the Sounders and Seahawks.

            Still you got a like ‘the Key’ ‘the Safe’ and the ‘Link’. If that damn tech company had just named itself ‘Century Lock’ we would have really had something going.

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          • That’s the reason I hate Comerica Park replacing Tigers Stadium, but I actually like* the Lions playing in Ford Field rather than the Silverdome. For one thing, the Ford family owns the Lions, so they can name the stadium the Edsel Arena if they want.** For the same reason, it’s not just a money grab from a random local megabusiness who has some advertising budget to burn. Most importantly, though, is that Detroit was made by Ford, among others, and it’s a not just a nod to a prominent local family business, but to the very roots of the city. It feels right.

            *To be clear, I like the stadium name. I would not describe my feelings about the Lions’ current season as “liking”.

            **Pretty appropriate right now, actually.

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      • Forget band names, we can’t even come up with good nicknames. You just end up with the First initial, first three of last name or something equally lame. I actually suspect it is less about people of this era and more due to general blandening that is happening because of national and global media. And One players have much better nicknames than NBA players despite coming from the same sport and a similar cultural milieu.

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  2. Well, at least they didn’t come up with something like Univ of Oregon “Ducks”.

    At least South Carolina has a fighting bird, the Gamecocks, although that’s only moderately less stupid.

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    • At least both of those are varying degrees of unique. (Ducks less so now.) I think Gamecocks in particular is pretty good.

      (Reminds me a bit of a storyline from The Shield, where Shane impersonated someone who trained cocks to fight. He didn’t think it would work because he’s white. The hispanic guy helping him basically said, ‘Dude, the half of the people on the scene who aren’t Latinos are hicks.’)

      (Shane. Sigh.)

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      • Colors are also popular in post–Native American nicknames. Fully half feature some reference to color, compared with just 7 percent of other schools’ nicknames.

        Sometimes, birds and colors are combined

        I can’t even believe you left the Stanford Cardinal off this list, previously the Stanford Indians. Particularly since they are NOT the birds. But only the color. Yet has a mascot which is a green tree. You might think those 70’s Stanford kids were screwing with our heads. Unless like me you were at their arch rival cross-bay school and KNEW they were screwing with your heads.

        Plus you get double points if you know that Leland Stanford Senior deliberately modeled the school he called Leland Stanford Junior College (something Stanford hasn’t QUITE lived down even though named after the kid) after Harvard. Which ALSO is just a color. (Or Colour). Giving us the Harvard Crimson and the Stanford Cardinal.

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  3. I didn’t even know what a Sundog was, but it was the best of those options. After looking it up, it was even better.

    I’m a fan of using historical names when possible, so I would have voted for Flickertails had I the opportunity. I support Cleveland changing its MLB team name to the Cleveland Spiders for that very reason. And think of the marketing opportunities!

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                  • This is not quite right. The National Club was one of the most prominent amateur-era Washington teams, most famous for making the first western tour, in 1867 (assuming that the Athletics schlepping out to Pittsburgh a few years earlier doesn’t count, which it seems not to).

                    The first National Club went defunct in the 1870s, but baseball has a long tradition of recycling names. The second National Club was founded in 1877, and last until 1881.

                    Things then get a little muddled, but the third or fourth (depending on how you could a loosely organized semi-pro iteration) National Club was in the Union Association in 1884, the Eastern League in 1885, and the National League from 1886-1889. (The standard sources don’t recognize this connection: partly because the modern mindset doesn’t really accommodate this pattern, and largely because I am the only one who has actually looked at the primary sources).

                    The thing is, the National League didn’t go in for colorful club names. It mandated boring names like “Chicago Ball Club.” So the National Club changed its name to “Washington Ball Club” (or something equally uninspired). The curious side effect of not having an official colorful name is that this opened up space for journalists to create colorful nicknames. In this instance, they likely were inspired by Maryland Senator Arthur Gorman. Gorman had been a prominent member of the original Nationals, and was still a fan, frequently sneaking out of the capitol to attend games. So “Senators” stuck, in much the same way that the Cleveland team is the “Indians” because of one player being an Native American.

                    Now jump forward two versions later, to the American League team of 1901. The American League had not silly prejudice against colorful names, so many of its teams adopted traditional team names from the previous century: Redsox, Whitesox, Browns, Athletics… and Nationals. The press, however, also used what was by then the traditional nickname of “Senators.” The two appear interchangeably for many years. I suspect that the press was also influenced by the common practice in two-team cities of referring to the, e.g., “Chicago Nationals” and “Chicago Americans.” “Washington Nationals” for an American League team would seem odd: hence a gradual trend to favor “Senators.”

                    As a point of information, the team names you find in baseball-reference.com are more often than not utter bollocks for the 19th century, and in some cases up to the mid-20th. The list has a bunch of tacit assumptions built into it, which are anachronistic until the second half of the 20th century.

