How they came to be called the Cubs

December 1st, 2021

CHICAGO -- For more than a century, the baseball team on the North Side of Chicago has been dubbed the Cubs. How that name came to be adopted as the official nickname is actually linked to that other club on the South Side.

Following the formation of the American League in the early 20th century, many players departed the Senior Circuit in favor of new jobs. That included going to the new Chicago White Sox club. Chicago's National League team lost many players in that process, leaving behind a young roster short on Major League experience.

"The word 'cub' implied young and inexperienced," Cubs historian Ed Hartig noted. "Today, a high school may have a varsity and a JV. But 120 years ago, they would have had a varsity and a 'cub' team."

Given the youth of Chicago's team under manager Frank Selee, the Chicago Daily News dubbed the team the "Cubs" in an article on March 27, 1902. Reporter Fred A. Hayner wrote that, "Frank Selee will devote his strongest efforts on the team work of the new Cubs this year."

It was hardly an official name, but it was one that caught on.

Hayner's grandson, Don, a former Chicago Sun-Times editor-in-chief, wrote about his family's ties to the Cubs' name in a Sun-Times story on Oct. 25, 2016, when the North Siders were closing in on their first World Series title since 1908.

"Fred started championing the name Cubs in 1901, according to a 1934 team booklet -- a treasured family heirloom that’s useful in bar bets," wrote Don Hayner, who notes that fellow Daily News sportswriter George Rice may have also played a role.

Hartig echoed that story, noting that credit for the nickname has bounced between Hayner and Rice, along with city editor James Gilruth and assistant sports editor Charles Sensabaugh. One of the benefits of going with "Cubs" for the newspaper was, simply put, that it was easier for writing headlines.

Chicago's NL franchise was originally known as the White Stockings, but it went through an assortment of monikers before and after player-manager Cap Anson's time with the team. The club was called Anson's Colts for a while, and was then dubbed the "Orphans" after the team cut ties with Anson (their "Pop") after 1897.

While never official, other nicknames were used for the ballclub. The ones listed in the Cubs' media guide are the Black Stockings, Ex-Colts, Rainmakers, Cowboys, Rough Riders, Remnants, Recruits, Panamas, Zephyrs, Nationals and Spuds.

In the 2016 article, Don Hayner cited a 1972 Chicago Tribune story that included an interview with Gilruth. In it, he described a meeting in 1904 between himself, Fred Hayner, Rice and Sensabaugh.

"Hayner complained that the names Orphans and Capt. Anson's Colts were too hard for the headline writers to use and he wanted a shorter name," Gilruth was quoted as saying. "We tried one name and another, then one of us, I don't recall who, came up with the nickname Cubs, and Cubs it was and Cubs it is even today."

Hartig noted that the nickname remained unofficial for a few years, during which each Chicago paper tended to use whatever name was preferred. The Daily News stuck with "Cubs," and player-manager Frank Chance eventually urged Cubs owner Charles W. Murphy to make it official.

In 1907, the Cubs were officially born, and World Series championships followed that year and in the '08 campaign.

"I have only a few things of my grandfather's," Don Hayner wrote in 2016. "A watch he was given by Charles A. Comiskey, a porcelain greyhound with a broken nose -- and the story of how the Cubs got their name."