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We Need to Have a Talk About the Word ‘Nameplate’

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend emerging from the MLB/Nike uniform fiasco: Lots of people, when referring to this year’s smaller NOB lettering, are misusing the term nameplate. Various articles refer to the “smaller letters on the nameplate,” or the “smaller font on the jersey nameplates,” or the “smaller nameplates,” the “shersey-looking nameplates.”

As you can see at the top of this page, the use of “nameplate” is also rampant on social media. Here are some additional examples:

More alarmingly, I’ve started seeing this verbiage creeping into the Uni Watch comments section. One reader, referring to the Phillies’ new City Connect uniforms, even used “nameplate” when referring to the chest lettering on the front of the jersey. Yikes!

It appears that a refresher course is in order, so here’s a quick mini-glossary:

  • NOB: Short for “name on back.” Refers to a player’s name on the back of their jersey, in any format.
  • Nameplate: An NOB format consisting of a strip of fabric with the letters of a player’s name sewn onto it. The lettered nameplate is then sewn onto the jersey. This is the format used by all NFL teams, and also by some NHL teams. It used to be fairly common in MLB, but not anymore.
  • Direct-sewn lettering: Another NOB format, with the letters of the player’s name are sewn directly onto the jersey. This is the format used throughout the NBA and MLB, and also by some NHL teams.

MLB has been nameplate-free since 2019, with one exception. That was the Rays’ throwback jersey, which used nameplates as an era-appropriate retro detail. But even that nameplate has disappeared this season, as part of the Nike makeover:

I understand why people like to (mis)use “nameplate.” It sounds jargon-y and vaguely industrial, like “chassis.” But the reality is that there are no nameplates in MLB, so let’s please not spread uni ignorance and misinformation by misapplying this term — especially here on Uni Watch. Thanks!

Comments (41)

    Drives me bats when anyone refers to an ocean liner as a “cruise ship.” Or a zeppelin as a “blimp.” And I have friends who can’t stand it when someone refers to a musical as a “play,” or a cast album as a “soundtrack.”

    Much like how you are irked by the misuse of “nameplate,” as a designer, it tears me up when someone says “Can you make that a smaller font?” or “Please make the font bigger.” Ugh. A font is what it is. I can change the size of the type, but that doesn’t make it a “bigger” or “smaller” font.

    I thought you were going to bring up “font” vs. “typeface”

    Since you mentioned it, a typeface is an individual style of text including the weight, stance, stretchiness, or squishiness, such as Helvetica Medium Italic Condensed. A font is a collection of related typefaces, such as Helvetica, which contains the typeface listed above and in some cases, many more. A typeface is a subset of a font.

    “Font” is a print style. What they really mean – yet rarely say – is “point size.”

    Nameplate is a nice name for a cat, as was my first thought after seeing the picture.

    I grew up in a small town populated largely by descendants of German immigrants. There was a running gag when I was a kid that began with “So a Stuckenschneider, a Stieffermann, a Schuenemeyer and a Shaefferkoetter walk into a bar….” All four names are still quite common back home.

    Usually, the most German-sounding names are actually Austrian.

    Feiersinger, Pfeiffenberger, Schlierenzauer, Baumgartlinger, Hinteregger, Morgenstern and of course the tragic Ratzenberger, to name just a few famous sportsmen.

    I watched that Cubs game when Boog brought up the lettering. Jim Deshaies was confused. Almost like he hadn’t realized the change in font.

    Len Kasper (who very much Gets It) used to try to engage Deshaies on uniform aesthetics and it was always like pulling teeth. Maybe the whiplash of going from Yankee pinstripes to the Astros tequila sunrise pullovers as a rookie taught him not to form strong opinions about uniform design.

    We can fight this, but language changes over time and becomes the norm. That’s how Latin became French, and Old English became English. Sadly, IMHO, the use of “literally” will not mean actually but figuratively, due to young people using this hyperbolically. “Nameplate” used incorrectly will drive me crazy, but at some point I’m afraid this will become the new lexicon.

    Agree to disagree, my friend. It will always be factually incorrect to call it a nameplate when there is no plate onto which a name is affixed. Just because people are doing it doesn’t make it OK to join in. Stepping out of the sports world, when I hear people say “price point” then describe a “price range”, I want to claw eyeballs out of sockets.

    First off MJ, I’m not saying it’s OK to join in. And I also said it will drive me crazy. But meanings of words change all the time, and I’m afraid this will probably be one. I know it’s comforting to think of language as static and based on facts, but that’s not how it works.

    Blork blark marklark. Literally, bloarlerk quarpor. 100%.

    “But language is dynamic” is a tired argument, and a false dichotomy. Obviously, language needs to be capable of both change and stability. If it can’t change, then it’s too limited, but if it has no stability, then it has no meaning, and everything is gibberish. If I arbitrarily start calling left “right,” up “down,” and pennies “dollars” I can expect some reasonable push back. Arguing that it doesn’t matter because language is dynamic would be absurd.

    Of course it’s true that language and its meaning is socially constructed and constantly under negotiation by our very use of it. That *does mean it’s dynamic, but it *doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t point out when words/signs/symbols are used in contradiction to established meanings.

    Superb example of critical analysis and reasoning. Kudos, Timo — makes me proud when I see a comment like this on Uni Watch!

