The Dallas Rangers? It almost happened. That was franchise owner Clint Murchison Jr.'s first choice back in 1959, but a minor league baseball team already had that name. Murchison settled instead on Cowboys, changing the course of one of the world's most valuable and recognizable brands in sports.
But team owners don't always come up with the names themselves. Nearly half of the NFL's 32 franchises started their search for a name by surveying the public through naming contests. Others used advisory committees or focus groups to find that perfect name.
On Wednesday, Washington announced its new team name: the Commanders. Other names that were in the mix included Armada, Presidents, Brigade, Redhawks, RedWolves, Defenders and Football Team. Washington's process to find a new name took 20 months since it dropped its old one and included a survey to season-ticket holders and feedback from focus groups. The team had been known as the Washington Football Team since July 2020.
How did your team come up with its name, and what were the runners-up that didn't make the cut? Our NFL Nation reporters found the name origin for each team.
The first team that would be the Buffalo Bills was founded as part of the All-America Football Conference in 1946 and originally was called the Bisons. But after only one year, owner James Breuil held a contest to rename the team for the 1947 season. The winner was James F. Dyson, who won $500 after writing an essay comparing the team to a band of "Buffalo Bills." It was a reference to William "Buffalo Bill" Cody, who performed shows in the 1880s across the country called "Buffalo Bill's Wild West." Breuil, who also owned the Frontier Oil Company, wanted to extend the frontier theme to his team.
The AAFC folded after the 1949 season -- along with that original Bills team -- but Ralph Wilson selected the name for his new AFL team in 1959. -- Alaina Getzenberg
Team founders Joseph Robbie and Danny Thomas sought a name for their new AFL franchise via a contest in 1965. It was widely popular with nearly 20,000 entries, and more than 1,000 names were submitted -- with Dolphins earning more than 600 votes. Robbie was enamored by the name, saying when he announced the winner, "the dolphin is one of the fastest and smartest creatures of the sea." -- Marcel Louis-Jacques
Owner Billy Sullivan asked the public for suggestions for a nickname after he bought the rights to an AFL team in Boston in 1959, and then a panel of sportswriters selected Patriots from the submissions. Seventy-four different people suggested Patriots -- everyone was asked to submit 100 words on why they picked it -- and the name was considered a good fit as a way to honor Boston's role in the founding of the nation. They were called the Boston Patriots until 1971, when Sullivan changed the name after moving the team to Foxborough, Massachusetts. "New England" was actually his second choice; Sullivan's request to rename them the Bay State Patriots was rejected by the NFL. -- Mike Reiss
Originally known as the Titans, the franchise changed its name to Jets in 1963 because its home at the time -- Shea Stadium -- was located near LaGuardia Airport in Queens, New York. The Jets' ownership group also liked Jets because it rhymed with the team name of the MLB team that played at Shea, the New York Mets. -- Rich Cimini
On March 29, 1996, the fans determined the new name of the relocated Browns and chose a ghostly bird immortalized by writer Edgar Allen Poe, whose grave sits a long football toss from where the team now plays. In a telephone poll conducted by The Baltimore Sun, the Ravens received 21,108 votes (63.4 percent), which outdistanced the Americans (5,597) and the Marauders (5,583). The timing of the nickname announcement stood for a rebirth of the NFL in Baltimore. It was 12 years to the day (March 29, 1984) that the Colts had relocated from Baltimore to Indianapolis. -- Jamison Hensley
Team founder Paul Brown, who co-founded Cleveland's NFL franchise, picked "Bengals" in homage to a previous pro football team that went by the same name, according to the team's media guide. Fans submitted several suggestions, including "Buckeyes," but it was rejected because of its usage at Ohio State. The Bengals originally joined the AFL but were merged into the NFL when the two leagues combined in 1970. -- Ben Baby
In 1945, Cleveland's football franchise held a fan contest to determine the team's nickname. "Browns" was the winning submission, in honor of the franchise's first coach, Paul Brown, who initially vetoed the choice. The team was going to select "Panthers" from the contest instead. But after a local businessman told the team he owned the rights to the Cleveland Panthers name, Brown relented on the original choice. One of the game's pioneers, Brown was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967. -- Jake Trotter
Initially named the Pirates after the city's baseball team, the Steelers got their final name through a name-the-team newspaper contest in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 1940. Out of thousands of submissions, owner Art Rooney Sr. selected "Steelers" from Joe Santoni, who worked in the Pittsburgh steel mills. Santoni was one of several who suggested the team name to honor the region's long history of steel production. -- Brooke Pryor
