NFL Team Nicknames
The Origin of NFL Nicknames
While some NFL team nicknames make perfect sense (Cowboys, Steelers, etc.), others leave football fans scratching their heads in confusion. For this reason, we’ve compiled a complete list of the origins of each NFL team name.
NFL Team Nickname Origins
You may also be surprised to learn that many modern NFL football teams underwent a number of name and location changes before eventually settling in their current city. Those are listed here, as well.
Arizona Cardinals – First known as the Morgan Athletic Club and then the Racine Normals, they would later adopt reddish uniforms and the name of the Racine Cardinals. They became the Chicago Cardinals after joining the NFL, then they would move to Missouri in 1960 and be renamed the St. Louis Cardinals. After moving to Phoenix, Arizona in 1988, they would become the Phoenix Cardinals. In 1994, the team would start calling themselves the Arizona Cardinals.
Atlanta Falcons – In 1965, the Falcons became an expansion team of the NFL. A contest was held to name the team, and names such as Knights, Bombers, Rebels, Thrashers, Crackers, Lancers, Fireballs, Thunderbirds and Firebirds were suggested. Forty-one contestants suggested Falcons, but the entry submitted by Julia Elliott, a high school teacher from Georgia, was the one ultimately selected.
Baltimore Ravens – When the Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore in 1995, owner Art Modell was forced to leave the team’s name and colors behind. A contest and fan survey were held to determine a new name, and the original list of 100 was quickly trimmed to 17. A phone survey of 1000 people further reduced the list to the Ravens, Americans and Marauders. NFL fans were then allowed to vote, and “Ravens” ended up as the winner. Edgar Allen Poe, author of the famous poem “The Raven,” lived and is buried in Baltimore.
Buffalo Bills – A local contest was held to name the team, and the winning entrant chose the Bills name as a reference to the Bills of the All-America Football Conference. The AAFC Bills, by the way, were originally named in tribute to Buffalo Bill Cody, a famous soldier, buffalo hunter and showman of the Old West.
Carolina Panthers – The Panthers nickname was selected by Mark Richardson, son of the team’s owner. He also suggested the team’s colors of blue, black and silver, believing there should be a “synergy” between the team’s name and colors.
Chicago Bears – Originally known as the Decatur Staleys, the team would later move to Chicago and become the Chicago Staleys. The team played their home games at Wrigley Field during this time, so owner George Halas changed their name to the Chicago Bears to better reflect the city’s other team, the Chicago Cubs.
Cincinnati Bengals – Owner Paul Brown named the team the Bengals in order to “give it a link with past professional football in Cincinnati.” From 1937 until 1942, another team named the Bengals had existed in the city and played in three different pro football leagues. A rare white Bengal tiger was also located in the Cincinnati zoo.
Cleveland Browns – After being founded in 1946, the team was put under the control of Paul Brown. A contest was held to determine a new name, and “Panthers” was the most popular name selected. As it turned out, a semi-pro team named the Panthers used to exist in the city, and this team had a reputation for losing. For this reason, Brown rejected the name and held another contest. This time, the “Brown Bombers” was chosen, as it referenced the heavyweight champion, Joe Louis. To make things simpler for the media, the name was shortened to the Browns. To this day, many fans falsely believe that Brown named the team after himself.
Dallas Cowboys – Team owners originally called the franchise the Dallas Steers and the Dallas Rangers. A local baseball team was named the Rangers, but it was supposed to fold. When it decided to stick around, the fledgling football team had to come up with another name. In 1960, prior to the beginning of their inaugural season, the team’s nickname was changed to the Dallas Cowboys.
Denver Broncos – The Broncos names was chosen by a fan contest held in 1960. In 1921, there was also a team in the Midwest Baseball League known as the Denver Broncos.
Detroit Lions – Originally known as the Portsmouth Spartans, the team was purchased in 1934 by George A. Richards and moved to Detroit. Shortly thereafter, the franchise was renamed the Lions. A spokesman for the team claimed, “The lion is monarch of the jungle, and we hope to be the monarch of the league.”
Green Bay Packers – This historic franchise was first sponsored by the Indian Packing Company. Later, they were sponsored by the Acme Packing Company. Both companies are now out of business, but the Packers’ legacy lives on.
Houston Texans – In 1999, focus groups worked on coming up with a number of choices to be voted on by fans. In 2000, the five choices were revealed as Wildcatters, Texans, Stallions, Bobcats and the Apollos. After a month, the list was narrowed to the Apollos, Texans and Stallions. In September of 2000, the team finally revealed that the Texans had been chosen as the name of the franchise.
