Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Seattle Kraken: Own Goal Before First Game Played

Seattle's NHL franchise has announced its new name: the Kraken. It's hard to imagine a worse choice.

Seattle Kraken Logo
First, it has no connection to the region in which the team is based. Sure, that's not always a necessity. Many team names do not have that connection. But the Seattle team is peddling the name as if there is, in fact, a connection. You see, the Kraken is a mythical sea monster and Seattle is near the ocean. Great. But the Kraken of Scandinavian myth dwells in the seas off the coasts of Norway and Greenland. Okay, fine. Most people aren't going to make an issue out of misappropriating a myth.

But there are other issues. The name doesn't roll off the tongue. Not only that, but there are probably three possible pronunciations. Check out the pronunciation sound file on dictionary.com for one pronunciation that I wouldn't have even considered.

Here's another problem. It's not really clear if this mythical monster is a one-off creature. Is there only one Kraken? Like, say the Loch Ness monster? If, on the other hand, there are many of these octopus-like creatures roaming the fantasy-world seas which they inhabit, why is the team name presented as if it's a single beast? No plural 's' on Kraken. It's almost treated as if it's an uncountable noun.

The Kraken Wakes
And that's a personal preference on my part. I've never liked team names that are uncountable nouns (The Wild, The Lightning), or ones that aren't usually uncountable, but treated as if they are (or considered as a single entity), like the Avalanche. The shortened forms, 'the Avs' and the related 'the Bolts' deal with that issue nicely. And those modified forms highlight the fact that people do like team names that are countable nouns.

Finally, it's good to consider the way other teams and other fanbases will mock your name. Krakheads? Krakhouse? Yes, those first-level insults will rain down on the team wherever they play and in online battles between fans. That's also not much of an issue, since often there's kind of a twisted pride taken by fans when their team's name is bastardized.

But the name is still ridiculous. And it's as if the team knows that, but the process somehow took over. It happens. A small group of people get caught up in their own biases and feel the time pressure. They convince themselves that the 'most popular' choice is the best one. No one has the guts to speak out. Yes-men (and women) and sycophants in the organization rule the day and suddenly the horrible choice becomes reality. 

I've heard representatives of the team suggest that 'the Kraken' really was the most popular choice among fans. Perhaps it created the most curiosity and stood out the most because it's so odd. But that doesn't mean it's the best choice. Leadership often means disregarding the mob and current trends to make a decision that will stand the test of time.

And a strange thing happens in a lot of focus groups. The people asked to take part have a way of sensing what the preferred choice is of those in charge. Often the choices are presented in a way that reflects a less-than subtle bias. The focus group members feel flattered to have been asked. They don't want to offend. And so they go along with the expected answer. 

The Day of the Triffids
The team is so proud of their new name, that the only indication of the mythical creature on the new jersey is a weak-ass tentacle worked into the large S for 'Seattle.'And the anchors? What do those suggest? That the Kraken slaughtered everyone aboard one or more ships and took the anchors as souvenirs? And the pigeon with the red wing? What's that all about? Likely missed by the graphic designers and team management who were so satisfied with what they'd come up with.

They won't change the name now. That would suggest a flawed process and lack of instincts for selecting a name that is evocative and potentially iconic down the road. (or even instantly iconic). Once any decision has been made, validation bias kicks in. As the din of mockery ramps up, the fans (some of them) and management will double down.

Of course, some people do seem to genuinely like the name. But I get the sense that they're putting on a brave face. Like the person who always wears the latest fashions. Even when they wear some ridiculous item that doesn't quite work, they battle against that niggling voice in their heads. You can sense a kind of visceral embarrassment lurking just beneath the surface. But they put on a false smile and blunder ahead because the power of the herd has convinced them this is what someone in their position must do.


Considerations When Choosing a Team Name

—Does it offend anyone? 
Yes, that must be considered in this day and age, and rightfully so.

—Does the name have a connection to the local geography, history or climate? 
Not always necessary, but it can help.

—Pronunciation, euphony, evocativeness.
Does the name have a standard pronunciation? Does it roll off the tongue? Does it evoke images you want associated with the team? 

—And how can people speak about the team and players using the name? 
Two Bruins and a Red Wing fighting for the puck in the corner. Or two Leafs players collide. But two Krakens?

—Are there any false friends, secondary meanings, or ways the team name can be bastardized? 
A 'false friend' in linguistics is a word that exists in two or more languages, but which may have a different meaning in one or more of those languages. In a world where teams are trying to appeal beyond the geographical location in which they are based, this is no small thing.

And the ways the name 'Kraken' can be bastardized are numerous, as mentioned.

—Is the potential name already being used by another sports team? 
This doesn't always have to eliminate a possible choice. It depends how close the team is, geographically, to the team selecting the new name. RoughRiders?

—What kind of imagery is associated with the name?  

Possible Names for Seattle's NHL Team

Below are some other potential names I came up with for the new Seattle hockey team. Others may well have suggested some or all of these names earlier.

The Seattle Coastliners 
The Liners for short. Cocaine jokes? Bring 'em on.

The Seattle Norwesters

The Seattle Seals 
'Seals' has, of course, been used before

The Seattle Captains 
Sure, there's already one team name shortened to 'the Caps', but so what? Who's going to captain the Captains?

The Seattle Timber Wolves

The Seattle Timber Cats 
What's a timber cat? Who knows? Create your own mythology. A cat with a chainsaw? Why not?

The Seattle Steamers

The Seattle Reapers 
No doubt it's been done before, but not at the national level as far as I know. Sure, it would offend some. But the potential imagery would almost be unlimited. 'It's Reapin' Time!'

The Seattle Serials 
Based on the strange number of serial killers who seem to have operated in that region. Okay, no, it wouldn't fly.

Who knows? Maybe the Kraken will sound iconic in a few years. And they could have done worse. They could have chosen a team name from another John Wyndham science-fiction novel. They could have been the Seattle Triffids.

Wait, that would have been better...

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