What’s in a Name, National League Edition

In this era of big buck merchandising and right fees, team nicknames are carefully crafted with the hopes of high jersey sales. However, that has not always been the case and at one time team names especially in the early days of baseball were much more fluid and changed regularly especially before the 20th Century. Here is a look at how the teams in the National League got their names and a look at some peculiar names the teams would rather forget.

Babe Ruth in his Boston Braves uniform in 1935.

Babe Ruth in his Boston Braves uniform in 1935.


When you hear the name Atlanta Braves, you think of Native Americans for the tomahawk on their uniforms and logos and mascots of the past. However, the name Boston Braves came about in 1911, when the team was purchased by members of the infamous New York Democrats that gathered at Tammany Hall. The organization that once was run by the notoriously corrupt Boss Tweed. Members of Tammany Hall called themselves Braves with the club’s emblem being an Indian Chief. The name Braves would follow the Braves from Boston through Milwaukee and on to Atlanta.

There was a brief period from 1936-1940 that team was called the Boston Bees after a fan poll and color change, in an attempt to turn things around after the worst season in franchise history as the Braves posted a record of 38-115 in 1935 despite having Babe Ruth at the start of the season.

Prior to becoming the Braves, the National League club in Boston went through several name changes as they started as the Boston Red Stockings in the National Association which predated the National League in 1871. George and Harry Wright were a big part of the Boston Red Stockings founding after being part of the Cincinnati Red Stockings, baseballs first professional team in 1869.

In 1883 the Red Stockings became the Boston Beaneaters, as to distinguish themselves from other teams that used similar names. The city of Boston has always been famous for its residents eating beans, and the name seemed to fit residents of Boston well as it was used by the team for more than two decades, including the 1890’s when they became a dynasty.

In 1907 the Boston Beaneaters briefly became the Boston Doves, when the team was purchased by the Dovey Brothers. After two poor seasons, the Dovey Brothers looked to change the club’s luck and changed the teams name to the Boston Pilgrims to pay tribute to the founders of Boston. That name would last until the team was purchased by Tammany Hall.

An early newspaper cartoon depicting the Brewers name

An early newspaper cartoon depicting the Brewers name


The name Brewers has been used by most professional baseball teams in Milwaukee since the 19th Century, as the city has always had a significant beer brewing industry. An early version of the Brewers played in the American Association, while another team was a charter American League franchise. The name was also used by minor league teams in Milwaukee, before and after the Braves short stay from 1953-1965.

Rogers Hornsby in his St. Louis Cardinals uniform.

Rogers Hornsby in his St. Louis Cardinals uniform.


The franchise now called the St. Louis Cardinals began life as the St. Louis Brown Stockings in the American Association. When the AA folded in 1892, the Brown Stockings sometimes just called the St. Louis Browns would join the National League. When the team was purchased by the Robison brothers in 1899 the team was officially called the St. Louis Perfectos. At the same time, they left the Brown colors and name for a future American League time, changing their colors to red. Fans liked the shade of red that was known as cardinal red and began calling the team the Cardinals. The name stuck as it would be 20 years before the famous birds on the bat began appearing on the uniform.

Members of the 1908 World Champion Chicago Cubs

Members of the 1908 World Champion Chicago Cubs



Like most teams that began in the 19th Century, the Cubs have gone through many name changes. A charter National League franchise, the Chicago Cubs were originally the Chicago White Stockings, a name they would abandon in 1894, when they became the Chicago Colts in an effort to jump start a team that was struggling through some mediocre seasons as Cap Anson hit his baseball twilight. When Anson retired in 1897, Chicago newspapers began calling the team the Chicago Orphans a name that would stick until 1902.

When Chicago’s National League team took the field in 1902 they had core group of talented rookies that would help them win two straight World Series in 1907 and 1908. The new faces helped revitalize a team that once was a dynasty in the 1880’s and the exciting young players were referred to by the Chicago Daily News as Chicago’s young Cubs. The name has been used ever since.

Randy Johnson throwing a pitch with the Arizona Diamondbacks

Randy Johnson throwing a pitch with the Arizona Diamondbacks


When Arizona got an expansion team in 1998, the name Diamondbacks was chosen after the rattle snake that is found in the desert. The Diamondback rattle snake is one of the most venomous snakes found in North America. With the name also tying into the baseball diamond it was a perfect fit.

A pair of trolley cars passing Ebbets Field in 1950's

A pair of trolley cars passing Ebbets Field in 1950’s


This September will mark 60 years since the Dodgers broke hearts all over Brooklyn and left Ebbets Field for Chavez Ravine.  The name origin is well known, as the team was called the Trolley Dodgers starting in 1911, as fans had to run around trolley cars that were crisscrossing Brooklyn at the time. The name was shortened to Brooklyn Dodgers in 1913, and became the team’s permanent nickname in 1932.  Between 1914-1931, the team was most commonly called the Brooklyn Robins after manager Uncle Wilbert Robinson.

