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How Did Each MLB Team Get Their Names?

May 12, 2019 9 min read

How Did Each MLB Team Get Their Names?

Major League Baseball has a long and rich history, with dynamic players, along with all of the sports memorabilia collected over the years. However, within that history are many smaller, intriguing tales. More specifically, the stories of how each MLB team got their names. 

If you've ever wondered why a team is called what it is, you've come to the right place. Sit back and get ready for a history lesson!

Arizona Diamondbacks

If you're looking for an interesting origin story, this is not it. The Diamondbacks got their start as an expansion franchise back in 1995, and their name was the result of a fan vote. Arizona Diamondbacks SIgned Sports Memorabilia

Some of the other potential options were Coyotes, Rattlers, Scorpions, and Phoenix. Wrap your head around that last one. There was almost a team from Phoenix named Phoenix...

Luckily, fans chose the superior option. 

Atlanta Braves

The Braves had a long history under other monikers before finally settling on their iconic name. Originally from Boston, they got their start as the Red Stockings, and endured a stint as the less-than-catchy Beaneaters.

Tom Glavine Signed Atlanta Braves Memorabilia

In 1912, they became the Braves, so named for their owner's association with the New York Political machine, Tammany Hall. The symbol of Tammany Hall was a Native American headdress, and their members were nicknamed Braves, which then found its way to the team.


Baltimore Orioles

During the National League days of the 1800s, Baltimore's team was already using the Orioles name. They were named after the state bird of Maryland.

In 1954, the St. Louis Browns relocated to Baltimore. In need of a rebranding, they opted to adopt the old National League team's namesake and continue their long tradition. 

Boston Red Sox

You already heard a little bit about this Boston team in the entry about the Atlanta Braves. Before they were the Red Sox, they were the Red Stockings. As time wore on, "stockings" became outdated, and "sox" was used instead.

Curt Schilling Autographed Red Sox Jersey

In truth, the name began as a nickname, before sticking as an official franchise name. Upon their initial inception in the American League in 1901, they had no official name for several years before settling on the name of the old Boston National League team.

Chicago Cubs/Chicago White Sox

Chicago has a convoluted history when it comes to their baseball team nicknames. Their first professional team was called the White Stockings, but that team would eventually become the Cubs.

In the early 1900s, the team came under new ownership. By that time, they were already being referred to as the Colts. When new, young blood was brought into the franchise, they gained the nickname Cubs, and it stuck.

Around the same time, the St. Paul Saints relocated to the South Side of Chicago. Since the name White Stockings was once again up for grabs, they decided to go with that. Ironic considering it was the former name of their future rivals, the Cubs.

Chicago Cubs World Series Memorabilia

Cincinnati Reds 

The Reds are another team with a somewhat confusing name history. Before Boston took on the Red Stockings moniker, Cincinnati claimed it as the first all professional baseball team in the country. 

Later, the Red Stockings became the Redlegs, which was then subsequently shortened to Reds. During the Red Scare of the 1950s, the team briefly reverted to the name Redlegs and removed the word "Red" from their uniforms, but that change didn't stick.

Cleveland Indians

Cleveland originally named their team the Naps after their star player Napolean Lajoie. Understandably, they were in the market for a new name after the team split with Lajoie in the 1914 season. 

Possibly inspired by the Braves' unexpected World Series victory, sports writers and club officials settled on the name Indians.

Colorado Rockies

While it might seem like common sense to name this expansion team after the most prominent geographical feature in the region, some fans didn't agree. When they began playing in 1993, some people didn't like that they shared a name with the city's less than stellar former NHL franchise.

Some polls indicated that Denver residents preferred the name Bears, which was the name used by the city's old minor league team. Nonetheless, the team stuck with the Rockies and it's remained unchanged ever since.

Detroit Tigers

When Detroit's minor league team, the Wolverines, joined the American League in 1901, they decided to go with another nickname they'd had for some time. That nickname was the Tigers.

