Thursday, July 17, 2008

On names and sports

Names are like coils of DNA. Any new new name that I hear or read, of persons or places, is like a juicy book waiting to be read. Where does the name come from? What is the history of the name people who carry the name? English being a non-phonetic language, the way they are spelled adds another interesting angle to names.

In India, it is sometimes considered rude to inquire into last names, especially of strangers, because of the caste connection and the connotations that go with it. But here people seem to take pleasure in being grilled about their names (maybe they like the attention). Normally, the first step is to establish the geographic connection which is mostly pretty straightforward (how can you go wrong with a Bauer or a McGee?). The more interesting part is the family history. I find it funny that most people I have spoken to think they know a lot less about their genealogical history than they actually do. With some encouragement and hints on my part, a fortune of information comes tumbling out.

Some colleagues who have discovered my knack for decoding surnames, especially Indian ones, occasionally bring me some Indian surname they recently came across and listen (sometimes in disbelief) as I guess the person's ancestral profession, history, geography, and cultural background. For names not originating in western India, I normally only go as far as the mother tongue, but imagine the joy when a name like Gokhale or Prajapati or Jhala comes my way.

The love for name-histories extends to an unlikely arena - sports. Professional sport teams have names that often have a grounding in their some interesting circumstance of their founding or geographic location. For some reason I am not aware of, teams belonging to the NFL (football) seems to have names with richer histories and stories than teams from other leagues like NBA (basketball) and MLB (baseball). Here are some gems:

Ravens (Baltimore): After Edgar Allan Poe's famous poem, The Raven. Poe was from Baltimore.

49ers (San Francisco): After the gold rush that turned San Francisco in a span of months from a pueblo to a city. The gold rush started in 1849.

Steelers (Pittsburg): After the city's connection with the steel industry.

NBA teams with some history and stories in their names are few and far between. One of them is:

76ers (Philadelphia): After the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia in 1776.

Some university sports teams too call themselves by interesting names:

Cornhuskers (University of Nebraska): After Nebraska's prolific production of corn.

Volunteers (University of Tennessee): After the state nickname, in turn named after the volunteer soldiers from the state who showed up in record numbers during the war of 1812.

Sooners (University of Oklahoma): Again, named after the state nickname, in turn named after illegal settlers who secretly crept into the borders of the territory to claim land rights before it was officially settled by whites in 1889 (thus violating the 'sooner' clause of the Indian Appropriations Act).

And so on. Imagine my disappointment when team names for the IPL and ICL were announced. My hometown team is called Ahmedabad Rockets. WTF. I secretly hope they called it that because the city is the home of the Indian Space Research Organisation.

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

free html hit counter