The Naming Game

Given that I generally still refer to the Patrick Division and the Campbell Conference, one would correctly surmise that I’m not a big fan of eviscerating history in the name of modernization.

It seems silly to me that a huge banner in the clubhouse at Saratoga reads “The Go For Wand Est. 1954” when the horse for whom the race is named wasn’t born until 1987. Poor Maskette—Hall of Famer, winner of the Spinaway, Futurity, Matron, Gazelle, Ladies Handicap, and Alabama. But with the swipe of a pen—poof! She’s gone, and the estimable Go for Wand has her race, at the expense of the estimable Maskette, whose misfortune was winning her races in the first decade of the last century.

You can probably guess where I stand on the recent name changes of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and the Lady’s Secret.

And now comes news that racing is not alone in its folly; in Sunday’s New York Post, Larry Brooks alludes to a discussion happening in the hockey world, one that suggests that the names of five of the major year-end awards be changed:

Current Name (Award) Suggested New Name

Hart Trophy (MVP): Gordie Howe Trophy
Art Ross Trophy (Scoring): Wayne Gretzky Trophy
Calder Trophy (Rookie): Mario Lemieux Trophy
Norris Trophy (Defenseman): Bobby Orr Trophy
Lady Byng Trophy (Gentlemanly Play): Jean Beliveau Trophy

(from San Jose Sharks Fan Zone)

Adam Proteau at the Hockey News thinks that the idea has merit, saying that the current names “no longer resonate with the NHL’s present-day customer base.”

As [Glenn} Healy argued, very few fans have any kind of clue about the Hart
behind the Hart Trophy, or the lady behind the Lady Byng Trophy. Re-christening
those and other individual awards would continue the modernization that began
with name changes for the NHL’s divisions; it also would give younger fans a
better feel for the game’s more immediate history.

Dan Rusanowsky, play by play announcer for the Sharks since their creation in 1991, has a different opinion:

Let’s investigate this idea further. Do you know how many times that Beliveau
won the Lady Byng Trophy, while he was playing and while he was at the forefront
of attention from the hockey world? The answer is: ZERO. Do you know how many
times that Beliveau was the runner-up for the trophy? That’s right: ZERO. In
other words, during his playing career, he wasn’t even considered for the award
that someone wants to name after him!

My response to the “nobody knows who Lady Byng was” is that if you don’t know, maybe you should find out! I happen to think that it’s a cool name, and the story of how the trophy was donated, along with the reasoning for it, is pretty interesting, too. It is a unique bit of history that shouldn’t be discarded into a scrap heap. (San Jose Sharks Fan Zone)

Like racing, hockey has a long, colorful history; like racing, it honors its stars in a number of ways. And like racing, it faces the challenge of finding ways to recognize more recent standouts, within a finite structure. There are, after all, only so many trophies to give out, and only so many races to name.

I’m not going to argue against a trophy named for Bobby Orr, or a race named for Zenyatta. I protest, though, against doing so at the expense of some of the historical figures of the games. James E. Norris was an owner and not a player, but he was a significant factor in hockey in the early to mid 20th century, and his trophy’s been around since 1953. Really, is it so different from naming a race the Dwyer, or the Belmont?

Gary Bettman has done enough to diminish hockey in the present during his tenure as NHL commissioner. I would implore him, please, to leave the past alone, and for racing to figure out a way to honor its current stars without diminishing the splendor of the past ones.

7 thoughts on “The Naming Game

  1. I hate to hear this happening in any sport. All the greats I remember from my younger days get pushed aside in favor of the younger hipper names more recognizable to the next generation. It makes me sad and makes me feel that I'm old and my memories don't matter anymore.

  2. Name changes will only serve to frustrate current NHL fans and bore those not interested in the sport anyway.Completely agree that maintaining a sense of history is important for both racing and hockey.That said, if it must happen can we re-name the Selke as the Guy Carbonneau?

  3. Agree with both of you. Must be a way to honor the old-timers while acknowledging the greatness of the recent.Keith–talk to Bettman. I'm sure that he'd listen. =)

  4. If you get me started on The Disaster Known As Gary Bettman, you'll need to open up a second blog. I recommend you call it Brooklyn Backcheck.

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