How Baseball Teams Got Their Names

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Do you know why your favorite MLB team has the name it does? Baseball team names have come from a lot of different sources. Some were chosen from fan contests, while others represent the geographic area of the team. Some teams change their name when there’s a rare move. For example, the American League’s Seattle Pilots (their name derived from the local aerospace industry as well as the owner’s part-time job as a harbor pilot) moved to Milwaukee, and Brewers was a natural fit due to the local brewing industry. But other teams that moved, like the Dodgers and Giants, kept their respective monikers.

Let's dive into (almost half of) the MLB teams we know and love today. Do you have a favorite team name? Who's on the front of your baseball jersey? Let us know on Facebook and Twitter (dictionarycom).

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Los Angeles Dodgers originally hailed from Brooklyn, New York. They moved to the West Coast for the 1958 season. Their name derives from people in the Brooklyn streets dodging trolley cars. We're assuming they dodged them successfully!

San Francisco Giants

The San Francisco Giants were also New York based and moved to the Bay Area the same year that the Dodgers did. In the 1885 season the Giants were known as the Gothams, and (as legend has it) their manager Jim Mutrie referred to them as “my big fellows, my giants” after an exciting win over Philadelphia. You have to admit, Gothams wouldn't have been a bad name for a team.

New York Mets

In 1962, a fan contest was publicized to name the new baseball franchise in New York City, and and the New York Mets was the winner. It was a nod to the fact that there was an old defunct team known as the New York Metropolitans. The story of Mr. Met will have to wait for another time.

Chicago Cubs

According to the Wrigley Ivy website, the Chicago Cubs picked up their nickname in 1902 as they started to rebuild with younger players, and it became official in 1903. (If you're wondering which came first in Chicago, cubs or bears, the answer is the cubs. George Halas named the football team in 1922.)

Atlanta Braves

The Atlanta Braves started out in Boston, moved to Milwaukee, and eventually settled in Atlanta. The team name has a rather obscure origin. According to Mental Floss, James Gaffney was president of the team in 1911, and was a member of Tammany Hall, the corrupt Democratic Party machine that ran New York City politics in the 19th century. The name Tammany came from Tammamend, who was a Delaware Valley Indian chief. “The society adopted an Indian headdress as its emblem and its members became known as Braves.”

Miami Marlins

The Miami Marlins officially changed their name to the "Miami Marlins" in 2011, although it probably felt familiar since there was a former Miami minor league baseball team of the same name. They were previously known as the Florida Marlins, a rare case of a team changing their (nearby) geographic representation. Another example is when the California Angels became the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

San Diego Padres

The San Diego Padres started in the National League in 1969, and were named as a nod to the many Catholic missionaries in the region. There was also a former minor league team with the same name.

Seattle Mariners

Seattle's baseball team entered the American League for the 1977 season. Seattle had previously been home to the American League Pilots for one brief season in 1969 before they moved on to Milwaukee. The Pacific coast city and the name mariner are a natural fit, and the Seattle Mariners name was picked from a fan contest.

Houston Astros

The team began play in 1962 and was originally known as the Colt .45's. They changed their name in 1965 to the Houston Astros to coincide with a move to their new stadium, the Astrodome. It also had a futuristic Jetsons space age ring to it, and meshed well with nearby NASA.

Cincinnati Reds

The Cincinnati Red Stockings were the first pro baseball team (1869) and were so named because of...wait for it...the color of their socks. The team name was shortened to the Redlegs, and finally the Cincinnati Reds. Interestingly, the term reds was associated with the McCarthyism Communist hysteria of the 1950s, so the team changed back to Redlegs for a period to avoid any unfortunate associations.

Oakland Athletics

The Oakland Athletics moniker originated in Philadelphia (and also journeyed through Kansas City before calling the Bay Area home). Their name is derived from "athletic clubs," which were local gentlemen's clubs of the era. The team showed up in 1866 wearing an A on their uniform tops, and there have been nods to that history ever since.

Philadelphia Phillies

The team was founded in 1883 as the Quakers, then changed their name to the Philadephias. At the time, that was the way teams were referred to, like the Bostons or the Chicagos. The abbreviation Phillies ended up sticking. In the 1940s, they briefly changed the name to Blue Jays, which became the Toronto team name in 1977.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates acquired their nickname in the 1890s after acquiring two players from Philadelphia under somewhat dubious circumstances. It was then stated in the Philadelphia press that Pittsburgh (then the Alleghenys) "pirated" the players, and the name was born. The team renamed themselves for the 1891 season, but it wasn't acknowledged on their uniforms until 1912.

St. Louis Cardinals

In 1899 a St. Louis newspaper writer heard a woman remark that she loved the "lovely shade of cardinal" in the team uniforms. He wrote about it, and the fans went for the name. For many years, St. Louis simultaneously had an NFL team named Cardinals. The media would then often refer to the "St. Louis Baseball Cardinals" or the "St. Louis Football Cardinals," much the same way New York media did when they had the New York football and baseball Giants, until their baseball team moved west.

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