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OTBH: You Play Like a Girl (Named Your Team)

Fairy Tales, Bessie Moss, and the Naming of the Boston Bruins

Your 1924-1925 Boston Bruins
Your 1924-1925 Boston Bruins

The stories that people tell about sports are one of the best things about sports, if you ask me. Some of the stories are apocryphal, some spring from well-documented facts. Some of them even have a sort of mythic quality, the way that fairy tales do -- they serve as examples of sport morality and as guides for players in later generations.

Stories about sports history are also a bit like fairy tales in that sometimes the most interesting thing about them is what they don't say. Those little (or not so little) details that get left out or downplayed in the interest of the overarching message of a good sports yarn are often the juiciest bits, if you look at it the right way.

Like any sports organization, the Bruins have their fair share of stories that have been embedded into the psyche of any serious fan. We know anecdotes about Dit Clapper and Phil Esposito and Cam Neely, and we can recount the greatest goals and games and fights. We even know about the really ancient Bruins Past, about Charles Adams and Art Ross and the colors of the original uniforms.

I would bet most of you even know how your Boston Bruins got their name. The well-told story goes something like this: after securing the rights to a Boston hockey franchise, Charles Adams hired Art Ross to be the manager/coach of his team. Adams was pretty clear on one thing: he wanted the colors of the team to be the same as those of the chain of grocery stores that had brought him his wealth - the colors being brown and gold. According to lore, he instructed Ross to come up with a nickname based on an animal that reflected "speed, agility, and cunning" (Thank you, Wikipedia). According to some stories, Ross and Adams held a public naming contest, which came up with the idea for the bear (makes sense, given the color scheme). Ross himself then took that idea and transformed it into "Bruin," an old English word for a brown bear. And, with that, ta-da! The Boston Bruins were born.

Is that really the whole story, though? It certainly seems like a reasonable origin tale, especially in that it attributes the name to Adams and Ross, the men who started the franchise and who were two of the most seminal figures in the team's past. In terms of the "official" record, the history section on the Bruins webpage (not super in the mood to link to it, for obvious reasons) doesn't have information on where the name came from, so that's no real help. Most other sources offer variations on the same basic tale laid out above. It appears that the mythic beginnings of the Bruins name were supported by popular and official consensus.

Imagine my surprise, then, upon flipping through "The Bruins" by Brian McFarlane, when I stumbled upon this opening to an essay: "Ever wonder how the Bruins got their name? A young woman from Montreal gets most of the credit."

Waaaait. What?

Young woman from Montreal? With the what, now? That doesn't fit in with the carefully constructed mythic origins of the name! Who was this woman? Why was she involved in the naming process? And why had I never, ever heard this story before?

To be fair, the answer to the last question is probably, in part, my own ignorance/fail. It's not like McFarlane's book is a secret, and I had probably just skipped over that section when reading it in the past. Possibly you all already knew this version of the story.

The answer to the first two questions is a little trickier to pin down. This much I can tell you: the woman's name was Bessie Moss, and she was a secretary for Art Ross. As Ross and Adams worked out the details of the fledgling Boston Hockey franchise, Moss apparently took care of much of the letters between the two. After the aforementioned fan contest and the suggestion of "Bears" as the nickname, apparently Moss suggested to Ross that perhaps the name could be "Bruin." As McFarlane recounts, "Adams and Ross liked the idea and tipped their hats to Miss Moss," (whatever the hell that means) and so the name stuck.

What's interesting to me is the near erasure of Bessie Moss from the more widespread story of how the Bruins got their name. Sure, she shows up in McFarlane's book, but in every other instance where someone other than Adams and Ross are mentioned as part of the naming process, there are simply passing references to "a secretary" or "the front office." Moss was apparently behind transforming the idea of "bear" into the name "bruin," yet her name has been essentially lost to the popular consciousness of the team's history.

There isn't the time or space here to get into the nitty gritty of gender and the rise of professional hockey in the United States, no matter how much I want to (spoiler: it's a LOT). But it's worth pointing out that Bessie Moss, secretary and team-namer extraordinaire, has been elided from the stories we tell ourselves and others about the beginnings of the Boston Bruins. Is it because she doesn't fit in to the overarching narrative of the team's origin? Would including her take away from the mythic status afforded to Adams and Ross? Is it simply an accident of history?

"Bruin" is the name of the brown bear character from them Reynard cycle of fables. The name is, quite literally, from a fairy tale. It's not so surprising, then, that the origin of Bruins team name would be steeped in mythos, as well. The story serves a function, like all fairy tales -- and that function is (in part) to deify the "builders" of this team. And that's not a bad thing, at all. Like I said at the beginning, some of the most interesting things about sports are the stories we tell about sports.

At the same time, Bessie Moss, man. From one Bruins-loving lady to another, I salute you.