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Whats in a name?

Lisa: A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

Bart: Not if you called ‘em stench blossoms.

- The Simpsons, season nine, episode 2

For whatever reason, I’ve always been fascinated by team mascots. I like mascots, but why do we really have them? What’s the point? If you really sit down and think about it for a few minutes, the concept of grown men and women identifying themselves by way of a cartoonish animal or person is downright silly.

I’m willing to make exceptions for children, who are silly creatures in general. My son Arthur spends half his waking hours pretending he’s Batman, Super Mario or a frog, so it seems reasonable that when it comes time to enroll him in sports, he should take pride in characterizing himself and the rest of his teammates as a gang of fierce-looking cats, dogs or people.

But I’m not here to challenge the existence of mascots. They are something we’ve all been raised with and accept pretty much without question. However, I will happily argue against the uniform names that we choose for mascots.

The English language is beautiful and complex. It is literally filled with millions of different nouns that could be possible names for team mascots.

Not all of them work, but there is enough variety that it should be easy to pick a unique team mascot. That’s why it has always bothered me that team mascots, particularly at the high school level, seem to operate under an unwritten rule that only a select few mascot names should be considered.

Take the 300-plus high schools that make up the Oregon School Activities Association as an example. I spent last week poring over the OSAA website to track the various mascots that make up our local high schools, and I found it fascinating to see how much overlap there is in mascot choices.

Our Woodburn Bulldogs are one of 10 high schools in Oregon that are identified by the popular, muscly canine of Looney Tunes fame. The North Marion Huskies also have a popular mascot name, but only five schools in Oregon go by the University of Washington’s namesake.

And while dogs are a popular choice for mascots in Oregon, they are not even close to the most prevalent animal used to name high school teams. Anyone who has ever been on the Internet knows that Americans love cats. Cats, including our Gervais Cougars, are the most common mascot name in the state, with 50 different teams being named after felines.

But despite their popularity, there is no one cat mascot that is the most popular in the state. That honor belongs to Eagles, which is the mascot of choice for 17 different schools.

When you really look at the numbers, animals account for 138 schools in Oregon, but there is so much overlap, that only 52 different animals make up those schools. Why the redundancy? There’s no lack of choices in the animal kingdom, so why is it that out of 50 schools named for cats, 82 percent of them share the same four names?

While there is much more variety when it comes to human-based mascots, the same names still crop up for teams like the Pirates (8) or the Vikings (7). Still, when it comes to unique mascot names, you see a lot more of them named after people, such as the Springfield Millers, the Mapleton Sailors or the Tillamook Cheesemakers.

And then there are the strange mash-ups that populate the Oregon mascot-sphere. The Weston-McEwen TigerScots are represented by both a Scottish terrier and a tiger. The Dalles Eagle Indians chose the most popular bird name and the most popular indigenous person name.

Finally, there are a handful of mascots that are simply too difficult to classify. This makes them the best, in my opinion, because it shows that someone cared about choosing a unique and identifiable symbol to represent their school.

The Billies of Pleasant Hill are by far the office favorite because it’s such a great play on words to choose a Billie Goat while also playfully calling their team a bunch of pleasant hillbillies.

When you get down to it, mascot name uniformity is a pretty trivial thing to complain about. Sure, it can be a bit confusing to write about the Gervais Cougars playing the Cascade Christian Cougars, but each school embraces their mascots in their own way, which helps separate them from each other. Still, with so many lizards, insects, amphibians, professions and abstract concepts available to choose from, I will always embrace the teams that choose something unique over a cookie-cutter name that hundreds of other teams have used in the past.




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