Before becoming the Dodgers, the team went through many names starting in 1884 when they joined the American Association and called themselves the Brooklyn Atlantics in tribute to the early amateur team that was key in the development in baseball. After being called the Brooklyn Grays for their team color for a few seasons, the team adopted its most interesting name in 1888, becoming the Brooklyn Bridegrooms. This name came about after several players were getting married around the same time. The name carried over when they joined the National League in 1890, though they were often called the Brooklyn Grooms, as a shortened version. The name would last until 1899, when they received new owners and purchased the contract of several stars from the Baltimore Orioles. The name Superbas would remain with the team until the name Trolley Dodgers was adopted.

New York Giants Manager Bill Terry and Jim Murtie who gave the team its name celebrating the team's 50th anniversary in 1933.

New York Giants Manager Bill Terry and Jim Murtie who gave the team its name celebrating the team’s 50th anniversary in 1933.


When the New York Giants played their first game the team was called the New York Gothams, after one of the city’s nicknames. However, that all changed after one game in 1885 when Manager Jim Murtie proclaimed, “We Played Like Giants” the boastful name stuck and the team became the New York Giants, carrying the name to San Francisco in 1958.

Owner H. Wayne Huizenga at the Florida Marlins founding.

Owner H. Wayne Huizenga at the Florida Marlins founding.


The name Marlins was chosen by original Owner H. Wayne Huizenga, who was an avid fisherman who liked the fighting spirit displayed by Marlins. The name was familiar to south Florida as minor leagues in Miami had used it previously.


Perhaps inspired by a previous team from the American Association, the original owners of New York’s new National League expansion team had called their partnership the New York Metropolitan Baseball Club, with the nickname Mets emerging from that name as they sought to represent the entire New York Metropolitan area.


The name Washington Nationals had been used regularly by baseball teams playing in the Nation’s Capital since the 19th Century. Even the original Washington Senators were officially named the Nationals however, fans preferred the name Senators and the name was used most commonly until the team officially became the Senators in 1950’s and was also used when an expansion team replaced the original Senators after it moved to Minnesota. After baseball returned to DC after a three-decade absence in 2005, the name Nationals seemed a perfect fit and this time was embraced with the club playing in the National League.

Prior to moving to Washington, the franchise was named the Montreal Expos which came about after Montreal hosted a World’s Fair style event that was called Exposition 67’, in Canada’s Centennial celebration.

A 17 year old Ted Williams playing with the San Diego Padres of the PCL.

A 17 year old Ted Williams playing with the San Diego Padres of the PCL.


The name San Diego Padres was born in the old Pacific Coast League, when professional baseball came to San Diego in 1936. Among the stars that played for the early minor league Padres was Ted Williams. When San Diego was given an expansion team three decades later the name carried over to major leagues. The name itself came from priests who founded Mission San Diego de Alcala in the 1700’s.

An early Philadelphia Phillies uniform.

An early Philadelphia Phillies uniform.


The name Phillies is simply a shortened nickname for a resident of Philadelphia. The team was originally called the Philadelphia Quakers when it was founded in 1883, after the founders of Pennsylvania and for a brief period in 1943 was occasionally called the Philadelphia Blue Jays after they began wearing blue hats. However, since 1889 the name Phillies has fit the team as well as their Liberty Bell logo.

1896 Pittsburgh Pirates featuring  Louis Bierbauer second row second from left.

1896 Pittsburgh Pirates featuring Louis Bierbauer second row second from left.


When the Pittsburgh franchise joined the National League after starting in the American Association they were named the Alleghenys after the river that is located in the Western Pennsylvania city. In 1890 that came to change as they lured second baseman Louis Bierbauer away from the Philadelphia Phillies during a period of baseball upheaval. This led to newspapers calling the team the Pittsburgh Pirates for stealing other team’s players.

1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings baseball's first professional team.

1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings baseball’s first professional team.


The name Cincinnati Reds has been the team’s identity since they were founded as the Cincinnati Red Stockings, baseball’s first professional team in 1869. The name was shortened to Reds in 1878, and was used even during a stay in the American Association between 1882-1889. However, briefly during the heightened cold war tension in the 1950’s the team became the Cincinnati Red Legs as to not be associated with what American Communists, who were often called Reds.


Like a similarly named hockey team that played from 1977-1982, the name was chosen to represent the mountains that dominate the landscape in Colorado and surrounding states.

Look for examination of nickname origins in other sports down the road.

Frank Fleming is the creator of Sportsecyclopedia.com




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