Fun With KHL Team Names


Any opportunity to post a picture of a snow leopard is an opportunity to be seized. (Image source)


I do like playing around with etymologies, so today we are going to take a look at the meanings behind the names of the teams in the KHL.  Below the jump, I’ve given a little capsule explanation of each one, and there are some very interesting stories in there.  I have, for interest’s sake, included teams no longer playing in the league, so you get a bit of a bonus!

I have divided the names up thematically, just for fun.

Mythological and Historical

Atlant (Moscow Oblast, withdrew from KHL in 2015): Named after Atlas, one of the Titans of Greek mythology.  According to the story, Atlas was the figure who held the heavens aloft on his shoulders, so the name reflects great physical strength.

Kunlun Red Star (Beijing): “Kunlun” (崑崙 in traditional Chinese characters) refers to a mythological mountain said to be the dwelling place of a number of deities, and thus to serve as a connection between Earth and Heaven (more or less).  The Red Star is of course a well-known piece of Communist iconography that dates back to the years of the Russian Civil War.


Statue of Salavat Yulaev in Ufa. (Image source)

Salavat Yulaev (Ufa): Salavat Yulaev (sometimes spelled “Salawat Yulayev”) was a Bashkir poet who took part in Pugachev’s Rebellion against the reign of Catherine the Great in the 1770s.  He was captured and imprisoned in  Estonia, where he died in 1800, and is today considered a national hero in Bashkortostan.

Spartak (Moscow): Named after Spartacus, the Thracian gladiator who led a major slave revolt against the Roman Republic in the late 70s B.C.  The Spartak Sports Club represented a number of major trade unions in the Soviet era.


Amur (Khabarovsk): Named after the Amur River on which Khabarovsk is situated.  The Amur flows along the border between Russia and China, before turning North and emptying into the Strait of Tartary between the Russian mainland and the island of Sakhalin.  “Amur” probably derives from the Mongolian “Khar mörön,” which means “Black River.”

Donbass (Donetsk, withdrew from KHL in 2014): “Donbass” is the Russian term for the area of the Donets Basin in eastern Ukraine (the Ukrainian equivalent term transliterates as “Donbas”).


The Amur River (Image source)

Medveščak (Zagreb): Named for the Zagreb neighbourhood of Gornji Grad – Medveščak, where the team had its original arena.  Medveščak also have an animal connection to their name; the team is nicknamed “the Bears” (“Medvjeda” in Croatian).

Sibir (Novosibirsk Oblast): “Siberia” in Russian.  There is some debate over what the word “Siberia” means; it is similar to the Russian “север” (“sever” – “North”), but may actually derive from a Turkic word meaning either “sleeping land” or “beautiful.”

Slovan (Bratislava): “Slav” in Slovak, after the ethnic group that emerged in eastern Europe in about the 6th century A.D.

Ugra (Khanty-Mansiysk): An ancient name for the region of western Siberia in which Khanty-Mansiysk is located, and for the peoples — the Khanty and the Mansi — who dwell there.  It is very often spelled “Yugra,” as that is the strict transliteration from the Cyrillic alphabet, but the KHL officially uses “Ugra,” so I have adopted that spelling (it is, after all, not a Russian word).


Admiral (Vladivostok): Yes, it does mean “Admiral,” and is a nod towards Vladivostok’s position as the home base of the Russian Navy’s Pacific Fleet.

Avangard (Omsk Oblast): “Vanguard” in Russian.  In 1981, the team, then called Shinnik Omsk, became affiliated with the Omsktransmash company, and took the new name to reflect the firm’s prominent role in the manufacturing of armoured vehicles.

Red Army Club v Canada

Valery Kharlamov, playing for CSKA Moscow in the 1970s.

CSKA (Moscow): Abbreviation of “Центральный Спортивный Клуб Армии” (“Tsentralny Sportivny Klub Armii” – “Central Sports Club of the Army”).  The Army Sports Club was another one of the USSR’s major sports associations, with its main chapter located of course in Moscow (hence the “Central” part of the name).

SKA (St. Petersburg): The abbreviation of “Спортивный Kлуб Aрмии” (“Sportivny Klub Armii” – “Sports Club of the Army”).  Essentially a subsidiary of the Central Army team in Soviet days, SKA St. Petersburg began life as the hockey team of the Army Club’s branch in Leningrad.

