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What's in a Name? An Etymological Look at Denver Broncos and the AFC West

With everything that's gone on over the last few weeks with the Denver Broncos, I thought it may be time to take a step back and have a little fun. During the football season, we all throw team names around and don't really consider what they are from or what they mean. Sure, there's the origin story behind how the franchises themselves came into being, but what about the origin of the words that are behind the team names?

What exactly is a Bronco?

In 1960, a mail in contest was held to name Denver's new AFL franchise. Out of over five hundred entries, the winning suggestion would come from Ward M. Vining of Lakewood, Colorado... and the Denver Broncos were born... Or rather re-born. You see, our Broncos were not the first Broncos. In 1921, Denver fielded a team the Midwest Baseball league - the Denver Broncos.

Now, the word Bronco is another story all together. It's typically not a word most of us use in our day to day, except when referring to the sports franchise or the automobile. That said, where did the word Bronco come from?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary:

1850, Amer.Eng., "untamed or half-tamed horse," from Sp. bronco "rough, rude," originally a noun meaning "a knot in wood," perhaps from V.L. *bruncus "a knot, projection," apparently from a cross of L. broccus "projecting" + truncus "trunk of a tree."

I like the sound of that... Untamed, rough and rude...

So what about the other teams in the AFC West? Stick with me after the jump.

San Diego Chargers

The San Diego Chargers were originally located in Los Angeles and were initially owned by Paris Hilton's grandfather, Barron. While we all associate the Chargers with lightning bolts and even, in their earliest logo, a horse, the Charger name comes from Barron Hilton himself. At the time of the founding of the AFL, Hilton was fathering one of the country's first credit cards, Carte Blanche (now a part of Diners Club). You can see where this is going. I personally think that they should change their logo to a credit card swiper to go with their name.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary:

early 13c., from O.Fr. chargier "to load, burden," from L.L. carricare "to load a wagon, cart," from L. carrus "wagon" (see car). Sense of "rush in to attack" is 1560s, perhaps through earlier meaning of "load a weapon" (1540s)

Oakland Raiders

I swear I am not making this up. The original name of the Oakland Raiders was... the Oakland Señors. It was supposedly the winner in a name-the-team contest orchestrated by the Oakland Tribune. However, the name, as you can imagine, was heartily made fun of and was changed just nine days later to the Raiders which had finished third in the contest. Why they didn't go with second place, I don't know... Perhaps "Broncos" was already taken ;)

"Raid" According to the Online Etymology Dictionary:

early 15c., "military expedition on horseback," Scottish and northern English form of rade "a riding, journey," from O.E. rad "a riding" (see road). The word died out by 17c., but was revived by Scott, 1805 ("The Lay of the Last Minstrel") and 1818 ("Rob Roy"), with extended sense of "attack, foray." The verb is from 1865. Related: Raided; raiding.

Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs came into existence in the AFL as the Dallas Texans. When they moved to Kansas City in 1963 they needed a new name. Actually, Lamar Hunt wanted to keep the "Texans" name, but was later convinced that people from Kansas City would have a hard time identifying with the nickname. Another name under consideration after the move was the "Kansas City Mules". Consider how annoying anti-Broncos fans are with the "Donkey" moniker, we can only imagine what it would have been like had the Chiefs chosen that name. It turns out that the Chiefs were named in honor of the Mayor of Kansas City that had helped make the move from Dallas possible. Mayor H. Roe Bartle's nickname was "Chief."

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary:

c.1300 (n. and adj.), from O.Fr. chief "leader, ruler, head" of something, "capital city" (10c., Mod.Fr. chef), from L.L. capum, from L. caput "head," also "leader, chief, person, summit, capital city" (cf. Sp., Port. cabo, It. capo; see head).

Some of these origin stories and etymologies are more interesting than others, but I think they're kinda cool. If you think so too, let me know and I'll do other divisions.

Go Rough Untamed Horses!