Sports Team Name Origins

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

The Name Game
The origins of professional sports team names

by Mike Morrison and John Gettings

Do you know why the Los Angeles NBA team is known as the Lakers, despite the lack of lakes in the Los Angeles area? Or why the NHL's team in usually-cold Calgary is known as the Flames? Read on for the origins of those team names and many others below!

Major League Baseball
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Pittsburgh Pirates—The franchise was called the Innocents until 1891 when it signed second baseman Lou Bierbauer. His old club, the Philadelphia Athletics, and its fans weren't at all happy about the way Bierbauer was "obtained" and dubbed his new club the Pirates because they "pirated" the star player away from them.

San Francisco Giants—In the 1880s when the club was in New York and known as the Gothams, manager Jim Mutrie stood up in the dugout after a win and referred to the team as "my Giants."

Minnesota Twins—The Twins are named after the "twin cities" of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Los Angeles Dodgers—The club resided in Brooklyn, N.Y., from 1890–1957 and was named the Trolley Dodgers in reference to the borough's maze of trolley lines near the Brooklyn Bridge. It was later shortened to Dodgers and the name stuck even after the team moved to Los Angeles in 1958.

Houston Astros—Formerly known as the Colt 45s, the team was renamed the Astros in 1965 in reference to Houston's new NASA Space Center.

Milwaukee Brewers—The Brewers were named in 1970 after the numerous beer breweries in the Milwaukee area.

N.Y. Mets—The team's corporate name was the New York Metropolitan Baseball Club, Inc. Simply put, "Mets" is short for Metropolitans.

Montreal Expo—The Expos are named after Expo '67, the world's fair held in Montreal two years before the team's inaugural game. The fair ran for the entire year and drew approximately 50 million people.

Anaheim Angels—The club was originally in Los Angeles from 1961–1965. Los Angeles is Spanish for "the angels."

Cleveland Indians—The Cleveland baseball team, known in the 1890s as the Spiders, had one of the first American Indians in the majors–Louis Francis Sockalexis. Sadly, the term, "Indians" was reportedly given to the team by disrespecting fans around the country. In less than three years, injuries and alcoholism forced Sockalexis out of baseball after only 367 at-bats. In 1915, two years after his death, the name was officially changed to the "Indians." Some say the name was given to honor Sockalexis. Others disagree.

Detroit Tigers—In 1901, players on Detroit wore yellow and black socks. Editor Philip Reid thought they were similar to those worn by the Princeton University Tigers football team.

National Football League
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Arizona Cardinals—The Cardinals are the NFL's oldest franchise and both team and nickname date back to Chicago 1901. Owner-manager Chris O'Brien deemed the used, faded maroon jerseys he acquired from the University of Chicago "cardinal red." When the American Professional Football Association began in 1920—out of which the NFL grew—the team from Chicago was known as the Cardinals.

Baltimore Ravens—The clear winner of a Baltimore Sun telephone poll in 1996, the name is borrowed from a well-known poem by Baltimore native Edgar Allan Poe.

Chicago Bears—Coach George Halas inherited co-ownership of the Decatur (Ill.) Staleys from factory owner A. E. Staley in 1921 and promptly moved them north to Chicago's Wrigley Field (then Cubs Park). In keeping with the park's summer tenants—Major League Baseball's Cubs—Halas renamed the team the Bears.

Green Bay Packers—America's first pro football dynasty was also the first franchise to utilize corporate sponsorship. In 1919, the Indian Packing Company gave the team $500 for uniforms and equipment. From then on they were called the Packers.

Philadelphia Eagles—The team, which joined the NFL in 1933, based its nickname and logo on the Blue Eagle symbol, an emblem created for business participating in President Franklin Roosevelt's new National Recovery Administration.

Kansas City Chiefs—Lured from Dallas by Kansas City mayor H. Roe "Chief" Bartle in 1963, owner Lamar Hunt changed the team's name from Texans to Chiefs in his honor.