Named after Michigan's oldest military unit, the team got official permission to use the unit's nickname and symbol, and it stuck.

Houston Astros

In 1965, the team's president decided to ditch their classic nickname, the Colt .45s. They decided on Astros, because they felt it represented Houston's status as "space age capital of the world."

Craig Biggio Autographed Framed Astros Memorabilia

It may have also been spurred on by the fact that the Colt Firearms Company was less than fond of the team using its trademarked namesake as their nickname. 

Kansas City Royals

Kansas City was given an expansion franchise in 1969. You might recall that Arizona had fans vote on a handful of names. So did Kansas City, but in this case, there were over 17,000 potential nicknames.

Fans submitted suggestions, which were then narrowed down and voted on. Sanford Porte suggested the Royals based on "Kansas City's position as the nation's leading stocker and feeder market and the nationally known American Royal Livestock and Horse Show."

George Brett Signed Baseball Memorabilia

Not the reasoning one might expect, but it was nonetheless a hit with fans.

Los Angeles Angels

Legal considerations are the reason for this team's especially convoluted name. LA was granted a second pro team in 1961, which adopted the name Angels after the city's Pacific Coast League team.

In 1965, they were renamed the California Angels. They were renamed once again in 1997 when the Walt Disney Company purchased them, this time to the Anaheim Angels.

In 2005, team owner Arte Moreno added Los Angeles to the name in an attempt to capitalize on the LA media market. However, contractual stipulations dictated that Anaheim still be in the name, which left us with the convoluted Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Thankfully, in 2016 the name of the team was shortened once again to just Los Angeles Angels.

Shohei Ohtani Signed Angels Jersey

Los Angeles Dodgers

The team got their start in Brooklyn, where they got the nickname Trolley Dodgers in 1911 after pedestrians who would dodge trolley cars on the streets. From 1914-1931, the team was known as the Robins, named after their manager, Wilbert Robinson.

After Robinson retired, the name reverted back to the Dodgers. When the franchise eventually located to Los Angeles, they decided to keep the name.

Miami Marlins

Originally the name of Miami's minor league team, it was only natural for the newly founded expansion team to take it when they formed in 1993. Originally opting to include Florida in the name to increase their regional appeal, they became the Miami Marlins when they moved to their new baseball-only stadium in 2012.

Milwaukee Brewers

If you only know one fact about Milwaukee, it's probably that it's well-known for its history of beer breweries. As such, it makes sense that Brewers was used off and on by various baseball teams in the city throughout the years. Kirk Gibson Signed Dodgers Jersey

In 1969, the failed expansion team the Seattle Pilots relocated to Milwaukee. During the change, the franchise owner decided to adopt the familiar nickname, and they became the Milwaukee Brewers.

Minnesota Twins

Minneapolis and St. Paul are two cities separated by nothing more than the Mississippi River. Because of this, debate raged for years on which city would host an expansion team if the state were to get one.

In 1961, the Washington Senators moved to Minneapolis. As a nod to the two cities nicknames, The Twin Cities, the franchise went with the name the Twins, and made their logo two hands shaking in front of a baseball.

New York Mets

The Mets are another team who landed on their name via fan suggestions and votes. Upon being granted an expansion franchise in 1961, the city took suggestions for the name and narrowed it down to 10 finalists before taking a vote.

It's fitting that they arrived at the Mets, since that was a common nickname for the New York Metropolitans, the city's old American Association team from the 1800s.

New York Yankees

After the Baltimore Orioles moved to New York in 1903, they became the Highlanders. As was common for teams in the American League, they were often colloquially referred to as the New York Americans. 

New York Press editor Jim Price began referring to them as the New York Yanks to better fit into headlines. Eventually, that name officially became the Yankees. New York Yankees Autographed World Series Memorabilia

Oakland Athletics

Oakland boasts one of the oldest nicknames in baseball. Dating back to 1860, the name is a reference to the Athletic Baseball Club of Philadelphia, where the team got their start.

