Congratulations to the University of Pittsburgh Ultimate team (@PittUltimate) for winning the 2012 college Ultimate championship! Pitt beat Wisconsin, 15-10, in the final, after knocking off defending champion Carleton College in a semi-final, 14-12. The games were held in Boulder.
I am a fan not only because I teach at Pitt (and because my daughter graduated from Carleton), but also because college Ultimate teams often do not adopt the nicknaming practices of their parent colleges and universities. Carleton’s top team is known as CUT, which stands for Carleton Ultimate Team. That’s not too creative, but that’s mostly in keeping with Carleton’s low-key spirit. Wisconsin are the Hodags. Colorado are Mamabird. Stanford are SMUT (Stanford Men’s Ultimate Team). Harvard’s men are the Red Line. The Harvard women are Quasar. The CalTech women’s team are the Snatch.
Pitt has adopted a modest name from the Marvel comics’ universe, En Sabah Nur. Loosely translated, the name means “The First One.” En Sabah Nur is the birth name of the powerful character who, as an adult, came to call himself Apocalypse. (Apologies if that quick summary overlooks some key detail. There is a “present” version of En Sabah Nur and a “future” version.)
First, where, when, and why did the naming convention originate? Something in this account reminds me of Dave Fagundes’s work on roller derby names. Ultimate at the college level is a club sport, and at each college club teams are sometimes more and sometimes less organizationally independent of the college itself. Still, it’s easy to imagine a universe in which Ultimate teams preserve their much-prized independence yet still align with the fame (or notoriety) of the college. Pitt’s Ultimate team could be the Panthers; Carleton’s team could be the Knights.
Second, should Pitt worry about a trademark claim from Marvel? Let us hope not, but this is an IP-oriented blog, so I need an IP hook. I’m assuming here that Marvel could try to claim a trademark in the name “En Sabah Nur.” It’s difficult to picture the plausible confusion theory that would justify a claim, but thin evidence of confusion rarely stops an aggressive trademark owner. And is Pitt using the “mark” in commerce? Well, the victory in this year’s tournament earned the team a $5,000 prize from the tournament’s sponsor.