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                      • We wasn’t a senator when he was playing. He was friends with Stephen Douglas, who got him appointments to various Senate posts beginning with page and working his way up to Postmaster of the Senate.

                        He lost that position in 1866 and was appointed to a position as Collector of Internal Revenue. I don’t know the details behind that, but that latter appointment shows ties with the Johnson administration. The National Club also had such ties. This was the nominally amateur era, so their payroll was buried in the Treasury Department budget. This also explains why the club went into decline with the coming of the Grant administration. Gorman is often credited by modern writers for that Treasury Department connection, but this is incorrect. He was far too junior at that point.

                        He was elected to the Maryland legislature in 1869, and to the US Senate in 1881, serving three terms.

                        Probably more than anyone wanted to know…

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      • Nebraska is currently the Cornhuskers (adding an adjective would just be silly). For several years before that was adopted they were the Bugeaters, which is not as bad as it sounds, being derived from a slang term for the common nighthawk. The threat by the University of Missouri team to not play earlier this year prompted me to go back and look up something I thought I remembered. In 1892, the Bugeaters got an official 1-0 forfeit victory over U of M, when Missouri refused to take the field because one of the Nebraska players was a black med student.

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        • Southern Tech was the first school of its station in its region to deliberately integrate its athletics. Reading about it – and how other schools responded – is interesting. It’s been over 50 years and we haven’t since played some of the schools we played year in and year out before.

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    • Wait… are they still the Banana Slugs? Isn’t the idea behind that as a mascot is that they have no natural predators, therefore putting them at the top of their food chain? That’s sort of badass. Even if only on a technicality.

      Note: I base this on the USSC shirt I had with a big cartoon banana slug on the front and the tagline “No Natural Predators” (or something thereabouts) across the back.

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  4. Liberals created this problem with their PC demands and will continue to do so as people give into them. Just look at the demands that Princeton erase W. Wilson from its history.

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  5. I was in a brand new school in eighth grade: Standley Middle School. The student body got to vote on the mascot. (Why does a junior high need a mascot? I don’t know. My kids’ elementary school has one, which is equally pointless.) The choices were anodyne, but there was one interesting item: the Standley Steamers. I lobbied for it. The winner was the Seahawks. It turned out that the student body as a whole was not as interested in obsolete automotive technology as was I.

    More recently, a few years back, the independent Atlantic League put baseball teams in York and Lancaster, Pennsylvania. They chose to eschew the traditional names for minor league ball teams in those towns: the White Roses and Red Roses respectively. They instead are the York Revolution and the Lancaster Barnstormers. I was thoroughly disgusted.

    The upshot is that I have been trained nearly my entire life to expect disappointing sports team names, even was presented with much cooler possibilities.

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    • When I was in middle school, a new middle school was built. So they had to choose a mascot. The administration liked Cadets because it was taken from land of a government installation where that name was appropriate. The kids didn’t like it. There was a groundswell of support for a different name, the Cobras. It was universally popular with anyone and everyone who cared.

      The district immediately assumed that it must be some sort of gang thing and went with Cardinals.

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  6. Traveling in the northwest many years ago, I stopped in to watch a high school game between the “Eagles” and the “Spuds.”

    The “Spuds.”

    It seemed to me at the time that growing up in a school system where your high school team was called the “Spuds” was a particularly evil form of child abuse.

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  7. Considering that it is North Dakota, why didn’t they go for the North Dakota Oil Riggers? Oil Riggers are seen as tough and hardy people and would be a good mascot for a football team, exceedingly few people would have been offended, and it’s original.

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  8. They need to get some Iain Banks up in this piece.

    The North Dakota And You Mother Too.

    The North Dakota Subcutaneous Haemorrhages.

    The North Dakota Hyperextended Groin Injuries.

    The North Dakota Late Hits.

    The North Dakota Banned From NCAA.

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  9. Will Truman:
    Biggest issue is that while the state enjoys oil revenue but doesn’t identify itself by it. It’s not wrapped in its history and self-image like Texas and Alberta.

    And the University of North Dakota is in Grand Forks, the other side of the state from the oil activity. North Dakota is not a tiny state. It would be no surprise that the university community might feel little affinity or connection with drilling that happens hundreds of miles away.

    North Dakota has fairly skewed college and university placement. The two big state schools are on the Minnesota border.

    (And I’m not sure why this reply fell out of the thread that Will’s was in….)

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  10. Falcons. Ospreys. Raptors.

    There are lots of cool bird-themed names, not everyone has to be hawks.

    But three of Canada’s seven NHL hockey teams are named after the concept of being Canadian (with another three named after local industries), so we really don’t have any grounds to criticize.

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