After the franchise was awarded to Houston, the organization used focus group committees to come up with name ideas and got down to five options: Bobcats, Stallions, Wildcatters, Apollos and Texans. Owner Bob McNair made the final decision on the name, saying, "I'm proud to be a Houstonian, and I'm proud to be a Texan." -- Sarah Barshop
The Colts originally started out as the Miami Seahawks before the franchise was purchased and relocated to Baltimore in 1946. The team held a contest to choose the new nickname and Colts was the winner, submitted by Charles Evans of Middle River, Maryland. The franchise was dissolved in 1951 but was brought back a second time when the Dallas Texans NFL franchise was moved to Baltimore with a condition being they used the nickname Colts again in 1953. -- Mike Wells
The name was selected through a fan contest and the winner was announced on Dec. 6, 1991 -- almost two years before the city was awarded an expansion franchise (Nov. 30, 1993). Other finalists for the nickname included Sharks, Stingrays and Panthers. -- Michael DiRocco
After two seasons as the "Tennessee Oilers," team owner Bud Adams was originally going to rename the team the "Pioneers" according to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. Adams appointed an advisory committee to decide on a new name that better connected with Nashville in response to fans' requests to change the name. He wanted the new name to reflect power, strength, leadership and other heroic qualities. Adams liked the Titans name, which served as a nod to Nashville's nickname, "Athens of the South" because of the abundance of colleges, classical architecture and its full-scale replica of the Parthenon. The team was renamed in 1999. -- Turron Davenport
The Broncos were a charter member of the AFL. When a contest was held to name the new franchise, 162 entries were submitted. The winner? A 25-word effort from Ward M. Vining on why Broncos should be the team's nickname was declared the winner. -- Jeff Legwold
The Dallas Texans -- after moving to Kansas City before the 1963 season -- assumed the nickname of Kansas City's mayor, H. Roe Bartle, who was known as "the Chief.'' Bartle was a key figure in helping Kansas City lure the team from franchise founder Lamar Hunt's hometown of Dallas. -- Adam Teicher
A late throw-in for the AFL in 1960, Oakland was called the Senors for nine days (never with the ñ) after a name-the-team contest in the Oakland Tribune. But with so much fan and media backlash, a new contest was held in the paper and Raiders won out. The classic silver and black did not appear, though, until Al Davis arrived in 1963. -- Paul Gutierrez
Owner/founder Barron Hilton held a naming contest for his new AFL franchise in Los Angeles. The winner of the contest, Gerald Courtney, got a trip to Mexico City and Acapulco for submitting Chargers. Hilton liked the name because USC fans would shout "Charge!" during games at the Coliseum. The team moved to San Diego after one season. -- Shelley Smith
When Clint Murchison Jr. was granted an NFL franchise in 1959, the initial nickname was Rangers. Murchison reportedly said the name "came to me right away, like a bolt from the blue." Unfortunately, there was also a minor league baseball team in town at the time known as the Rangers. To avoid confusion, team president Tex Schramm said the name needed to be changed. Without fanfare, like a contest, the name was changed to Cowboys. According to the book, "America's Team: The Official History of the Dallas Cowboys," Murchison considered changing the name back to Rangers after a few years. When that became public, Murchison's office received 1,148 calls, and 1,138 of them favored keeping the name Cowboys. -- Todd Archer
The New York Giants were a successful baseball team when Tim Mara founded the NFL's version in 1925. He decided to build off the name equity of the baseball team, which made sense considering they would play in the same stadium (the Polo Grounds). -- Jordan Raanan
The franchise rights to the financially struggling Frankford Yellow Jackets were awarded to Bert Bell and Lud Wray in 1933, and they relocated the team to Philadelphia. They chose the nickname Eagles as a hat tip to President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal program, as an eagle was featured on the National Recovery Act's emblem. -- Tim McManus
After 87 years with its former name, and two years as the Washington Football Team, the franchise made the change to Commanders. The new name was revealed after an exhaustive 20-month rebranding effort, in part because the team believes that name reflects the "gravitas" and weight of a franchise about to turn 90. -- John Keim
The franchise -- under the direction of team founder George Halas -- was originally called the Staleys. When the agreement to keep the Staleys name expired in 1922, Halas decided to rename the team the Bears. Halas considering using the name Cubs, but ultimately felt that since football players are bigger than baseball players, football players should be called Bears. -- ESPN
