The word “maverick” has powerful enough cultural connotations that the wholly Texan word—which originates with Samuel Maverick, an eighteenth century rancher who refused to brand his cattle—reverberates throughout the country. A popular 1950s television show of the same name led to a 1990s film adaptation about a free-wheeling gambler in the Old West. John McCain claimed the term for himself to signify his independent-minded approach to politics in the run-up to his 2000 and 2008 presidential campaigns.
And then, of course, there are the Dallas Mavericks.
Though “maverick” has been popularized throughout American culture, the concept that it represents is fairly abstract if a culture doesn’t have that word in its lexicon. Merriam-Webster defines “maverick” as “an independent individual who does not go along with a group or party,” but that’s not the usual criteria for a team player, in Dallas or otherwise. Dictionary.com defines the word as “
For years, when playing in China, the Dallas Mavericks circumvented this problem by playing as the “Little Cows.” That is an extremely cute way to imagine Dirk and the boys representing themselves to a country of 1.4 billion, certainly, but it’s not a close translation of “maverick.” Since “cute” isn’t what most sports franchises aim for, the Mavs this week announced that they’d be taking on a new name when playing abroad in the world’s most populous country: They are now the Lone Ranger Heroes.
The name is corny, certainly, and it’s a mouthful. But it does a surprisingly effective job of capturing the full connotations that come with the word “maverick.” Although there may be reason to quibble with “lone” as a descriptor of a basketball team, we’ll allow it—the name implies “independent,” it implies “cowboy,” and it implies “action.” With all apologies to Merriam-Webster, we reckon a maverick is actually well-defined as a “lone ranger hero.”
There are a lot of words that are basically untranslatable from one language to any other, because they don’t only have a literal meaning. (For example, the German word “kummerspeck” translates literally into “grief bacon,” but describes the weight gained from overeating due to stress or sadness.) All languages are unique to their culture—think of the fact that some Canadian Inuit dialects really do have more than fifty words for “snow.” That’s true of the language of Texas sports too. It’s a challenge of translators around the glove to convey the breadth of a concept to people who are unfamiliar with its native tongue.
All of which got us thinking: “maverick,” being a uniquely Texan word, only has purchase with the rest of America through a shared language, decades of shared pop culture, and—let’s face it—the rest of the country’s endless fascination with all things Texan. But it’s not the only sports team name in Texas that would be tough to translate, if the team were to play in a place unfamiliar with Texana. We imagine a Space Jam-like scenario in which the San Antonio Spurs are forced to take on a team of cartoon monsters from space, and the space monsters’ home announcers had to translate the name in a truly universal way for the little space monsters watching at home. (Also: Spurs by nine, it all comes down to fundamentals.) What would they say? The Houston Rockets have it easy—everybody, even (maybe especially) a space alien, knows what a dang rocket is—but what exactly is a “Houston Astro”?
In order to ensure that some of these more difficult-to-translate Texas teams are prepared to play in China, Belgium, New Zealand, Moron Mountain—really, anywhere—we’ve suggested universal names for the teams.
When you think about it, “Astros” doesn’t even really make sense in the cultural context of Houston in 2018. They’re named for the Astrodome, which is currently a storage facility for Harris County that is closed for the public—and the Astrodome itself is named for a Houston NASA facility with a heyday four or five decades ago. And even knowing the name’s origin, what’s an Astro? It’s a prefix, meaning “related to the stars.” Unfortunately, the Houston Vague, Non-Specific Connotations of Space Exploration doesn’t fit on a hat, so let’s look at what “Astro” is really going for: It’s tied to 1970s retro-futurism, offering a sort of bright, ambitious sense of wonder and adventure. That’s a lot to get across, but let’s go with “The Celestial Explorers” to tick the boxes marked “1970s,” “bright,” and “sense of adventure.”
University of North Texas Mean Green
This one is even tougher to explain. “Mean Green” is a nonsense pairing of words, one that only makes sense if you know that UNT produced only one athlete of note until 1966 (and, frankly, not too many after), and his name was “Mean” Joe Greene. That was 52 years ago, though, so the greatness of “Mean” Joe Greene aside, we’re left with the most abstract name in sports. It’s a color? That’s… angry? Let’s go with that: The University of North Texas Angry Color. At the very least, nobody wants to lose to them.
San Antonio Spurs
A spur actually exists in the world, so they’ve got that going for them. But in a culture without horses—or that doesn’t understand why a device that hurts animals so they move faster is a cool thing to name your basketball team after—the meaning still wouldn’t be clear. So let’s go with the San Antonio Cowboy Boot Spikes.
“Ranger” is a concept that exists a lot of places, but “Texas Ranger” is not. It’s a little bit “cowboy,” a little bit “lawman,” and a little bit “maverick,” all wrapped up in one. If you’re familiar with Texas, that all makes intuitive sense. If not, well, may we recommend the Texas Chuck Norrises? Now that’s a concept that’s truly universal.
Houston’s Major League Soccer team has only existed since 2005, which makes its name downright baffling. In its primary definition, “Dynamo” is an archaic word for a kind of electrical generator, and its more common colloquial meaning is the sort of hard-to-pin-down SAT word that makes so many Americans think that soccer is a snooty sport best enjoyed with a latté (also, it’s a singular noun for a whole team, which is extra pretentious—you’re not too good for an “s,” people). Nonetheless, it’s what we’re working with here, so what the heck. A dynamo is an energy machine. Your soccer team is hereby known internationally and intergalactically as the Houston Energetic Soccer Machines. Next!
The Houston Texans were almost the Stallions. They could have been the Bobcats. They dodged a couple bullets and managed to avoid being the Wildcatters or the Apollos. Still, “Texans” is a pretty uninspired name for a football team from Texas. It’s not so much a name as it is a description. Every football team from Texas could be called the “Texans.” And while it seems pretty intuitive, we shouldn’t assume that potential fans are always familiar with our preferred collective noun. (Quick poll: How many readers know where a “Banker” comes from?) Thus, in the interest of meeting people where they are, the NFL team from Houston can play abroad as the Houston People from Texas.
Texas A&M Aggies
This one’s easy. Go, Texas A&M Farm People!