What’s in a Name

by Randy Munch

Two of my daughters who are currently successful professionals in the IT industry attended Bedford Road collegiate which is a high school in a Canadian city of about 200,000. It was one of six high schools in the city and one of two that had a higher enrollment of First Nation students. My daughters interacted with all of their class mates in a respectful and friendly manner. Those two daughters and many of their teammates competed proudly on the Redmen teams and proudly wore the logo which resembled that of the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks. As far as I could see that pride was felt by the entire student body.  

I have since been informed, by those who insist they are more sensitive to social injustices, that I should have known the name of the team that my daughters so proudly wore had grown out of the fertile soil of racism and misogyny. I have also been informed that my oft farewell to dear friends – “see you soon God willing and the creek don’t rise” is clearly racist. Apparently the reference to the creek has nothing to do with water. Originally the phrase referred to the Creek who were a hostile Native American tribe that was feared by early American settlers. The use by me thereby promotes ethnic stereotyping.

 As such it is confusing to note that the US Army’s helicopters and fixed wing aircraft bear names that reflect fierce and courageous warriors who have fought well for the armed forces. By edict the names chosen for these aircraft must not sacrifice dignity and are meant to promote an aggressive spirit that reflects confidence in the aircraft. Those names include the likes of Apache, Comanche, Kiowa, and Black Hawk.  And yet current social justice warriors are convinced that those same names, when associated with sport teams, are reprehensible. They take positions that team names like the North Dakota Fighting Sioux is racist if the team is not made up entirely of Sioux athletes. I never realized that all the athletes at Notre Dame were Irishmen, the collegiate team known as the fighting Irish of Notre Dame.

Armed with this greater awareness of political correctness and social justice I have begun to more carefully assess the name of professional sports teams. While I hear the objections to names like the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Indians I am more offended by the name Minnesota Vikings. This name promotes prejudices and misunderstanding. My paternal grandparents were Danish and Swedish and being of a Scandinavian blood line I take particular umbrage at the stereotyping of my roots as vicious Vikings. The term Viking is generally used to describe the people of Scandinavia during the medieval period but it is really a name for a profession of Pagan plunderers. It was coined by the people who were their victims. The Vikings were all men – clearly a sexist organization– who used their skills to make terrifying murderous raids on towns and churches of neighboring kingdoms. These raids were a part of an intensely masculine, warlike culture that emphasized battle as a way for a man to prove himself. The name misrepresents our culture. We were explorers, farmers, fishermen and merchants. The name is hurt full to me because my forefathers, albeit members of the wicked white colonial establishment, settled and developed thriving and caring communities in much of Minnesota and Western Canada without raping and plundering.

The misguided cultural appropriation of wearing horned head gear which is encouraged at football games is especially hurt full. The portrayal by football fans as screaming Beserkers, who were Viking warriors that were so consumed by battle frenzy they felt no pain and could strike with such power they terrified anyone who faced them, paints a horrible image of our culture. What’s worse is that Vikings never even wore horned helmets. The belief has been adopted only because of cultural appropriation costuming in 17th and 18th century operas. Further the portrayal of Viking women with long blond braids and big busts promotes misunderstandings. They didn’t all have long braids.

It doesn’t matter that many Scandinavians don’t believe the name to be racist. What we need are more institutions with the progressive thinking of the University of Minnesota. An institution that chose a name and mascot for its sports teams that was not racist. It respected the Scandinavian’s culture and knew those who settled and worked the fallow fields of the American Midwest and Western Canada understood the tenacity of the golden gopher. I believe the name Vikings should be changed to Valkyries. In modern Scandinavian culture Valkyries have been the subject of art, music and poetry and have no racist or misogynistic implications. In fact modern thinking portrays the Valkyries as noble maidens helping the Norse god Odin guide warriors to Valhalla, an elegant palace where only heroes abide.