FanPost

'Lady' Names In Women's Basketball: Outdated Labels or Unique Monikers?

With the NCAA basketball tournaments in full swing, basketball is on many people’s minds. Part of the (non-basketball related) fun of watching so many teams in quick succession is learning about each school’s unique traditions, including nicknames and mascots. As fans of women’s hoops in particular, readers of Swish Appeal are acutely aware of the phenomenon I have come to refer to as "Lady Teams." Lady Teams are those whose women’s sports teams are referred to with a gendered nickname, such as the Lady Vols of Tennessee and the Women of Troy of USC.

During a conversation about team nicknames with a fellow women’s basketball fan, the question "isn’t a bear just a bear?" arose. I pointed out that technically, female bears bears are also known as sows while male bears are referred to as boars. After we ruled out Baylor Sows/Baylor Boars as appealing nicknames for that school’s athletic teams, I decided to take a closer look at the Lady Teams phenomenon.

Working from a list of collegiate team nicknames, I put together a spreadsheet of 68 women’s athletic programs in the NCAA that include basketball and that use a nickname different from that of their men’s team. (Nicknames of men’s teams, if not apparent, are in parentheses following the nickname of the women’s team.)

Team Name School Division
Lady Bulldogs Alabama A&M University NCAA Div. I Southwestern Athletic Conference
Lady Hornets Alabama State University NCAA Div. I Southwestern Athletic Conference
Lady Braves Alcorn State University NCAA Div. I Southwestern Athletic Conference
Lady Govs Austin Peay State University NCAA Div. I Ohio Valley Conference
Lady Bears Baylor University NCAA Div. I Big Twelve Conference
Lady Blues (Big Blues) Bluefield State College NCAA Div. II West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference
Lady Knights Calvin College NCAA Div. III Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association
Lady Reds Carthage College NCAA Div. III College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin
Lady Bucs (Buccaneers) Charleston Southern University NCAA Div. I Big South Conference
Lady Tigers Clemson University NCAA Div. I Atlantic Coast Conference
Lady Chants (Chanticleers) Coastal Carolina University NCAA Div. I Big South Conference
Lady Lions (Mountain Lions) Concord University NCAA Div. II West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference
Lady Statesmen Delta State University NCAA Div. II Gulf South Conference
Lady Bucs (Buccaneers) East Tennessee State University NCAA Div. I Atlantic Sun Conference
Lady Colonels Eastern Kentucky University NCAA Div. I Ohio Valley Conference
Lady Eagles Georgia Southern University NCAA Div. I Southern Conference
Lady Pioneers Glenville State College NCAA Div. II West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference
Lady Tigers Grambling State University NCAA Div. I Southwestern Athletic Conference
Lady Pirates Hampton University NCAA Div. I Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference
Lady Blues (Blue Boys) Illinois College NCAA Div. III Midwest Conference
Lady Tigers Jackson State University NCAA Div. I Southwestern Athletic Conference
Lady Owls Kennesaw State University NCAA Div. I Atlantic Sun Conference
Lady Cardinals Lamar University NCAA Div. I Southland Conference
Lady Flames Liberty University NCAA Div. I Big South Conference
Lady Bisons Lipscomb University NCAA Div. I Atlantic Sun Conference
Lady Tigers Louisiana State University NCAA Div. I Southeastern Conference
Lady Techsters (Bulldogs) Louisiana Tech University NCAA Div. I Western Athletic Conference
Lady Jaspers Manhattan College NCAA Div. I Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference
Lady Mavs (Mavericks) Mesa State College NCAA Div. II Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference
Lady Mustangs Midwestern State University NCAA Div. II Lone Star Conference
Lady Bulldogs Mississippi State University NCAA Div. I Southwestern Athletic Conference
Delta Devilettes (Delta Devils) Mississippi Valley State University NCAA Div. I Southwestern Athletic Conference
Lady Bears Missouri State University NCAA Div. I Missouri Valley Conference
Lady Bears Morgan State University NCAA Div. I Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference
Lady Racers Murray State University NCAA Div. I Ohio Valley Conference
Lady Colonels Nicholls State University NCAA Div. I Southland Conference
Lady Demons Northwestern State University NCAA Div. I Southland Conference
Lady Monarchs Old Dominion University NCAA Div. I Colonial Athletic Association
Lady Nittany Lions Pennsylvania State University NCAA Div. I Big Ten Conference
Lady Panthers Prairie View A&M University NCAA Div. I Southwestern Athletic Conference
Lady Tigers Savannah State University NCAA Div. I Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference
Lady Lions Southeastern Louisiana University NCAA Div. I Southland Conference
Lady Muleriders Southern Arkansas University NCAA Div. II Great American Conference
Lady Thunderbirds Southern Utah University NCAA Div. I The Summit League
Ladyjacks (Lumberjacks) Stephen F. Austin State University NCAA Div. I Southland Conference
Lady Tigers Tennessee State University NCAA Div. I Ohio Valley Conference
Red Raiders (Lady Raiders for women's basketball only) Texas Tech University NCAA Div. I Big Twelve Conference
Lady Tigers (Golden Tigers) Tuskegee University NCAA Div. II Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference
Lady Razorbacks (aka Lady'Backs) University of Arkansas NCAA Div. I Southeastern Conference
Cotton Blossoms (Boll Weevils) University of Arkansas at Monticello
NCAA Div. II Great American Conference
Sugar Bears University of Central Arkansas NCAA Div. I Southland Conference
Lady Bulldogs University of Georgia NCAA Div. I Southeastern Conference
Rainbow Wahine ((Rainbow) Warriors) University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa NCAA Div. I Western Athletic Conference
Lady Tigers University of Memphis NCAA Div. I Conference USA
Grizzlies (Lady Griz for women's basketball only) University of Montana NCAA Div. I Big Sky Conference
Lady Rebels University of Nevada, Las Vegas NCAA Div. I Mountain West Conference
Lady Privateers University of New Orleans NCAA Div. II University of New Orleans
Women of Troy (Trojans) University of Southern California NCAA Div. I Pac-12 Conference
Lady Volunteers University of Tennessee NCAA Div. I Southeastern Conference
Lady Mocs University of Tennessee at Chattanooga NCAA Div. I Southern Conference
Lady Broncs University of Texas–Pan American NCAA Div. I Great West Football Conference
Lady Firebirds University of the District of Columbia NCAA Div. II East Coast Conference
Lady Blues (Ichabods) Washburn University NCAA Div. II Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association
Lady Toppers (Hilltoppers) West Liberty University NCAA Div. II West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference
Lady Buffs (Buffaloes) West Texas A&M University NCAA Div. II Lone Star Conference
Lady Bobcats West Virginia Wesleyan NCAA Div. II West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference
Lady Catamounts Western Carolina University NCAA Div. I Southern Conference
Westerwinds (Fighting Leathernecks) Western Illinois University NCAA Div. I The Summit League

