Digging Deep Into Names: Are We Named After Non-native, Pre-Adolescent Bears?

At last, Cleveland will be rebranding their baseball club as the Cleveland Guardians next season. When the club decided to change their name, many offered creative suggestions such as the Naps or the Spiders. This has got me wondering: "What makes a good team name and what do team names convey about the team?" Subsequently, I wondered, "Why are we the Cubs?" and "What does a cub convey?"

For starters, how do teams usually name themselves?

Team names usually fall under a few categories:

  1. Mythical/Legendary (e.g., Giants, Angels)
  2. Historically Significant (e.g., Dodgers, Yankees)
  3. Geographic (e.g., Mets, Rockies)
  4. Related to Team's Appearance/Uniform (e.g., White Sox, Red Sox, Reds)
  5. Culturally/Locally Symbolic (e.g., Mariners, Brewers)
  6. Intimidating Animals (e.g., Tigers, Diamondbacks)
(While I didn't classify all MLB teams, you get the gist. Obviously, there is some overlap between categories too.)

Usually, these team names convey something significant and/or something strong. This is not surprising as teams both represent their locale and compete against others.

And so we have the Cubs...

Cubs are not mythical, historically significant, nor related to a uniform. Are they native to the locale (geographic) or locally symbolic? Well, according to the IL Department of Natural Resources, "by the mid-to-late 1800s none of those creatures could be found in Illinois." So, that's a negative.

And obviously, bear cubs are not known to be as intimidating as they are cute and cuddly.

So, wait a minute, did we name ourselves after non-native, baby or pre-adolescent bears?

Short answer: No.

Here's the long answer: The name has to do with the team's history.
  • 1876-89 Chicago White Stockings (Yea, I know!) - presumably, named after their uniform
  • 1890-97 Chicago Colts or (Cap) Anson's Colts - named after their player-manager Cap Anson
  • 1898-1901 Chicago Orphans - named after the state of the team after it parted ways with Anson; i.e., the team was now "leaderless"
  • 1902-Present Chicago Cubs
Two things played into the renaming of the Orphans: 1) "Orphans and Capt. Anson's Colts were too long for headline writers," and 2) after the creation of the AL, the club was left with a young, inexperienced roster. In other words, the team was full of "cubs" - a term used to describe the equivalent of a JV squad back in the day. Apparently "someone" tried to meet the headline writer's needs, came up with the name, and the name stuck. It would be used unofficially in 1902 and be officialized in 1907. (Source:

And this might be the perfect name for now

So, the Cubs actually fall into a 7th category of team names: Internally Significant. The significance of our team name is tied to the team's history. We are not simply a symbol of family and kid friendliness. Rather, we are youth: up and coming; raw, but hungry. (Certainly, this gives off 2015-16 vibes.)

And given the departures of KB, Rizzo, and Javy last year, it certainly feels like the case. The second half of 2021 felt like we were putting out a MiLB team out there. Yet, there were some "cubs" seizing the opportunity like Schwindel and Wisdom. And we can't forget bout Nico, Madrigal, Mills, and Alzolay. Then there's Brennan Davis - who may make his debut next year. And of course, the trove of prospects we traded for and IFA we signed.

Perhaps 2022 is the year when this team puts "cuteness aside" and embraces their name according to their history. So, get out there, have fun, and play hard.

(And of course...we could always sign a bunch of vets in Free Agency this winter and ruin the motif :P)

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