    I agree with what Timo is saying. I’m not in favor of “nameplate” being used this way. However, semantic change or shift happens. Heck, the origin of awful was “full of awe”. This is a big part of why I’m sad that Paul is retiring. We will miss this kind of voice, pointing out these kind of issues.

    I think we actually agree on this. I am just not willing to give in so readily because a critical mass of ignorant people are repeatedly saying a wrong thing. Words like awful, egregious, and moot all evolved over centuries; this is not that. This is people who don’t know what they are talking about saying the wrong thing and not being corrected by enough people.

    My favourite example of this is the old word pantaloon.
    In the US, this became shortened to pants.
    In the UK, the term pantaloon fell out of fashion, but the word “underpants” stuck – and in time that has become shortened to pants.
    Cue a lot of toilet humour when British people hear Americans talking about pants – even though its the British that has got it factually wrong. But a good example of the actual language people use straying from the literal meaning!

    Young people? Gordon Ramsay is one of the worst culprits in the world when it comes to misusing “literally”, and he’s 57!

    NOB can be confused with “Number On Back” since, you know, they both start with “N”

    So I appreciate people using ‘nameplate’ since we know what they are referring to, to the general public.

    I have literally never heard anyone use NOB to refer to a number. Ever.

    If you need to make sure people know you’re referring to the name, there’s a simple solution: Use the word “name.” No need for “nameplate” unless you’re referring to, you know, a nameplate (i.e., the strip of fabric, as described in this post).

    These are the same people that call the round at the end of The Price Is Right the Showcase Showdown instead of simply the Showcase (the Showcase Showdown is the wheel spins that determine who goes to the Showcase).

    Paul, the nameplate / NOB distinction is your thing. We don’t harass Verizon for calling their service a “network”, even though there are no cables to create a “net”. It’s a virtual network, just like a string of individually sewn-on letters on the back of a jersey is a virtual nameplate.

    Actually, the distinction is not “my thing.” It’s something I learned from the people at MLB when I started writing about uniforms in 1999. It’s also referred to in many uniform guides, auction listings, and so on.

    If you don’t care about the distinction, that’s up to you. But please don’t pretend or inaccurately assert that the distinction doesn’t exist, or that I somehow invented it, because neither is true. Thanks.

    Paul, I didn’t mean to imply distinguishing between NOB and nameplate is only a you thing. I meant in this case you are making an objection to a definition which has changed. I don’t doubt MLB distinguished between NOB and nameplate in 1999. I am doubting MLB, Nike or Fanatics do today.

    It’s a lot like the term “racism”. In 1999 it meant discriminating against a person or group of people on the basis of race. Now it means actions, speech, writing, etc. which uphold white supremacy. Point is, I acknowledge the historical distinction between NOB and nameplate, but strong evidence suggests that distinction is a thing of the past.

    Well, if we went there, this needs a look:

    Typeface vs. font
    The words “typeface” and “font” are typically thought of as synonymous, but they actually refer to different things. While a typeface describes a particular style of lettering, a font refers to variations of a typeface, like its size and weight. The simplest way to understand this difference is that a typeface is a set of fonts with common aesthetic qualities. Let’s break this down even further.

    Typically, what we refer to as a font is actually a typeface. That is, Times New Roman, Helvetica, and Arial are not actually fonts—they’re typefaces.

    Essentially, a typeface is the set of design features that characterize a particular style of lettering. This may include the presence (or lack) of a serif; the relative height, spacing and width of the letters; and any other aesthetic embellishments, like expressive swashes or tiny counters.

    As a Red Sox fan it saddens me that I can’t join you on the road with this. But united at home.

    Looks like they had to move the nameplate to make more room for sponsors on the chassis.

    As a comedy interlude, I just finished binge watching Loudermilk. When they (temporarily) lose their meeting place for the group meeting Loudermilk (played by the great Ron Livingston) says:

    “Like, what kind of monster evicts you using Comic Sans?”

    Not sure if the misapplication of the term nameplate is too far gone yet in the regular and sports media, or if another term could replace it before it becomes so. Will only happen if it is a term that is easy to say and doesn’t have a lot of words or syllables.

    Name or Name font might not work because of the ambiguity regarding team name vs players’ last name. The media of all sorts and the world in general is already overflowing with initialisms and acronyms. Anyone with any ideas that somewhat precise and aren’t multisyllabic messes that could potentially catch on?

    I was going to suggest we needed a 2nd word after “name” to denote the name thingy when it’s not a plate. Feels too empty just to same ‘name’ but ‘name on back’ is too literal. I don’t love “name bar” though, maybe it will grow on me. Any other suggestions?

    And I love how Paul is more upset when Uni-Watch users use nameplate incorrectly than the national media.

    The sports terminology i find misused most often is when people use Unanswered and Consecutively interchangeably. They are not always the same thing. A team coming from behind has not scored Unanswered runs. Their runs are the Answer to the team that was already leading. The team that was leading does not have to “Answer” until they have lost the lead.

    Just a note regarding: “MLB has been nameplate-free since 2019, with one exception. That was the Rays’ throwback jersey”…

    The Phillies were also using nameplates for their powder blue alts, I believe, through last year. That will probably disappear this year, also, unfortunately. Thanks!

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