why yankees?

Can anyone tell me why the New Yorkers are called “Yankees”?

Not just New Yorkers, although a major league baseball team from New York is known as the Yankees. Yankee usually referred to someone from New England, and possibly (no one knows for sure) was derived from the Dutch Janke, a nickname for Jan (John). Kinda like we use john nowadays. In the southern states, the term was applied to folk from the northern states, and the term was applied abroad, especially in Britain, to anyone from the United States.

If you mean the baseball team, like most of the original teams, “Yankees” was one of many unofficial nicknames the team had.

Back in the 19th century and the first part of the 20th, major league teams didn’t have official team names; they were often just referred to as the “New York Americans” or “New York Nationals” depending which of the two leagues they were in. The franchises themselves did not start out with nicknames; they were officially just “Boston” or “Pittsburgh” or what have you. However, at various times they naturally picked up different nicknames hung on them by fans or the press, some more imaginative than others. Many current teams originally had more than a few nicknames before the ones they have today:

  • The Cleveland team was called the “Naps” for awhile, after team captain Napoleon Lajoie; it was only later that they were called the “Indians,” after an Indian player, Lou Sockalexis.

  • The Brooklyn team was known for some reason as the Bridegrooms, then the Superbas, then the Robins. Only in the early 1930s were they being consistently referred to as the Dodgers, a common appellation for people residing in Brooklyn at the time. (Trolley dodgers.)

  • The Boston Red Sox were originally commonly referred to as the Boston Pilgrims, becoming the Red Sox later.

  • Today’s Atlanta Braves were originally the Boston Beaneaters, and were called the Doves, Rustlers and Bees at various times, as well as Braves.

  • The Cardinals were actually called the Browns in the 19th century; they started being called the Cardinals around 1900, and the new American League team in St. Louis started calling itself the Browns.

  • The Giants have probably the oldest nickname, having been called the Giants since at least 1885; the nickname was originally given to them because they had a lot of big players.

  • The Cubs were called the Orphans up until 1902 or so.

The Yankees actually began play as the Baltimore Orioles in 1901, moving to New York in 1903. (The current Baltimore Orioles are no relation, being the offspring of the old St. Louis Browns.) The Yanks were called the New York Highlanders until at least 1913, but the nickname Yankees was used in the press at least as early as 1908. In 1913, the Yankees name was made official.

As to where they got it… it just sounds good with “New York.” Teams at that time were very often referred to with regional names, such as the Boston Pilgrims or Philadelphia Phillies. New Yorkers are technically Yankees, and Yankees starts with Y, so it’s alliterative AND geographically correct; it fit better than any other names. Teams got handed a lot of nicknames in those days, and they tended to end up sticking with whatever name sounded best.

Incidental trivia fact; you will often hear it claimed the Yankees added pinstripes to make it look like Babe Ruth wasn’t fat. Actually, New York first wore pinstripes in 1912 - when Ruth wasn’t even in the major leagues yet.

Are you asking where the name Yankee originated or why the New York baseball team appropriated a name that is more commonly associated with New Englanders?

The name itself has several possible origins:

Random House Word Maven on Yankee
The Word Detective on Yankee
Word Origins on Yankee

As for the baseball team, most web sites simply announce, cryptically, that the name was changed to the Yankees from the Highlanders when they moved out of Hilltop Stadium, but I don’t know why.

Cecil’s column on the subject: What is the origin of the word “Yankee”?

A Boston baseball historian by the name of Bill Nowlin has uncovered the fact that the Boston AL team was never called the Pilgrims by anyone BEFORE the time the team adopted the Red Sox name, which was in 1907. They were just called the Boston American league team or the Bostons.

Pilgrims and other appellations were added after the fact.

Since the Boston Braves were mentioned, I might add that the source of their name is well known. There was a picture of an Indian chief above their ticket office and he was known for his exemplary honesty and probity. So much so that a political club in New York City was also named after him. His name: Chief Tammany!

They were originally the Boston Red Stockings/Reds/Red Caps/Red Sox. Harry Wright, who founded the Cincinnati Red Stockings in 1869 took most of his players as well as his favourite colour of socks with him to Boston in 1871. It was only after the National League club gave up this nickname and exchanged its red trim for blue that the American League club picked it up.