After NY Giants manager John McGraw referred to them as a "white elephant" in 1902, the team good-naturedly adopted the insult as their logo. Upon moving to Kansas City in 1955, and Oakland in 1968, the team kept their iconic name and logo with each move.

Philadelphia Phillies

Arguably one of the less inspired nicknames in the MLB roster, the team originally saw life as the Quakers. Eventually changing their name to the Philadelphias, it wasn't long before that was shorted to the Phillies.

A contest was held in 1943 which briefly resulted in them being named the Blue Jays, but the name didn't stick, and they reverted back to the Phillies.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates come by their name honestly. After the Players' League collapsed in 1890, Pittsburgh signed two players who the Athletics forgot to place on their reserve list. 

A journalist in Philadelphia described the Pittsburgh club as "pirating" the players, and that’s all it took for the nickname to stick.

Bill Mazeroski Autographed Pirates Jersey

San Diego Padres

Originally the name of the city's Pacific Coast League team, the name was adopted by the Major League team upon being awarded an expansion franchise in 1969.

The name is Spanish for "father" or "priest," which is a reference to San Diego's history as the first Spanish mission in California.

San Francisco Giants

The Giants' name is a holdover from their origin as a New York team. In 1957, the team moved to San Francisco and decided to keep the name.

The name itself dates all the way back to 1885. Then known as the Gothams, team manager Jim Mutrie referred to his team as "giants" after a particularly impressive win over Philadelphia.

Willie McCovey Signed Giants JerseySeattle Mariners

Like many teams on this list, Mariners was a name selected by fans from a list of hundreds of suggestions. The city was awarded an expansion franchise in 1967 and fans subsequently voted on the name.

Although the name was suggested by several people, the team decided that Roger Szmodis of Bellevue had the most compelling reason. "I've selected Mariners because of the natural association between the sea and Seattle and her people, who have been challenged and rewarded by it."

St. Louis Cardinals

Following the nation's one time preoccupation with sock colors, the team gets its name from an offhand remark about its chosen footwear shade. Back in 1899, the team was known as the Perfectos. After a columnist heard a woman refer to their socks as "a lovely shade of Cardinal," the name stuck and was officially changed a year later.

Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa Bay landed on the name Devil Rays via a poll in 1995, but some fans were less than pleased. Reportedly, angry Christian callers reported that the inclusion of the word "devil" was offensive.

Their superstitious nature may seem over the top, but in a strange coincidence, the team broke a legendary losing streak after changing the name to the Rays after their 2007 season. 

Nolan Ryan Autographed Rangers Baseball Memorabilia

Texas Rangers

For anyone familiar with the history of Texas law enforcement, this name is a no brainer. After a second Washington Senators relocated to Arlington, TX in 1972, owner Robert Short renamed the team after the legendary Texas law enforcement agency of the 1800s.

Toronto Blue Jays

Despite not working for the Phillies, the Blue Jays moniker was a hit for Toronto fans. After receiving over 30,000 suggestions over five weeks, the list was narrowed down to 10 entries and voted on by the people. Ultimately, Blue Jays won out.

Washington Nationals

Fitting for a nation's capital, the team had two teams which were interchangeably referred to as both the Nationals and the Senators. Throughout the years, both teams would be relocated and renamed.

In 2005, Washington once again gained its own team after the Montreal Expos relocated there. As a nod to the city's history, the Nationals nickname was once again adopted. Baltimore Orioles Signed Cal Ripken Jr Helmet

That's Every MLB Team There Is!

There you have it. The history of every MLB Team and their nickname in one handy list. Hopefully, you had as much fun reading it as we did researching it.

If your interest in baseball doesn't end at factoids and history, we don't blame you. Check out some awesome sports memorabilia that will make any collector jump with joy, at Powers Sports Memorabilia. 

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