How London's Football Teams Got Their Names

By M@

Last Updated 18 January 2024

How London's Football Teams Got Their Names
A nice, neutral shot of park football by Homemade, to kick things off.

Continuing our etymological tour of the capital.

London contains hundreds of football clubs. To keep this list at a manageable length, we've only considered teams currently playing in the top four divisions (Premier League, Championship, League One, League Two).

Feel free to discuss lower-placed clubs in the comments.

AFC Wimbledon

London's newest professional club, founded by supporters in 2002 after the original Wimbledon FC upped sticks to Milton Keynes.

The name 'Wimbledon' is Anglo-Saxon, meaning 'Wynnman's hill' after a local land owner. The 'AFC' stands either for 'Association Football Club', or for nothing at all, and there's a ferocious debate about this point on the Wikipedia talk page.


Most people know that the Gunners originally played in Woolwich, and that their modern name (and nickname) comes from the Royal Arsenal munitions complex, based at Woolwich since the 17th century.

The Workers of Woolwich mural reflects the workforce who founded Arsenal. Image by kenjonbro in the Londonist Flickr pool.

Fewer will know that the club was originally founded in 1886 as Dial Square — the name of the workshop in which those earliest players laboured. So as not to alienate or exclude those from other workshops, the small club soon changed name to Royal Arsenal.

In 1893, the club set up as a limited liability company, becoming the first London side to turn professional.

The change of status warranted another name change, this time to the lengthy dribble of Woolwich Arsenal Football and Athletic Company, Limited... or just Woolwich Arsenal to their friends.

A final transformation occurred a year after the team moved to Highbury in 1913, when the team dropped the Woolwich to become (boring boring) Arsenal.

Photo by Umbreen Hafeez.

The club's other etymological boast, of course, is that it is the only football team to bequeath its name to a tube station, after Gillespie Road became Arsenal in 1932.


The name Breguntford is first recorded in 705, and simply means a fording place over the River Brent, which still flows through the area.

The name Brent itself has even more ancient origins, and possibly relates to the goddess Brigantia.

This makes Brentford the only London team that can legitimately claim divine origins.

Charlton Athletic

Charlton is an Old English name meaning something like 'farmstead of peasants', and was first recorded in the Domesday Book as Cerletone. The local club was founded as a youth team in 1905, adopting the qualifier 'Athletic', which was a common convention of the time.

More interesting is their nickname 'The Addicks'. It is believed to be a south-east London corruption of 'haddocks', after the team's practice of dining on fish and chips from local fishmonger Arthur 'Ikey' Brian.


The Blues' name dates back to Anglo-Saxon times, with Chelsea a corruption of Chelceth or Chelchith. This means something like 'chalk wharf' (i.e. a place on the Thames where limestone or chalk was originally landed).

Shame for fans of Old English puns that they never signed Norman Whiteside.

And, indeed, that they actually play in Fulham.

Crystal Palace

Did you know that Crystal Palace Park was home to the FA Cup between 1895 and 1914? The annual fixture stoked up plenty of local demand for football, and so a professional Crystal Palace club side was formed in 1905.

The team and park are, of course, named after the great glass structure that housed the 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, which later moved to the slopes of Sydenham.

That building was first dubbed "a palace of very crystal" by playwright Douglas Jerrold (father of William, who famously collaborated with Gustave Doré on London: A Pilgrimage).

So, Palace fans, if it wasn't for Jerrold, your team might now be called Great Exhibition Centre Wanderers, or something like that.

Dagenham & Redbridge

The club formed in 1992 through a merger of Redbridge Forest and Dagenham FC. The latter is one of London's oldest verifiable place names, recorded as Dæccanhaam in the year 666 AD. It means 'home of a man called Daecca'.

Redbridge, now a London Borough, is less ancient, taking its name from a red-brick bridge over the River Roding that survived until 1921.


The Cottagers are named after an early medieval dude called Mr Fulla, about whom we know nothing, other than that he probably owned the land hereabouts.

Place of mud? Image by M@.

Another theory is that Fulanhamme, as it was first recorded, could mean 'the place of mud', a reference to quaggy riverside conditions and not the team's sinking fortunes in the Championship.

Leyton Orient

Leyton is another Anglo-Saxon name, simply meaning 'settlement on the River Lea'. The Orient part comes from the Orient Shipping Company (later acquired by P&O), employer of some of the players in the club's amateur days.

The team have tumbled through a number of names (and sports) over the years.

Originally founded as Eagle Cricket Club in 1886, they became Orient Football Club two years later, and then Clapton Orient in 1898.

A move to east London in 1937 prompted a further change to the modern appellation.


The Lions have played in south London for more than 100 years, but their origins are in the western docks of the Isle of Dogs, in the area still known as Millwall.

The club formed as Millwall Rovers in 1885, drawing players from JT Morton's canning and preserve factory (hence, if you've ever declared them 'jammy bastards', you're at least half right).

The name Millwall was coined around the turn of the 19th century, and referred to the large number of windmills operating on the site.

Queens Park Rangers

QPR formed in 1886 from the merger of two north London youth clubs: St Jude's Institute and Christchurch Rangers. Rather than favour one moiety or another, the team adopted the name Queen's Park for the simple reason that most players hailed from this brand new part of town.

The neighbourhood, developed from 1875, is named like so many things after Queen Victoria.

Incidentally, the actual park in Queen's Park did not open until 1887, a year after QPR was founded, so the team are technically named after the conurbation and not the open space.

The 'Rangers' part of the name is somewhat apt, given that the club has ranged all over north-west London, playing at more than 20 home grounds.

Tottenham Hotspur

A name of two halves. Tottenham is easily explained as the land belonging to an Anglo-Saxon chap called Tota.

Hotspur is more enigmatic. It is said to come from Sir Harry Hotspur, nickname of Sir Henry Percy (1364-1403), a valiant knight immortalised by Shakespeare in Henry IV, part 1.

The Percy family, based in Northumberland, also owned land in the Tottenham area. The club was founded in 1882 as Hotspur FC, quickly changing to Tottenham Hotspur, and briefly known as 'Tottingham' in the early 1980s.

West Ham United

A clue to West Ham's origins can be found in its badge and nickname.

The Hammers were formed in 1895 as Thames Ironworks, an amateur club drawn from workers at that shipbuilding company. The team originally played in Canning Town, before moving to a site near modern-day West Ham station and thence the Boleyn ground in Upton Park.

The place name 'West Ham' can be traced back to the 10th century, when the area is recorded as Hamme, meaning a dry place between rivers or marshes.

See also