TORONTO -- In August 1976, Toronto’s expansion Major League Baseball club was still in search of an identity.
The team was set to join MLB in 1977 for its inaugural season, giving Toronto the Major League team it had coveted after Montreal landed a team in '69. Montreal had the Expos, but Toronto needed a name.
The organization opened a contest and received more than 30,000 submissions, which included more than 4,000 unique names. Those names were turned over to a panel of 14 judges who, in turn, submitted a list of 10 finalists to the new club’s board of directors.
“Blue Jays,” reads the top of the Toronto Star’s sports section on Aug. 13, 1976. “Lump it or like it … that’s the name for Toronto’s American League ball club.”
The announcement was made by R. Howard Webster, officially changing the operating name of the organization from Metro Baseball Limited to Toronto Blue Jays Baseball, effective that day.
One of the most common names submitted in the search was the Toronto Blues, but Blues was already in use by the University of Toronto. That didn’t prevent the club from taking the name entirely, but the overlap divided fans.
When the Blue Jays name was announced, there was plenty of pushback from local baseball fans. Paul Godfrey, a city council chairman whose group worked to bring baseball to Toronto, wasn’t a fan of the name at first.
“The first part of the name, Toronto Blues, grabs me,” Godfrey told The Toronto Star. "It has a nice sound.”
Nearly 25 years later, Godfrey himself took over as president and CEO of the Blue Jays when the club was purchased by Rogers on Sept. 1, 2000. It was a position that Godfrey held until the end of the '08 season, and he still attends games at Rogers Centre regularly.
Others loved the name. The same day it was announced, the Toronto Star interviewed a man named Ron Thorpe, who was president of the Toronto Field Naturalists Club, a nature conservation organization that still operates today.
“I think it’s quite appropriate,” Thorpe said. “It’s a super idea. I hope the ball goes as fast as a Jay can fly. It just goes to show how people are more environmentally oriented than they used to be.”
In total, 154 people submitted the name “Blue Jays” to the naming contest, so a draw was held to name the grand prize winner. That honor went to Dr. William Mills, a periodontist from Etobicoke. Mills received two season tickets for Blue Jays home games in 1977, plus a trip to Dunedin, Fla., for one week of Spring Training.
Mills, who was 35 at the time, shared some of the credit with his three daughters.
“We know that several teams used the name of birds,” Mills told the Toronto Star. “Baltimore Orioles and St. Louis Cardinals. And we thought the name should have the color blue in it, so we settled on Blue Jays.”