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NFL

How did the San Francisco 49ers get their name? History and meaning

The San Francisco 49ers are looking like contenders for this 2023 NFL season, but have you ever wondered about the background to the franchise’s name?

Update:
The San Francisco 49ers are looking like contenders for this 2023 NFL season, but have you ever wondered about the background to the franchise’s name?
EZRA SHAWAFP

The 49ers were founded in 1946 and are the first major league professional sports franchise based in San Francisco. It has stayed in the city since then.

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49ers commemorating the Gold Rush

The team’s name is a nod to history. The California Gold Rush began in 1848, but it took a year for the word to get out, and so by the time 1849 rolled around, thousands of fortune hunters had arrived in Northern California to mine for gold.

The miners who arrived that year faced very favorable odds of getting rich. They were early at the scene, and a lot of gold remained to be had. There were also no taxes or land rights disputes at the time, as California had yet to become a state. These miners were called the “forty-niners,” the name was an easy choice for the football team when it was formed.

The name was embodied by the team’s mascot- a gold-prospector-inspired character named Sourdough Sam, who has undergone several changes to his appearance over the years.

Will the 49ers change their name?

Some have called for a change to the team’s name in recent years. While not quite as racist as those of other franchises, it is said that the term “49ers” honors a generation of fortune seekers who exploited, enslaved, and killed native Americans.

Around this period of US history, the government reportedly armed local militias to kill Native American men and seize women and children to be sold to miners and used as free labor.

If more voices come out to protest the connotation of the franchise’s moniker and its relationship to the genocide during this period, San Francisco might just be the next team to see a change in their name.