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NFL

Redskins playing the nickname game

| Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013, 1:03 a.m.

This has been a tough season for Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder. Not only has his team hit bottom, he is dealing with opposition to its nickname. Many find “Redskins” offensive, calling it racially insensitive. Public pressure from Native American groups and others has increased.

Suppose it happens. Changing a nickname is harder than changing coaches, but suppose Snyder capitulates. What to call the team? There is no shortage of suggestions churning on the Internet. Some are far-fetched or plain silly: Gridlockers, Hogs and Washingtons (with a profile of George instead of an Indian as the logo), to name a few.

A branding company, Lexicon, was asked to re-name the Redskins. It came up with Metros, Leopards and DC Rocs, with logos to match. Recently, Snyder's neighbor trademarked “Washington Bravehearts,” adding intrigue to the story. Also getting attention is “Redtails,” the nickname of the famed Tuskegee Airmen. And it sort of sounds like Redskins.

Another name Lexicon suggested was Skins, which matches the team's alternate nickname, minus the apostrophe. The idea has gained some traction. Yet “Washington Skins” doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. Then there is the logo; one's imagination can have fun with that. Actually, a design firm came up with one, but no skin was involved.

Scant precedent exists for a similar name change. This is not the Houston Oilers moving to Tennessee and becoming the Titans, or the Cleveland Browns morphing into the Baltimore Ravens. This certainly isn't the Dallas Texans turning up as the Kansas City Chiefs. The last pro football team to change names while staying in the same city was the New York Titans of the old AFL. With new owners and big plans, they became the Jets in 1963.

The Titans had existed for only three drab seasons, with minimal fan support. Change was welcome. The Washington Redskins have been around since 1937, a fully entrenched identity, like it or not. The team following is large and loyal.

“Any kind of rebranding is difficult, whether it involves rebranding graphics or imagery or a wholesale name change,” said Jason Aiken, product manager for 99designs, an online graphics design marketplace.

“It can be even more difficult when it involves a sports team because people are very attached. It's not like the Redskins are a new team. They have a lot of history, a lot of fans.”

99designs staged a logo contest for a new Redskins nickname that attracted more than 1,700 graphic designers working with the prospective nicknames Warriors, Renegades and Griffins (which had nothing to do with the Redskins' quarterback).

The winning logo was for the hypothetical Washington Warriors, which Aiken called his favorite nickname even though the image and name “revolves around war and battle,” he said, which might not be suitable for a team representing the national's capital.

When and if the Redskins shop for a new label, such a decision would be monumental (so to speak). Those who work in the branding and naming business offered a few guidelines.

Lexicon founder David Placek said “distinctiveness” is the key to any name change.

“The strategy is all about choosing to be different,” he said. “You're looking at literally an ocean of sports teams. ‘How can we create something different?' But it also has to have a personality that people can relate to.”

Diane Prange, chief linguistics officer of the branding firm Strategic Name Development, said, “You really need to get away from anything negative or political. There have been the Senators, but you should probably walk away from anything perceived as directed at the political side of this.”

David Burd, owner of The Naming Company consulting firm, says he uses the “T-shirt test” to determine the viability of a nickname.

“If the name can be worn proudly on a T-shirt, it's a good name,” he said.

Winning also helps.

Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bcohn@tribweb.com or via Twitter@BCohn_Trib.

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