Indianapolis Colts – A fan contest chose the name based on the tradition of horse racing and breeding in the Baltimore area (the team was originally the Baltimore Colts). Although the team broke up in 1950, the name remained when they reformed in 1953. In 1984, they moved to Indianapolis, and the Colts name moved with them.
Jacksonville Jaguars – When Jacksonville was awarded an expansion franchise, a fan contest was held to select a name for the team. Finalists included Jaguars, Panthers, Sharks and Stingrays, but the Jaguars nickname was officially announced on December 6th, 1991.
Kansas City Chiefs – This pro football team was originally known as the Dallas Texans. The popularity of the Dallas Cowboys, however, caused them to move from Texas, and they would relocate to Kansas City in 1963. A fan contest was held, and the Chiefs name was selected.
Miami Dolphins – This AFL expansion team held a fan contest to determine their new name. 19,843 entries were received, and 622 contestants suggested Dolphins as the team’s name. Owner Joe Robbie liked this idea, stating, “The dolphin is one of the fastest and smartest creatures in the sea.”
Minnesota Vikings – Many citizens of Minnesota trace their bloodlines back to Scandinavia, so the Vikings name was thought to be very appropriate. It was chosen by Bert Rose, the first general manager of the team.
New England Patriots – Originally known as the Boston Patriots, the team relocated to Foxborough in 1971 and became the New England Patriots. An original AFL franchise, fans were allowed to submit names for consideration, and Patriots was the most popular idea. This was directly tied to the state’s involvement in the American Revolution.
New Orleans Saints – A fan contest selected the name Saints, but the team was also awarded on All Saints Day in 1966. New Orleans is also known for jazz music, and the song “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
New York Giants – One of the first teams in the National Football League, the team was originally known as the New York Football Giants in order to keep it separate from the city’s baseball team of the same name. This was the idea of owner Tim Mara, and it was common practice at the time to name your football team after an existing baseball team.
New York Jets – The original name of the team was the Titans, but Sonny Werblin took over the team in 1963 and changed the name. He felt as though the Jets nickname reflected a more modern approach to the game.
Oakland Raiders – A fan contest was held to select a name for the team in 1960, and the Senors was the winning entry. This name was ridiculed by fans and the media alike, so the much-preferred Raiders nickname was selected a few weeks later.
Philadelphia Eagles – Joining the NFL as an expansion team, the Eagles came into the league after the Frankford Yellow Jackets folded. Owners Bert Bell and Lud Wray were inspired by the eagle insignia at the center of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, and so they chose it as the name of their franchise.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Originally known as the Pittsburgh Pirates, the team changed its name to the Steelers prior to 1940. The new name was meant to reflect the steel industry in the Pittsburgh area. During World War II, the team experienced player shortages and were twice forced to change their name. A merger with the Eagles left them commonly known as the Steagles, while a later merger with the Cardinals was known as Card-Pitt.
St. Louis Rams – Debuting in 1936, the team was originally known as the Cleveland Rams. In 1946, the team moved to Los Angeles and became the Los Angeles Rams. Prior to the 1995 season, the club moved to St. Louis and took on its current nickname. The original Rams name was meant to honor the hard work of players who came from Fordham University (also known as the Rams).
San Diego Chargers – One of the original AFL teams, the Chargers began play in 1960. Their team name was submitted by Gerald Courtney of Hollywood, California in a fan contest, and he was awarded a trip to Mexico City and Acapulco.
San Francisco 49ers – When San Francisco received an AAFC franchise in 1946, the team named itself after the brave men who journeyed to the area during the 1849 California Gold Rush.
Seattle Seahawks – When the Seattle area was awarded an NFL franchise, a fan contest was held to select the best possible name. Over 20,000 entries were received, and 1,742 different names were submitted. The Seahawks name was suggested by 151 entrants, and the team’s ownership ultimately selected it as the best option.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – An advisory board was put together to select the best name for the Tampa Bay franchise, and over 400 possible names were generated. The name is a tribute to the Gasparilla Pirate Festival which takes place every year in Tampa.
Tennessee Titans – Originally the Houston Oilers, the franchise eventually moved to Tennessee and became known for a time as the Tennessee Oilers. In 1998, to coincide with the opening of their new stadium, it was announced that the team name would be changed. The owner of the team wanted a name which would reflect power, leadership and strength, and the Titans name was announced on December 22nd, 1998. The name also served as a nod to Nashville’s status as “The Athens of the South” (for its classical architecture and number of higher-learning institutions).
Washington Redskins – The Boston Braves entered the NFL in 1932. The following year, they would play their games at Fenway Park in Boston and take the Redskins name. It is rumored that this name change was partially meant as a tribute to their coach at the time, Lone Star Dietz, an American Indian.