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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 December 2005, 12:14 GMT
What's in a name?
Farayi Mungazi
BBC Sport

An Ivorian fan
An Ivorian fan celebrates the Elephants' World Cup qualification
It was Shakespeare's Juliet who lamented: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet."

Now with all due respect to one of the finest literary scholars who ever lived, names and nicknames do mean an awful lot in African football, even more so if there is a good story behind the tag.

Virtually every national team bears a nickname intended to imbue players and fans alike with a sense of identity and pride in characteristics associated with those labels.

It is all very curious, I know, but nicknames add to the fun, and they are part of the very essence of the African game.

One of the most evocative and frightening nicknames in African football belongs to Gambia
We have the Hawks taking on the Elephants, the Warriors facing the Desert Foxes, the Zebras up against the Indomitable Lions and the Wasps taking on the Super Eagles.

A contest between eagles and wasps makes no sense while zebras tremble at the sight of a lion. It can get all rather confusing to the uninitiated but there are no rules in this nickname game.

From a journalistic perspective, 'Lions maul Elephants' reads better than 'Cameroon beat the Ivory Coast' while 'Super Eagles shot down' is a much sexier than 'Nigeria defeated'.

In my opinion, a good nickname should be catchy and roll off the tongue with the minimum of fuss. It should also be tough-sounding and put the fear of God into your opponents.

Americans are 'experts' in the art of inventing menacing sobriquets. Names like Chicago Fire, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Charlotte Hornets do send a chill down one's sporting spine.

One of the most evocative and frightening nicknames in African football belongs to Gambia whose national team is called the Scorpions while the under-20s are Baby Scorpions.

A hawk
Togo are called the Hawks
It does not matter whether it is an adult or baby scorpion, their sting is just as painful and scorpions do scare the life out of many people!

That said, the most favoured animal for nicknames in Africa is the lion. It is a real jungle out there with everything from the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon to Atlas Lions found in Morocco.

Some say it is a little odd that this affection for lions should result in so much duplication when there are so many other big cat varieties with no representation - like leopards, cheetahs and tigers.

Aside from too many teams sharing the same nickname, some monikers, like Bafana Bafana (South Africa), Greens (Libya) and Squirrels (Benin) hardly deserve awards for creativity! It would not be a bad idea to change them altogether.

Bafana Bafana, a term of endearment which means 'the Boys', is not a bad nickname, but it is not intimidating. After all, football separates men from the boys.

As for Benin, my BBC colleague Matthew Kenyon suggested they consider renaming themselves 'the Cobras' after one of the most venomous snakes known to man.

That nickname proved to have the shelf life of ice cream at a summer picnic
Elsewhere, I am sure wasps are scary to some but they are not deadly enough to warrant naming a team after.

So take note Rwanda. Hornets may be a better option because not many are willing to stir up their nest!

Even less likely to unnerve opponents are Stars. Sure they shine at night but there is nothing dread-inducing about them, be they Black (Ghana) or Lone-ly (Liberia).

Sometimes a nickname can be a hoped-for characteristic. Which brings me to Namibia's Brave Warriors. Warriors are brave by nature, so what is the point of the 'brave' in Brave Warriors? A bit like calling yourself 'hot fire'!

Africa may be fertile ground for nicknames but some of them need changing to give teams a more threatening look.

Ah, what about your beloved Zimbabwe, you say. Well, before they became Warriors, they were the 'Dream Team', but that nickname proved to have the shelf life of ice cream at a summer picnic.

To be entirely honest, I abhorred it immensely because it created the imagery of a bunch of footballers who were always dreaming but never coming to terms with reality.

Not surprisingly, every Zimbabwean defeat inevitably produced a headline containing the word, 'nightmare'.

Yes, it is good to dream but at some stage you have to wake up and smell the coffee!

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your e-mails below.

Nicknames should be a symbol of national pride, unity, identity, love and determination. As for my country Namibia, the name Brave Warriors gives us strength and morale as well as the sense of fighting back. Although we lose, we fight bravely.
Simon Naukala, Namibia

It is very silly to think Black Stars are not 'scary' enough. A name bring togetherness and a spirit of nationalism and Black Stars is the best name an African nation has ever come up with. We have Elephants, Lions, Eagles, etc, but they are not even able to take 'Squadra Azura', which means the Blue Team (Italy).
Jean-David Lassy, USA

Is football played by nicknames?
Olivier N, Australia

Take a leaf from the Chipolopolo. Simply, the Bullet.
Augustine Mukoka, Zambia

Farayi, I have to disagree with you here. I think Frederich Maafo from London summed it up nicely for em. Let me add that a name might instil fear in opponents but it also gives a sense of identity and if your fans take to it like the Bafana Bafana fans have done, I think it will have achieved its objective. l do not know about the Squirells but I do not think that any of these countries need to change their nicknames.
Josiah Mashoko, Zimbabwe/Canada

I think you are right, Farayi. A nicknames like Black Stars just does not make sense (no offence to my Ghanaian frieds. What I mean is, how can a black star shine?
Lukman Mahmoud, UK

