My family is from Minnesota, and like many others in that part of the country, we have Scandinavian heritage. So it always made perfect sense to me that Minnesota’s NFL team was called the Vikings. Learning about, or at least paying attention to, professional sports team names is a good way to learn a little history.
No, this isn’t a lead-in to discuss the controversial name of a certain football team in Washington D.C.
There are many sports teams whose names represent some aspect of regional pride. A surprising number use animal or bird names to represent strength or speed or guile. Some teams have a long tradition with a name that we would never think to use today, but made perfect sense at the time. And some newer teams have names that just seem silly, probably because they don’t have the long years of tradition to back them up.
When I went searching for information, I was surprised by how many team names are the result of fan contests or polls. Fans are asked to either submit a suggested team name, or are given a list of choices on which they can vote. I had no idea that this was the accepted way of doing things almost from the beginning, over a century ago. And this holds true across all professional sports.
Please keep reading for a few team names that I find interesting for various reasons. You can click on the NFL, MLB or NHL headings to go to the Mental Floss list that includes all the teams.
- Pittsburgh Steelers – This name was chosen from a contest back in 1940, and honors the history of the steel industry in this city.
- San Francisco 49ers – Named in honor of the people from all over the world who flocked to the area during the California gold rush of 1849. The spirit of those original dreamers can still be felt in the city today.
- Milwaukee Brewers – In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Milwaukee was famous for their large number of breweries. This is usually attributed to the large population of German immigrants who brought the tradition and processes for brewing beer to their new home. Many of these family breweries have closed or been bought out by other by larger corporations, but the history remains, and the baseball team name is a reminder of that past.
- San Diego Padres – Padre, the Spanish word for Father, is a reference to the Catholic Missions created to bring Christianity to the natives. San Diego was the first in a string of 21 missions from southern California to San Francisco in the north.
- Philadelphia Flyers – I love this one. I always thought the name meant that the players were so speedy that they flew across the ice. Silly me. Instead, a family member of someone in the organization suggested Flyers because the name paired well with the city name. So it sounds great, but has no real meaning.
- Edmonton Oilers – The province of Alberta in Canada, especially the area of Edmonton, experienced an oil boom in the 1940s and 1950s. Responsible for jobs and a lot of money during the boom times, oil has been very, very good to Edmonton.
Major League Soccer
- Los Angeles Galaxy – Also the home of Hollywood, Los Angeles has a galaxy of film and television stars.
- New England Revolution – Not a catchy name for classic soccer chants, but referencing the American Revolution of the eighteenth century is pretty patriotic. How can you not like a team that reminds you of how we achieved freedom from the tyranny of the English king?
Do you know the history behind the name of your favorite team? Would you change your team’s name if you could?