December 9, 2023

At the risk of painting with a broad brush, many professional sports teams have names that are intimidating or otherwise cool. Whether that’s an animal—think Lions, Tigers or Bears—or a more mythical noun, like Giants, there’s plenty of room to run.

But then there’s the New Orleans Saints. And, since a saint can literally be defined as a virtuous person, there’s nothing scary about lining up against a bunch of good guys.

With that in mind, have you ever wondered how the club got its name? Many assume there’s a geographical connection, but some official NFL sources suggest that’s not the case.

Let’s travel back in time and check it out.

New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints logo is seen on the field at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on September 11, 2016, in Louisiana. How did the club get its unique name and symbol?
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

New Orleans Got a Team on All Saints’ Day

On a superficial level, it’s easy to assume that Saints got their name from “When the Saints Go Marching In.” The song has become a jazz standard and, as outlined in a CBS News piece, it’s simply a piece of Big Easy culture.

In reality, though, it seems like the church calendar was the deciding factor.

On NFL Operation’s page about the club, a “Did you know?” box provides some context. “New Orleans was awarded the NFL’s 16th franchise on November 1, 1966, on All Saints’ Day,” the blurb explained. “Over a month later, the team was named the ‘Saints.'”

All Saints’ Day, celebrated on November 1, is a Catholic feast that honors everyone the church has deemed a saint. The Eastern Orthodox Church also honors All Saints but does so on a different date.

Apparently, the team’s name even received the local archbishop’s seal of approval.

“Even the name ‘Saints’ has a Catholic genesis,” a Catholic News Agency article explained. “According to the New Orleans archdiocesan paper, the Clarion Herald, in 1967, the owner of the team approached then-Archbishop Hannan and asked if using the word ‘Saints’ for a football team was sacrilegious. Archbishop Hannan not only loved the idea but wrote an official prayer for the team within that year.”

The write-up contained some details regarding that prayer.

“One line of the prayer reads ‘…Our Heavenly Father, who has instructed us that the ‘saints by faith conquered kingdoms…and overcame lions,’ grant our Saints an increase of faith and strength so that they will not only overcome the Lions but also the Bears, the Rams, the Giants, and even those awesome people in Green Bay…,” the story said.

What Is the Saints’ Logo?

What about the team’s logo? That symbol, known as the fleur-de-lis, isn’t religious, but it does have historical ties.

The symbol, which represents a lily (or, alternatively, an iris), existed as far back as ancient Greece and Rome. It’s most commonly associated with France and French royalty, which, in turn, brought it to the Big Easy.

Today, the symbol features in both New Orleans’ flag and the team logo.

So, while it may look like a spear or an unusually aggressive flower, the Saints’ logo is about something bigger: local identity.

“It’s just like when you look at the American flag and you sing the national anthem,” then-Saints quarterback Drew Brees told The New York Times in 2010. “When we see the fleur-de-lis, it makes us well up with pride.”

At the end of the day, that’s what a sports team is supposed to do.