Ten years ago, Swish Appeal published an article about WNBA team names, arguing that women’s basketball fans deserve better. Considering 10 years have passed, and two of the teams discussed no longer exist, it might be the proper moment for an update. To paraphrase Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski, “It is just my opinion, man,” but I am not a fan of some teams’ names.
With the freedom inherent in naming a franchise in the United States, it should be rather easy to come up with a captivating, catchy name that simultaneously encapsulates what the city or the state is all about. (In contrast, European franchises often are obligated to include the names of sponsors, which is constraining. Consider, for example, Italian greats like Virtus Segafredo Bologna or Beretta Famila Schio.) Yet, it is not always the case, as proven by this informative listicle explaining the meanings behind WNBA franchise names.
Some are meh, some are okay and some are just perfect.
Tier One: Perfect
New York Liberty
When you think about New York, few things are more emblematic of the city than Lady Liberty. For centuries, she has welcomed immigrants, first from Europe and increasingly from around the globe, to this new world of endless possibilities.
Behind the name also is the freedom of self expression. It is that same spirit that inspired New York-native Nancy Lieberman to play the game against boys and fight for equality, a word which has been incorporated into the team’s away jerseys. Lieberman’s generation passed the torch to the first batch of WNBA talent, and it continues to be passed along, burning until this very day.
Las Vegas Aces
This one is simple, easy to understand and that’s the main reason it works.
Las Vegas -> Gambling -> Cards -> Aces
Gambling doesn’t have positive connotations, which is why the team presented the name as representative of the other meaning of the word “ace”: somebody at the top of their game. In their short history, the Aces already have been at the top of the W once. However, as the team colors are those of playing cards, the franchise also did not stray far from the former understanding of “ace”... and the team has been totally worth the gamble.
Tier Two: Good
Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun and, since there was already a NBA franchise in Phoenix named the Suns, it made perfect sense for the women’s franchise, established in the WNBA’s inaugural 1997 season, to come from the same galaxy. With their three WNBA championships, the Mercury have proven that they don’t need to be close to anybody; they can stand proud on their own. Especially considering the number of NBA championships won by the Suns. (Zero.)
The same argument—success and subsequent name recognition—can be applied to Seattle. The Storm have been a part of the WNBA landscape since the year 2000 and the name is a stronger, slightly exaggerated evocation of the rainy climate for which the state of Washington is notorious. Unlike the SuperSonics, the former NBA team whose name symbolized the bright future of Seattle, storms are a permanent occurrence. With four championships, the Storm have exceeded the role of placeholder for the Sonics.
Los Angeles Sparks
The name makes much more sense than “Lakers.” The players are supposed to be these sparks of energy, moving around the court and electrifying the crowds in Los Angeles. They’ve won three WNBA championships, which stands as proof that they can turn up the heat when it matters, and win. Also, as shown by the legendary Lisa Leslie, Sparks do fly in Los Angeles, further confirming the accuracy of the name.
There is a noble idea behind the name of the franchise, as it is derived from the famous speech by Atlanta-native Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Those are big shoes to fill and the players have not disappointed. In 2021, they stood up to former team co-owner Kelly Loeffler in her senatorial election, endorsing her rival Reverend Raphael Warnock instead. The decision came after Loeffler criticized the Black Lives Matter movement. After months of blowback, Loeffler and Mary Brock sold the team to a new ownership group, which includes former Dream player Renee Montgomery, who referred to the acquisition as “a dream come true.” The name can indeed symbolize aspirations and serve as inspiration to pursue one’s goals.
Tier Three: Meh
Fever is supposed to signify the passion that the people in Indiana have for basketball. With the state’s rich hoops history, was Fever the best that the organization could come up with? The name is reminiscent of the NBA’s Miami Heat, but, whereas Florida is known for its high temperatures and sunny days, Indiana endures rather cold winters. If you don’t dress properly, you possibly could catch a fever, albeit one associated with sickness, not sick moves made on the court.
This one is just lazy, as the franchise simply is copying their NBA counterparts—the Timberwolves—in terms of colorway and milieu. Furthermore, although lynx are awesome animals, they are nocturnal creatures and lonely hunters. Basketball, of course, is a team sport, and games often take place during the day or evening. So while Timberwolves works as a team name because of the pack mentality of the predators, the Lynx does not.
One of the nicknames for Chicago is “the City of Broad Shoulders” because it captures the blue-collar work ethic on which Chicagoans pride themselves. What does “sky” bring to the table when it comes to self identification? What is so special about the sky in Chicago that it was considered worthy of naming the team after? The skyline is indeed iconic. But the sky? Plus, the colorway is supposed to reflect a bright and sunny day in Chicago. How many of those occur in a year?
The seemingly generic name is supposed to “pay homage to Dallas’ iconic red Pegasus on top of the Magnolia Hotel downtown.” If that is the case, why don’t the team colors include red? The Pegasus was the logo of Magnolia Oil Company. So while the landmark may be considered historic, its origins are rooted in corporate America. Corporate America is a lot of things, but cool and fun aren’t necessarily among them. So wouldn’t it be better to come up with a new, different name, representative of the state of Texas and its rich heritage?
Now if you would like to start a newspaper, the Connecticut Sun is a fine name. Although, it would be in competition with the longest-running newspaper in the country, the Hartford Courant. But who am I to nip the competitive spirit in the bud? While the fact that the Mohegan Tribe owns the franchise is great, the team is named after the Mohegan Sun: Casino and Resort. Out of all the places that you could derive your name from... a holiday resort? Does that mean that playing your team should be a pleasant, relaxing experience?
Here is another instance of failed mimicry, as the Mystics are supposed to be the women’s version of the NBA’s Wizards since the two words can be used interchangeably. According to the Wizards’ official website, “The name depicts energy and an omnipresent power, and brings to light what is hoped to be the wise and magical nature of the team.” While the Wizards have not lived up to that description, the Mystics have fared much better. But why not get inspired by the Capitals, Nationals, Spirit or even D.C. United when naming the team?