What’s in a name? A history of rugby league suffixes

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THE news from club chairman Michael Carter that Wakefield Trinity are likely to drop the ‘Wildcats’ nickname at the end of the season will have perhaps been met with an indifferent shrug by most people.
It is a tag the club have carried since winning promotion to Super League in 1998, with pretty much all of the top flight’s clubs having added their own suffix following the switch to summer rugby in a bid to make them more marketable.
So the theory goes anyway, which means Carter’s plan to revert to simply Wakefield Trinity goes against that modern-day thinking.
Yet while he admits he has not done any market research into this, the Wakefield supremo has good reasoning behind the plan.
“We have got a fantastic heritage within this club and I don’t think we have made the most of it,” Carter told the Yorkshire Post, harking back to the club’s glory years in the 1960s.
“So for me, it is Wakefield Trinity. I have always referred to it as Wakefield Trinity and I think the older generation of our fanbase love the fact it’s Wakefield Trinity.
“Go anywhere in the world and it’s either ‘where’s that’? Or, ‘oh yes, Wakefield Trinity’.”
The Belle Vue club’s original moniker of Trinity comes from the fact they were founded by a group of young men from the Holy Trinity Church in the town back in 1873, while their traditional nickname was the ‘Dreadnoughts’.
Perhaps Wakefield Trinity Dreadnoughts would not have sounded quite as good as the alliterative Wildcats, but then the same could be said about several others.
Widnes, for example, were often referred to as the ‘Chemics’ long before anyone had even considered adding the ‘Vikings’ tag due to the town’s main industry, although trading off some tenuous Norse connections is perhaps the better option of the two.
The same is true for Castleford and their old ‘Glassblowers’ moniker. Fortunately, their amber and black shirts – now seemingly more orange and black – allowed them to utilise the ‘Tigers’ name they have used for the past 20 years.
Many clubs simply opted for an alliterative name in the mid-90s era of rebranding rugby league, with Wigan becoming the ‘Warriors’ and Bradford becoming the ‘Bulls’ – the latter dropping the ‘Northern’ from their name which was used to identify themselves as the city’s Northern Union team and differentiate from the football clubs City and Park Avenue.
Leeds Rhinos simply adopted their name following a competition in the local press. However, the public’s original choice was to use the traditional ‘Loiners’ nickname, only for that to be dismissed by to the club due to being perceived to have little marketability (there’s that word again).
But while Leeds may have felt the term for the citizens of their home city was not the way to go, that did not prove the case for Oldham, who added ‘Roughyeds’ to their name when they reformed out of the ashes of the Oldham Bears team which had played in the first two Super League seasons.
One other club who have been through name changes down the years is Warrington, having been known as Warrington Zingari in their early days following the merger of two teams in the town, and also absorbed Warrington Wanderers and the wonderfully-named Padgate Excelsior.
The ‘Wolves’ nickname was chosen after a wolf had appeared on the club badge in the early 1990s, along with featuring on the town crest as well.
Of course, one club who kept their name were St Helens, who are often referred to as just ‘Saints’ – St Helens Saints would have sounded a bit odd, wouldn’t it?
This nicknames lark is nothing new though. Some Huddersfield fans out there are no doubt old enough to remember the short-lived ‘Barracudas’ nickname and the renaming of their old Fartown ground as Arena 84 during their nadir in the 1980s.
Sheffield have always had ‘Eagles’ as part of their name since their formation in 1984 – again, coming from a competition to name the team in the Sheffield Star newspaper – while many of the other new teams which joined the Rugby Football League in the 1980s came with various tags as well.
Mansfield Marksman – always in the singular – got their name thanks to sponsorship from the local brewery, while the Maidstone-based Kent side were known as ‘Invicta’ due to that being the county’s motto. Arguably, it kind of lost its meaning when the team relocated to Southend though.
And while ‘Rovers’ might typically be thought of as a name used by teams in the round-ball code of football, it has long been used by Featherstone and Hull Kingston Rovers – originally known as Kingston Amateurs after being founded by local boilermakers.
The other Hull team had the unpopular ‘Sharks’ nickname added in 1996, although they were eventually relaunched with the simple Hull FC name three years later following the relocation of Gateshead Thunder to the city.
One club who have carried a nickname since their early years are Rochdale Hornets, with the naming of teams after insects being popular in the Victorian era. Indeed, ‘Wasps’ – Rochdale Wasps being one of the team which merged to form the present day side – ‘Butterflies’ and ‘Grasshoppers’ were apparently considered before ‘Hornets’ was settled on.
Wakefield are not the only team to have dropped their nickname after introducing it though, with Halifax eventually ditching their ‘Blue Sox’ – inspired, no doubt, by American Major League Baseball teams Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox – name in 2002.
But while the nicknames have not always been popular, Leigh changed plans to drop their ‘Centurions’ name in 2007 after pressure from their own supporters. Maybe, then, Wakefield’s decision will prove the exception rather than the rule.

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