Taylor Heinecke of the Washington Football Team

A tremendous amount of thought, planning, market research, and, in the present day, focus-grouping goes into selecting just the right name for a major professional sports franchise. An NFL, NBA, NHL, or Major League Baseball franchise is a potentially billion-dollar business, and everything has to go correctly for it to succeed, and that means finding a name that’s catchy, cool, reflects local history or culture, sounds intimidating, implies unmatched sports prowess, and looks good on player jerseys and fans’ T-shirts and hats. If done properly, a name may eventually be held in high esteem and become part of the vernacular — well-determined titles like the Raiders, Celtics, Cardinals, or Mets.

Every once in a while, a team has to go back to the proverbial drawing board and adopt a new name after their old one proves to be a flop, either extremely goofy or unpopular or because changing cultural modes and a more enlightened populace demand it. Here are major North American sports teams that changed their names and the many reasons why they did it.

New York Jets

Joe Namath in a New York Jets helmet

By 1960, the decades-old NFL fielded 12 teams, and that year, the rival American Football League started play with a collection of eight teams. The NFL would later absorb the AFL, including the New York Titans. According to Lou Sahadi’s "The Long Pass" (via NJ.com), owner Harry Wismer came up with the name. In Greek mythology, the titans are powerful and mighty gods. "Titans are bigger and stronger than Giants," Wismer was reportedly fond of saying, a not-subtle putdown of his NFL cross-town rivals, the New York Giants.

Wismer was wrong. The New York Giants had won four NFL titles by that point, while in their first three seasons, the Titans amassed a mediocre 19-23 record and also struggled financially, with player paychecks frequently bouncing. In November 1962, the AFL took control over the team and then sold it to a new ownership group led by entertainment industry tycoon Sonny Werblin. The new management aggressively pushed for a reset, changing the team’s colors from blue and gold to green and white, moving the team from the old Polo Grounds to the brand-new Shea Stadium, and officially dumping the Titans name in favor of the Jets. Such a name oozes the sensibility of the early 1960s, when commercial intercontinental jet travel was in the midst of a glamorous boom period. Additionally, Shea Stadium sat near two of New York City’s three airports.

Tennessee Titans

Buster Skrine in a Tennessee Titans shirt

Texas oilman Bud Adams helped found the American Football League, and in 1960, his team, the Houston Oilers took the field. The Oilers won two AFL titles, weathered a merger with the NFL, and were a respectable team that frequently made it into the playoffs, but in 1997, they moved to Tennessee. According to CBS News, the new Tennessee Oilers played its first season’s home games in Memphis, attracting a league-worst average of 28,028 fans, which didn’t increase much when it moved to Nashville for subsequent seasons. In the summer of 1998, Adams announced his intention to rename the Tennessee Oilers, hoping a new name would give the team a boost on the field.

Texas is a major hotbed of the oil industry, and Tennessee isn’t, so "Oilers" didn’t mean much to Nashville football fans. Adams decided on the alliterative Tennessee Titans, which hinted at strength and a sense of place. "Titans come from early Greek mythology and the fact that Nashville is known as the ‘Athens of the South’ makes the Titans name very appropriate," Adams said. "If we continue to play like Titans, we’ll be in the playoffs in January." The strategy worked and Adams’ prediction proved correct — the Titans played in (but lost) the franchise’s first ever Super Bowl in early 1999.

Bobby McCain of the Washington Football Team
Cleveland Guardians signage in Cleveland