How Did Babe Ruth Get His Name?

There is perhaps no bigger name in the history of baseball than George Herman "Babe" Ruth. Born in poverty in Baltimore (per Biography), Ruth demonstrated his prowess both on the pitcher's mound and with the bat, and before long became the most famous (and highest-paid) baseball player of his day. When he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936, he was among the first class of five inductees, along with Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, and Honus Wagner. His best years were spent with the New York Yankees, and he had such an impact on the team that Yankee Stadium has been nicknamed "the house that Ruth built."

Off the field, Ruth was known for his insatiable appetite for food, women, cigars, and liquor, as well as lavish spending.

Not unlike Dizzy Dean, Frenchy Bordagaray and Whitey Herzog, among countless others, Ruth went by a nickname throughout his entire baseball career. The name stemmed not from his looks or his stature, but from the unusual way in which he began his career in his late teens.

a difficult childhood

Much of Babe Ruth's childhood was spent in a rough-and-tumble part of Baltimore, according to Biography, and by the age of seven he was drinking, chewing tobacco, taunting the police, and generally raising hell. His exasperated parents put him into a reformatory and orphanage, where he would spend the next 12 years.

According to Babe Ruth Central, George Herman and the other boys at Saint Mary's Industrial School for Boys were under tight control by the monks who ran the place, and basically needed permission to do anything and everything. Further still, the lads rarely, if ever, left the school grounds, to say nothing of ever leaving Baltimore.

When he was 19, Baltimore Orioles (at the time a minor-league team) owner Jack Dunn signed Ruth to a minor league contract, but due to the laws of the time, Dunn had to legally adopt Ruth in order to take him away from the grounds. Ruth, having gotten used to being told what to do and when to do it, was initially ill-equipped for life outside of school grounds, effectively following Dunn around, waiting for instructions. This got him the nickname "Babe," according to the website.

The North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources gives a similar but different account, claiming that when Dunn and Ruth stopped by Fayetteville, Ruth's teammates found out that Dunn had adopted Ruth, and gave him the nickname "Dunn's Babe," which later became just "Babe."

other babe ruth nicknames

Though George Herman Ruth went by "Babe" for his entire Major League career as well as in his post-baseball life, he also had other nicknames given to him here and there. 

One such nickname for Ruth is "The Great Bambino." As Find Nicknames explains, "bambino" is Italian for "baby boy," and George Herman was already nicknamed "Babe," so calling him "baby boy" was just an extension of that. Why an Italian nickname? The site claims that Ruth had quite a few fans in the Italian community.

The "Sultan of Swat" is another nickname given to Ruth. "Sultan" can mean "ruler" or "despot," according to, and Ruth was certainly at the top when it came to "swat" — that is, swinging at the baseball. Further still, his legendary swagger could possibly have contributed to the notion that he was the ruler of baseball or, at the very least, hitting it. Britannica says that he was given the name by unspecified sportswriters.