Milwaukee Bucks History: What’s In A Nickname?

It feels natural now, but how did the Milwaukee Bucks get their nickname?

As time goes on, a sports team generally grows into their nickname, one way or another. The history of the name becomes something of an afterthought, but that doesn’t make the initial decision of naming a team carry any less importance.

Milwaukee Bucks might seem like a natural fit for Wisconsin’s NBA team now, but it wouldn’t have taken much for a different nickname to have won out back when the team was formed.

Of course, we’d all have grown used to it, but in hindsight it truly feels as if the original ownership dodged multiple bullets in opting for Bucks.

The Bucks are one of 12 current NBA teams whose name has its origins in a contest that afforded the general public a say in the naming of their new franchise.

Although with time the details on some of the leading contenders for Milwaukee’s nickname can vary, there’s no debating that the overriding theme in the naming process was Wisconsin’s native wildlife.

Before the team’s name was officially announced on May 22, 1968, the Bucks had received suggestions from over 14,000 participants in the naming competition. That acts as just one of many examples of the buzz that the arrival of an NBA team generated in the area at the time.

Bucks might have won out, but it certainly wasn’t the only wildlife-related suggestion. It’s widely agreed upon that Skunks, Beavers, Ponies and Hornets were among the other popular entries that ultimately didn’t make the final cut.

Hornets would, of course, go on to be the nickname of choice for franchises in Charlotte and New Orleans in the future, but somewhat unsurprisingly the other contenders have yet to end up emblazoned across the chest of an NBA jersey.

Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Although, as we know, Bucks was the ultimate winner in the nickname stakes, it’s a common misconception that it was the most popular entry in the public contest. Bucks was the second choice of the public, coming in behind Robins in the voting.

The contest judges ultimately overruled the public’s first preference, opting for Bucks instead. The reasoning for the decision is documented on the NBA’s website.

“Contest judges chose a name that reflected the fish and game area ‘because it is indigenous to Wisconsin,’ said then-General Manager John Erickson.

‘The predominance of bucks led us to the name.'”

More than just a contest to name the state’s latest professional sports team, the naming competition offered the prize of a new car to one lucky participant who suggested the winning entry.

It’s said that 45 separate entries suggested Bucks as the team’s nickname, but the prize went to R.D. Trebilcox, a resident of Whitefish Bay. Although Mr. Trebilcox likely wasn’t the most popular figure with the 44 other participants who chose the winning name but missed out on the car, his reasoning for Bucks being an apt nickname can’t be disputed.

“He saw bucks as being spirited, good jumpers, fast and agile.”

It’s perhaps a testament to Mr. Trebilcox and the judging committee who had the good sense to overlook the public’s choice of Robins, that his description of Bucks is equally fitting to the players who line out for the team almost 50 years later.

So the next time you pull on a Bucks jersey or t-shirt, or adjust the cap on your head, take a second to appreciate the timeless quality of Milwaukee’s nickname (and the fact that you’re lucky it doesn’t say Skunks).