Torpedo (Nizhny Novgorod): It means, obviously, “Torpedo” in Russian.  Despite the military name, the Torpedo Sports Club actually included workers in the Soviet automobile manufacturing and aeronautic industries.

Vityaz (Moscow Oblast): “Knight” or “Hero” in Russian.

Industry and Transportation

Avtomobilist (Yekaterinburg): Actually named after an earlier Soviet-era team.  That squad began as Spartak Sverdlovsk in the 1950s, but was transferred to the control of the Sverdavtotrans company in the mid-1960s.  That move brought about the name-change to Avtomobilist, which simply means “Motorist.”

Budivelnyk (Kiev, folded in 2010): “Builder” in Ukrainian.  The club was meant to be partnered with a local basketball team, also called Budivelnyk, which took the  name after receiving sponsorship in the 1960s from a municipal construction company.  The hockey team never actually played in the KHL, folding shortly before what was to be its inaugural season, but did take part in the 2010 entry draft (the basketball team still exists).

Khimik (Voskresensk, withdrew from the KHL in 2010): “Chemist” in Russian, as the team was founded in 1953 as the factory squad of the town’s chemical plant.

Krylya Sovetov (Moscow, declined to join the KHL in 2008): Included here because they were a famous team in the Soviet era.  The name means “Wings of the Soviets,” as the team formerly represented the Soviet aeronautical industry.  The are often referred to in English simply as “Soviet Wings.”

Lada (Tolyatti): “Lada” means “Harmony,” and is the brand name of probably the best-known Soviet and Russian automobiles.  AvtoVAZ, the company that manufactures Lada cars, is based in Tolyatti, and owns the hockey team.

A quick note on the city name: “Tolyatti” is the strict transliteration from the Cyrillic alphabet, but you will often see it spelled “Togliatti,” as the city was named after Italian Communist Party General Secretary and Minister of Justice Palmiro Togliatti.


Traktor Chelyabinsk’s early 1990s logo, here worn by Pavel Lazarev, acknowledged the team’s industrial origins. (Image source)

Lokomotiv (Yaroslavl): Means “Locomotive” in Russian, as the team is owned by JSC Russian Railways.  Lokomotiv took on their current name in 2000, having previously played as Torpedo Yaroslavl.

Metallurg (Magnitogorsk and Novokuznetsk): “Metallurgist” in Russian.  Both Magnitogorsk and Novokuznetsk have deep historical connections with the iron and steel industries.

Neftekhimik (Nizhnekamsk): “Petrochemist” in Russian.  Nizhnekamsk is the home of petrochemical company Nizhnekamskneftekhim, which owns the hockey club.

Severstal (Cherepovets): Named after OAO Severstal, the mining and steel company that owns the team.  The name translates literally as “Northern Steel.”

Traktor (Chelyabinsk): “Tractor,” obviously, deriving from the fact that the team was founded in 1947 by workers at the Chelyabinsk Tractor Plant.



You did note that I said “any opportunity,” right? (Image Source)

Ak Bars (Kazan): “Snow leopard” in Tatar.  Sometimes transliterated as “Aq Bars,” it is now the state symbol of the Republic of Tatarstan.

Barys (Astana): Another snow leopard, this time in Kazakh.

Lev (Prague, folded in 2014): “Lion” in Czech (and in Russian, for that matter).


Dynamo or Dinamo (Moscow, Riga, Minsk): The name for the sports club run by the Soviet Union’s security apparatus. The word comes from the Ancient Greek “δύναμις” (“dynamis”), meaning “power.”  As noted in a previous post, it is simply convention that uses “Dynamo” for the Moscow team, and “Dinamo” for Riga and Minsk.

HK Sochi: A fairly obvious one!  “HK” is an abbreviation of Хоккейный клуб (“Khokkeiny Klub” – “Hockey Club”), and you will often see it transliterated as “HC.”  Early rumours were that the Sochi team would be named “Delfin” (“Dolphin”), but this did not come to pass.

Jokerit (Helsinki): “Jokers” or even “wild cards” in Finnish (the singular is “jokeri”).

Any omissions?  Glaring errors?  Things you would like to add?  Let us know in the comments!



Posted on November 24, 2014, in KHL. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. and so now we know, and I thank you!


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