In 1934, the franchise moved from Portsmouth, Ohio, to Detroit after being purchased by a group headed by Motown radio executive George A. Richards. As the new guys in town, they wanted to stay consistent with the city's image with the professional baseball team, known as the Tigers, so they settled on being called the Lions. After their arrival, Detroit Zoo director John Millen gifted the organization with two lion cubs named "Grid" and "Iron," who accompanied the team to all of their games. -- Eric Woodyard
The team actually was referred to as both the Packers and the Indians upon its inception in 1919. But two days after the local paper, the Green Bay Press-Gazette, initially used both names, it began referring to the team only as the Packers. Indians came from the Indian Packing Co., a meatpacking company that was the team's original sponsor. According to the Packers, it's not clear who coined the nickname, but it was likely one of two Press-Gazette staff members, either sports columnist Val Schneider or city editor George Whitney Calhoun, the latter serving as co-founder of the team along with Curly Lambeau. When Acme Packing joined Indian Packing as a team sponsor in 1921, sticking with the name Packers made even more sense. -- Rob Demovsky
There were several nicknames suggested when Minnesota was granted an NFL franchise in 1960, including Chippewas, Miners, Voyageurs and Vikings. Bert Rose, Minnesota's first general manager, recommended the Vikings nickname to the team's board of directors to pay homage to the state's deeply rooted Scandinavian American culture. The name was chosen because it represented both "an aggressive person with the will to win and the Nordic tradition in the northern Midwest," according to the team's website. -- Courtney Cronin
The Falcons received their name as a result of a contest in 1965. Multiple people suggested the name Falcons, but the team gives official credit to Julia Elliott because of her reasoning, which the team website said was "the falcon is proud and dignified with great courage and fight. It never drops its prey. It is deadly and has a great sporting tradition." The club has only been named the Falcons since it started play in 1966. -- Michael Rothstein
Carolina panthers were prevalent in North and South Carolina before going into near extinction in the early 20th century. Beyond that and owner Jerry Richardson wanting the dominant team color to be black, this was the explanation in 1995 by his son, Mark: "It's a name our family thought signifies what we thought a team should be: powerful, sleek and strong." -- David Newton
Inspired by the classic hymn, "When the Saints Go Marching In" that was famously recorded by New Orleans native Louis Armstrong, the Saints nickname represents the city's jazz heritage. It was also a fitting nod to the franchise being awarded to New Orleans on All Saints' Day in 1966. And the team's first owner, John Mecom Jr., made sure the name had the blessing of the archbishop in a traditionally Catholic city. -- Mike Triplett
In 1974, then-owner Hugh Culverhouse held a fan contest to select a nickname for the expansion franchise, which played its first football in 1976. The moniker "Buccaneers" was selected from over 400 entries, as a nod to the pirates who explored Florida's Gulf Coast in the 17th century. -- Jenna Laine
One of the team's first owners, Chris O'Brien, bought used jerseys from the University of Chicago in 1901 that were a faded maroon, which prompted O'Brien to say, "That's not maroon, it's Cardinal red!" according to the team's media guide. The name and color stuck. -- Josh Weinfuss
It's rather simple: The franchise's first general manager, Damon Wetzel, was a fan of the Fordham University Rams, so he brought the nickname to the pro ranks, and along with owner Homer Marshman, decided to name their Cleveland team the Rams. The Rams called Cleveland home for 10 years before they relocated to Los Angeles in 1946, then eventually went to St. Louis in 1995, only to return to L.A. in 2016. The organization retained the Rams nickname throughout. -- Lindsey Thiry
When the team was born in 1946, Allen E. Sorrell -- one of the team's co-owners -- suggested it should be named after the "voyagers who had rushed the West for gold." Primary owner Tony Morabito and the rest of the group agreed, and the rest is history as the team has never been known by any other moniker. -- Nick Wagoner
In 1975, fans were asked for suggestions on what Seattle's expansion team would be called when it began play the next season. According to the Seahawks' website, more than 20,000 entries produced more than 1,700 different suggestions. There were nods to Pacific Northwest lore (Bigfoots), its weather (Rainbirds), its maritime (Chowderheads, Sperm Whales) and aviation (747's) industries, and to Seattle's most famous landmark (Space Needlers). Some suggestions (Ding Dongs, Orangutans) had no local relevance. The eventual winner, Seahawks, was proposed by 153 people. -- Brady Henderson