The list is most likely incomplete but provides a fairly thorough look at the range of teams that use gendered nicknames. Most of the teams simply add "Lady" to the men’s nickname, but there are a handful that use a different variant. My rule for inclusion on the list is that the women’s nickname is one that is inexplicably gendered; for example, the men’s team at Baylor is not referred to as the Gentleman Bears; why should the women’s team be referred to any differently? Another example: the men’s teams at Stephen F. Austin State University are known as the Lumberjacks, while the women’s teams are referred to as the Ladyjacks. As far as I know, female lumberjacks in the real world are known as lumberjacks. What is the reason for deviating from this word when it comes to women’s athletic teams?

I hypothesized that this trend would be more prevalent in the southeastern U.S., and as you can see on the map below, this proved to be the case. Exceptions were not uncommon, though, suggesting there are probably many reasons--in addition to regional culture--underlying the use of "lady" and other modifiers for women’s teams.

Ladyteamsmap_medium

There are many profound questions raised by the matter of modified nicknames for women’s athletic teams that probe the intersections of sex, gender, culture, society, and linguistics; I will spare the readers of Swish Appeal my thoughts on those. However, to ground this piece in a bit of theory I will point out that this is a prime example of what the linguist Nikolai Trubetzkoy referred to as marked and unmarked categories: unmarked categories (eg, men’s basketball) stand in for the entire or generic category (eg, basketball), whereas marked categories (eg, women’s basketball) are treated as a subcategory that is different from the entire or generic category (again, basketball in this case). Men’s basketball is typically referred to as basketball, whereas women’s basketball is a "marked" category that is almost always marked with the "women’s" modifier. In the case of Lady Teams, this markedness is extended to the nickname by which the team is called. By these societal rules, the women’s basketball team at Clemson University must be differentiated as such, and is thus referred to as the Lady Tigers rather than as simply the Tigers. This pattern applies not only to teams with animal nicknames, but also to teams with human nicknames (the Lady Pirates of Hampton University, for example), and even teams with inanimate nicknames (such as the Lady Flames of Liberty University). Meanwhile, men’s teams are infrequently referred to as such, simply being basketball teams, and their nicknames similarly do not require clarification or modification: they are simply Tigers, Pirates, Flames.

Although sports played by women are sometimes treated as being on par with men’s sports, there is still inequality to be found at almost every turn. Take, for instance, the NCAA’s website banner as it appears today:

Ncaatournament_medium

While there are categories for men’s sports and women’s sports, suggesting equal treatment, the presentation of basketball tournament-related links assumes that visitors are interested in the men’s tournament. A single link leading to information about the women’s tournament appears to the far right. Obviously there are many issues at play here, among them fan interest, financial reality, and website real estate. However, those do not negate the more fundamental issue that women in sports are clearly the marked category: the category that stands apart from the norm, the category that is sometimes identified with a nickname that sets it apart from the straightforward name of a school’s mascot, the category that is marked as so unusual that it must always be labeled as having to do with women.

Especially when couched in terms of sometimes lighthearted mascots this discussion may seem like a minor matter, but I submit that it is worth thought and discussion. As fans of women’s basketball we truly understand "the beauty and skill of the game." None of us visit this website because we’re caught up in a bandwagon effect, or because we want to see what everyone at the proverbial water cooler is talking about. We’re fans of the game, pure and simple, drawn in for various reasons but staying because there’s something of value in this sport as it is played by women. With the current political atmosphere as it relates to women being what it is, my own thought is that this matter of different nicknames for women’s teams is but a small part of one thread wending its way around how women are regarded in this country (and the world over). How we understand the way women’s teams are sometimes referenced should not be taken lightly.

I pose a question to you, dedicated fans of women’s basketball: what is your position on the Lady Teams phenomenon? Do you appreciate your favorite collegiate teams standing apart from their male counterparts with unique names? Or should they be referred to in the same way, unmodified, as men’s teams? Does it matter to you one way or the other? Please vote on the poll and share your thoughts in the comments.

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