Egypt's nickname reflects a great civilisation and a great history, all of which is summed up in one words - Pharaohs. I believe a nickname should present the country in a unique way and most African nations are culturally so rich that it presents a great selection of nicknames.
Kareem Besada, Egypt

Farayi, I disagree with you. In my opinion, nicknames go beyond frightening your opponents. I believe they instil some sort of identity and belonging such as the Pharaohs of Egypt, Tricolor of France etc. It is very difficult to see a European or Latin American country associated with sobriquets intended to frighten opponents. Why? Probably because it is not their culture and, to some extent, does not influence opponents. So why should African countries change the status quo?
Enga Kameni, Cameroon

Cameroon were known as the Lions until they lost the Nations Cup in 1972 in front of their own public. The president, in a bid to revive national pride, renamed the team Indomitable Lions and this made the team stronger psychologically. So even when they meet other Lions, like the Atlas of Morocco or Teranga of Senegal, they maintain their supremacy.
Yebila mo Langmia, USA

Nicknames not only give a sense of identity but also inspire and gives players an air of superiority over their opponents. In fact, when properly adopted, nicknames become the 12th man on the field. This is why the name 'Indomitable Lions' has contributed greatly to Cameroon's success in recent years. I would, therefore, advise countries using such frail names as Wasps and Squirrels to go for dangerous predators like leopards or sharks.
George Nworie, Nigeria

It appears nicknames were created to instil fear into opponents and, believe me, I know the name 'Indomitable Lions' sends shivers down the spines of my friends when we talk football. However, things have changed with Hawks, Elephants, etc, qualifying for the World Cup at the expense of lions and eagles, the traditional kings of the forest. Indeed, what's in a name?
Osric Tening Forton, Cameroon/UK

"Come on guys, let's work hard on those free kicks... let's perfect those counter attacks because we're playing the Squirrels tomorrow." You do not need much motivation to play that lot!
Gideon, Nigeria

I always laugh whenever I think about Bafana Bafana because the nickname has two meanings - 'the boys' in Zulu, while it means 'men' in Xhosa. It makes you wonder, doesn't it?
Monwabisi Jimlongo, South Africa

We do not just name teams in order to frighten opponents but a name can be inspired by the beauty of the animal.
A nickname should be characteristic of a team's performance - well, sometimes. The Super Eagles were always flying until they landed in Madrid courtesy of a 3-2 victory in the 1992 World cup. The Indomitable Lions have, indeed, 'dominated' African football for more than half a decade now. But Bafana Bafana will need a name change in 2010.
Ayou Sirleaf Birch, USA/Liberia

There is a lot of inspiration derived from nicknames and this motivates players and fans alike, not to mention the fear factor. The lion might roar but the eagle is smarter, so it aims at the lion's eye if in a fight.
Aloysius Umezinwa, USA

The Black Stars of Ghana are known as such because they were once dominated football on the continent, hence the name 'stars'. We were stars and masters of football. The Ghanaian stars have nothing to do with the heavens - there are no black stars in the sky! We are the stars. And being African, we are black!
Frederich Maafo, London

All over the world when we say somebody is a star, you do not need any further explanation. For example, there are people aspiring to make it in the movie industry but few deserves the title 'movie star' and the same applies to every profession. The Black Stars of Ghana have gone beyond putting fear in opponents. They do not need to come up with names of intimidation. Black Stars is good for Ghana and there is no need for change.
Kwaku Mensah, Ghana

I think nicknames are great for teams and even more for the fans. It is great to imagine the squirrels conquering lions - it strikes a blow for all the small in size!
Muctaru Kabba, Sierra Leone

For failing to qualify for Germany 2006, I suggest that the Super Eagles of Nigeria be renamed the Procrastinating Orangutans. If that evokes too much laughter, what about the Lazy Hippos. I hope the new name will make them take future matches seriously.
Anthony Okosun, USA

A nickname like the Zebras might be appropriate if we are doing a fashion parade, but football is about competition and when it comes to competing in the jungle, Zebras are losers.
Mike Odedere, USA

What about the Europeans? They have no nicknames, do they? Unless we call England the turnips! African teams have great nicknames, and there is nothing wrong with Bafana Bafana. Like all the best things about Africa, it has rhythm.
Al Gunn, Zambia/UK

For me the best nickname belongs to Zambia - Chipolopolo - which means bullets. But Bafana Bafana could definitely do with a name change.
Sol Brobbey, Nigeria

We do not just name teams in order to frighten opponents but a name can be inspired by the beauty of the animal. Take Zebras for example, they might not frighten the life out of you but they are very beautiful, besides they can sure can pack a kick or two, just ask the lions!
Tshegofatso, Botswana

I would prefer to call it a brand name rather than a nickname. It defines the team and how they intend to do business. The Warriors define Zimbabwe's grit and fighting spirit, the Brave Warriors of Namibia are acknowledging their inferiority in quality but compensating it with courage. Fans enjoy it.
Albert Zuze, Austria/Zimbabwe

In 1996, Nigeria's Olympic team that won gold in Atlanta was nicknamed 'the Dream Team and, sure enough, they made the dream of their fans a reality through their performance. Tell me, what is the essence of naming a team 'the Lions' only for them to be tamed or having a team of caged Eagles?
Tope Idowu, USA


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