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What's a "Dodger"? The Stories Behind 10 Sports Team Names

What's a "Dodger"? The Stories Behind 10 Sports Team Names

Some of America's professional sports teams are recognized by people around the world. You may hear team names on TV or read them on social media. You may even own a jersey worn by your favorite player!

But have you ever thought about how teams got their names? Some names, such as the Seattle Mariners, for example, have simple stories (in this case, mariners are sailors, and Seattle is a city near the Pacific Ocean).

In other cases, however, names are not so easy to understand at first. In fact, some have quite interesting histories, so let's take a look!


Before we begin, you should know the following abbreviations:

MLB: Major League Baseball

NBA: National Basketball Association

NFL: National Football League


The stories behind popular sports team names

Houston Astros (MLB) / Houston Rockets (NBA)

A rocket blasting off and flying a shuttle into outer space

Houston is the largest city in the state of Texas. It is where you will find the Johnson Space Center, where astronauts are trained and where NASA can guide and communicate with spacecraft. Because of this, Houston has a strong connection to space in popular culture.

This association with space is the reason behind the names of two of Houston's professional sports teams. Space shuttles need rockets to fly high enough to leave Earth. Meanwhile, “astro-” refers to stars, which you can see everywhere in outer space and in the night sky. Similarly, words like "astronomer" and "astrological" are all connected to space.

Houston also has an NFL team — The Houston Texans — but we probably don’t need to explain that one!

New York Yankees (MLB) / New York Mets (MLB)

History experts cannot agree on the exact origins of the word "yankee." But one thing we know is that it was mostly used to refer to people in New England, a group of states in the northeastern part of America.

These days, it can have several meanings depending on who is using it. For example, to Americans, a yankee may refer to a New Englander or to someone living in the northern states. To people living in other countries, however, it may simply refer to any American; notice that the New York Yankees' logo includes a cap with the design of the American flag.

New York’s less-famous MLB team is the Mets, which is a shortened form of “Metropolitans.” Metropolitan can be an adjective referring to a major city (called a “metropolis”), or it can be a noun for a person who lives in a major city. New York City is one of the largest and most famous cities in the world, so it’s not difficult to see how this name was chosen.

Los Angeles Dodgers (MLB)

A trolley car running on a busy American street

An important thing to remember about sports teams is that sometimes they move from one city to another. For example, the LA Dodgers used to play for an area of New York called Brooklyn. 

In the 19th century, trolleys* were a major mode of public transportation, and there were many on the streets of New York. In fact, there were so many that people needed to carefully dodge, or avoid them, while moving around. So, the city’s baseball team became the Trolley Dodgers.

In 1957, the team moved to Los Angeles and dropped the “trolley” from the name.

*Trolleys are trains that run on tracks on the street, as opposed to subways that move underground.

Los Angeles Lakers (NBA)

Another popular Los Angeles sports team is the LA Lakers. Los Angeles is famous for many things but not for lakes, so how did it get this name?

Originally, the Lakers played for Minneapolis, the largest city in the state of Minnesota. Because of its many lakes, creeks, rivers and waterfalls, Minneapolis is called "The Land of 10,000 Lakes." However, just like the Dodgers, the team eventually moved to Los Angeles, which is more famous for movies than water!

Chicago Cubs (MLB) / Chicago Bears (NFL)

A bear cub standing on a pile of tree branches

Chicago is the third-largest city in the US, and many of its residents are passionate sports fans. 

In fact, Chicago is so crazy about sports that it has two major league baseball teams! One of these teams is called the Cubs.

Although they had several different names in their early years, in 1902, a journalist for a local newspaper nicknamed the team the Cubs, and it was so popular that it became official. “Cub” is a word for a young bear, lion or fox. In other words, the team was full of young players who could grow into strong professionals.

Chicago’s football team, the Bears, is related to this, since American Football players are usually larger and stronger than baseball players.

Los Angeles Angels (MLB)

Let’s quickly mention one more team from LA. “Los Angeles” is actually Spanish for “The Angels,” so this team name is easy to understand. However, although the team represents LA, their stadium is actually located in Anaheim, which is about 26 miles, or 42 kilometers, away and is also home to California's Disneyland.

Utah Jazz (NBA)

Most team names include a city, but the basketball team the Jazz play for the state of Utah. Utah is located in the central-western part of the US, and its largest city is Salt Lake City. 

So is “SLC” famous for jazz? Not at all! But New Orleans, a city in the southeast of the US, definitely is. New Orleans is where the famous holiday Mardi Gras takes place, and it has a long historical tradition of jazz music.

To pay respect to this history, its basketball team was named the Jazz. However, in 1979, five years after its creation, the team moved to Salt Lake City, the capital of Utah.

Responding to social changes

In recent years, some sports teams have changed their names for social reasons. For example, for two years, Washington state's NFL team played with the basic name Washington Football Team. This is because they were previously known as the Washington Redskins, which is a reference to the Native American people who used to live in the area.

Although many people fought against the name over the years for being disrespectful, nothing changed until the protests after the murder of George Floyd in 2020. Washington's team is now known as the Washington Commanders. For similar reasons, the MLB team the Cleveland Indians became the Cleveland Guardians in 2021.

Learn the stories behind the game

Even teams that have simple names often have deep and interesting stories behind them. By studying them, we can learn about the history of the US and gain information on the culture and ways of life in local areas.

The next time you watch a game or see someone wearing one of these teams' jerseys on the street, you'll have some background knowledge!