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Atlanta Hawks—The Tri-City Blackhawks, of the National Basketball League, were acquired by the NBA in 1949. Officials in the three cities—Moline and Rock Island, Ill., and Davenport, Iowa—named the team after Sauk Indian Chief Black Hawk, who fought the United States in the Black Hawk War of 1831 over his settlement in Illinois. The name was shortened to Hawks in 1951, when the team moved to Milwaukee before a stop in St. Louis and finally Atlanta.

Denver Nuggets—The NBA already had a team called the (then San Diego, now Houston) Rockets when this American Basketball Association team made its intentions to join the NBA known in 1974. Team officials chose the Nuggets because it paid tribute to the 19th century mining boom in Colorado.

Detroit Pistons—Fred Zollner, who owned a piston-making plant in Fort Wayne, Ind., was the team's first owner. The Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons, were renamed the Pistons when they moved to Detroit—the automotive capital of the world—in 1957.

Indiana Pacers—Chosen by investors, the name is said to reflect the area's rich harness racing history and the pace car at the country's most famous auto race-the Indianapolis 500.

Los Angeles Clippers—A contest held when the team was based in San Diego (1978–1984) determined this nickname. It's said to pay tribute to the great sailing ships that passed through San Diego Bay. The team took the name to L.A. in 1984.

Los Angeles Lakers—Originally based in Minneapolis, Minn., the name was based on the state motto "The Land of 10,000 Lakes." Despite the lack of lakes in Los Angeles, the team kept the name when it relocated in 1960.

New Jersey Nets—A charter member of the American Basketball Association in 1967, this team was first known as the Americans. When they moved to Commack, N.Y., a year later they chose the Nets because they were an important part of the game, and the name rhymed with other pro teams from New York: the Mets and Jets.

N.Y. Knickerbockers—Knicks for short, this is a reference to the style of pants worn by 17th century Dutch settlers, who founded what is now New York. The rolled-up-just-below-the-knee look, known as knickers, was very popular, and its association with N.Y. sports' teams dates back to the 1840s.

Seattle Supersonics—When the expansion franchise in Seattle joined the NBA in 1967, Boeing, the airplane manufacturer then headquartered in Olympia, Wash., was working on supersonic jet that would rival the Concorde. The plane never took off, but Seattle fans voted for the name anyhow.

Utah Jazz—An ideal name for this NBA franchise when it was set in New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz music, in 1974. Five years later the Jazz moved to Salt Lake City and the name went with them.

National Hockey League
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Anaheim Ducks—Originally the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, the team was founded by Disney and joined the NHL as an expansion team in 1993. It got its ridiculous name from the 1992 Disney movie starring Emilio Estevez. When the team was sold to Henry and Susan Samueli prior to the 2006-2007 season, the "Mighty" was dropped from the name. Coincidentally, the Ducks would go on to win their first Stanley Cup that year.

Boston Bruins—After Charles Adams purchased the team in the mid-1920s, the team's colors were actually more important to him than the team's name. Since Adams was also president of Brookside Stores, whose colors were brown with yellow trim, his new team was also required to wear the same colors.

The name Bruins was chosen in a contest, under the following guidelines: "The name chosen should preferably relate to an untamed animal whose name was synonymous with size, strength, agility, ferocity, and cunning; and in the color brown category."

Calgary Flames—The team was located in Atlanta from 1972–1980 and was named after the city's burning during the Civil War. The name was kept after the Flames' move to Calgary in 1980, with the flaming "A" on the front of the players' jerseys being replaced by a flaming "C."

Detroit Red Wings—In 1932 the team (then known as the Falcons) was purchased by James Norris. Norris had once played for a team in Montreal known as the Winged Wheelers and based on that, decided to name his new team the Red Wings with a winged wheel as the logo. The logo is a natural fit for Detroit, also known as "The Motor City."

New Jersey Devils—As legend has it, the "Jersey Devil" is a half-man, half-beast who has roamed New Jersey's Pine Barrens for over 250 years.

New York Rangers—The team's first owner in 1926 was Madison Square Garden president G. L. "Tex" Rickard. Fans and sportswriters referred to the new squad as "Tex's Rangers," and the name eventually stuck.

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