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Sports Reference: Changing Player Identification Names from Player Nicknames to Given Names

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On Baseball-Reference.com we have begun the process of evaluating the identifying names and nicknames for historical players. The genesis of this process is the long overdue reckoning on our part with a substantial number of the names we use to identify players (identifying names). In many cases, they are based on a player's real or perceived ethnicity, a player's disability, or a trait the media decided to call attention to.

As a first step, we are discontinuing the use of nicknames that are racially or ethnically influenced, such as "Chief," "Jap," or "Darkie," and names based upon a player's disability, such as "Dummy." They will no longer appear as identifying names, page titles, on team pages, or on leaderboards across the site, but will be noted for completeness of records on the player’s main page. This figures most prominently for baseball, but we will likely have some changes on our other sites as well.

The fact that we've used these identifying names for the last 20 years without concern is a mistake that I have made. I apologize for that error. For most of that time, I have told myself that the identifying names were out of our hands and that we'd be rewriting history by changing them. That self-imposed restraint was wrong and further study has shown that many nicknames were not as deeply entrenched in history as I had assumed. Identifying people with these names was a choice, and the history of their use in the media shows inconsistent adoption that is far from canonical validation.

First, some history. All recent or current baseball encyclopedias and websites are based on the work of the MacMillan Baseball Encyclopedia (affectionately known as "Big Mac"). In discussing the naming process with the book's editor, David Neft, he informed me that Lee Allen (please read about Mr. Allen's remarkable contributions in his Chadwick Award page) was largely responsible for choosing the identifying names for the players. I don't have insight into Mr. Allen's reasoning or process, but given the size of the task, the deadline and the availability of source materials, I suspect he was largely using materials like the Sporting News or his encyclopedic knowledge of the game and its history. One thing that is clear is Mr. Allen loved using nicknames for identifying names. The MacMillan Encyclopedia contained hundreds and hundreds of players identified by a nickname. But in the post-MacMillan era, using nicknames for identifying names is comparatively quite rare for players who debuted in the 1960s or later. The overwhelming majority of players in the last 50 years are identified by a name related to their given name. Some recent examples include Mookie Betts, Butch Huskey, Pokey Reese, B.J. (Bossman Jr.) Upton and some others, but they are relatively rare. Is this a change in societal naming conventions, or a change in how the names are applied by those recording the game?

Even in cases of well-documented usage, it is still important to reevaluate our current presentation of these players. Yes, Charles Bender was more commonly known as Chief Bender when he was playing, but the moniker is based on his American Indian heritage. He never claimed the name, never used the name himself, and newspapers of the time also often referred to him as Charles Bender or Charles Albert Bender as well. We have decided not to use Chief as an identifying name for any players on our website. Some will argue that there are players who like the Chief name. We don't deny that. We will continue to list Chief as a nickname on the players' pages. For any player whose name we are modifying, we will show a note on their page alerting the user to the other identifying name and include both names in our search engine.

I can list numerous examples of Mr. Allen's enthusiastic use of nicknames. For instance, the last player to be identified with the first name "Lefty" on our site is Lefty Hayden who played one year in 1958. Born Eugene Franklin Hayden, he was also known as Gene Hayden. Using the newspaper index in Newspapers.com, we can get a good idea of how common the use of these names were at the time he was playing. Hayden was in the major leagues for the 1958 season with the Cincinnati Reds. A search of "Lefty Hayden" Reds 1958 returns only 21 matches, many of which were actually "Lefty Gene Hayden." A search of "Gene Hayden" Reds 1958 returns 440 matches. I find it difficult to argue that "Lefty" is a better choice than "Gene" in this case. I can cite dozens of such examples. For instance, "Specs" Torporcer was identified as George Torporcer far more often in the press. We have not decided yet whether to change these more benign nicknames or what process we would use. In addition, unless our research indicates a very strong reason, we are very unlikely to modify other well-known identifications like PeeWee Reese, Lefty Grove, Whitey Ford, and Whitey Herzog. We'll do our best as we work through the process and try to be as transparent as possible.

It is certainly not our goal to police your use of the names based on nicknames. You are, of course, free to use the nicknames as you'd like. But after years of tying our own hands, we are ready to make some changes in the identifying names that appear on the site.

For current or recently active players, our policy has been and will continue to be following the names used by the players themselves, since we are able to ask them quite easily and the league provides us a list of names every day. There was an example today in the NFL draft:

We will, of course, respect the player's wishes in this regard.

Below is a list of identification names that we have modified on the site. Thank you to our Baseball Data Developer Charlotte Eisenberg for her work on this.

ON Baseball-Reference.com

Chief Bender ==> Charles Bender
Chief Hogsett ==> Elon Hogsett
Chief Johnson ==> George Johnson
Chief Meyers ==> Jack Meyers
Chief Roseman ==> James Roseman
Chief Yellow Horse ==> Moses Yellow Horse
Chief Youngblood ==> Albert Youngblood
Chief Zimmer ==> Charles Zimmer
Chink Heileman ==> John Heileman
Chink Outen ==> Bill Outen
Chink Taylor ==> C. L. Taylor
Chink Zachary ==> Albert Zachary
Dummy Deegan ==> Bill Deegan
Dummy Hoy ==> Billy Hoy
Dummy Leitner ==> George Leitner
Dummy Lynch ==> Danny Lynch
Dummy Murphy ==> Herbert Murphy
Dummy Stephenson ==> Reuben Stephenson
Dummy Taylor ==> Luther Taylor
Nig Clarke ==> Jay Clarke
Nig Cuppy ==> George Cuppy
Nig Fuller ==> Charles Fuller
Nig Lipscomb ==> Gerard Lipscomb
Nig Perrine ==> John Perrine
Squanto Wilson ==> George Wilson
Blackie Carter ==> Otis Carter
Blackie Schwamb ==> Ralph Schwamb
Brownie Foreman ==> John Foreman
Chief Wilson ==> Owen Wilson
Jap Barbeau ==> William Barbeau

On Pro-Football-Reference.com

Chief Elkins ==> Fait Elkins
Chief Franta ==> Herb Franta
Chief McLain ==> Mayes McLain
Chief Mullen ==> Samuel Mullen
Chief Toorock ==> Meyer Toorock
Jap Douds ==> Forrest Douds

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