How Did Yogi Berra Get His Name?

Say Yogi Berra, and people often think of his colorful sayings, like "déjà vu all over again" (which he may or may not have actually said, according to The New York Times). Nevertheless, he was a standout baseball player, catching for the Yankees for 17 years. 

According to The Baseball Hall of Fame, he was voted onto the American League All-Star Team 15 times, won American League MVP three times, and was a World Series champion ten times. He was known for heckling batters to distract them or exchanging quips with them. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972, seven years after his retirement.

The other thing the baseball legend is remembered for? His inextricable association with the similarly-named cartoon character, Yogi Bear. The Associated Press even accidentally announced the death of Yogi Bear when Berra died in 2015, (via Slate). So, was one named after the other?

The origin of Yogi Berra's nickname

Berra's first name was surprisingly not Yogi, but Lawrence. He was born in 1925 in Saint Louis to Italian immigrant parents, according to Reuters. He climbed from poverty in childhood, leaving school early to help support his family, to prosperity in adulthood. As his manager, Casey Stengel noted, "He has a lovely wife and family, a beautiful home, money in the bank, and he plays golf with millionaires" (via The Baseball Hall of Fame).

Before all that, he played American Legion Baseball as a teenager, and that's when he got his nickname. His friend, Jack Maguire, had just seen a short film on India and thought the Hindu yogis' poses were similar to Berra's when he sat on the ground waiting to bat with his arms and legs crossed. Maguire told Berra, "I'm going to call you Yogi," and that was his nickname from then on (via Reuters and the Baseball Hall of Fame).

The origin of Yogi Bear's name

Yogi Berra wasn't named after Yogi Bear, but was the reverse true? According to Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, the creators of Yogi Bear, the similarity in names was just a coincidence. Plenty of people still don't believe them, including Walter Brasch, who in his book " Cartoon Monikers: An Insight Into the Animation Industry," says no one in the industry thinks the names are unrelated (via Slate).

Yogi Bear was created in 1958, at the height of Berra's stardom. Hanna and Barbera told Sports Illustrated that they chose the name by putting names starting from A-Z in front of Bear to see what sounded good and that 30 people helped with the process. They liked the Y sound and nearly named him Yucca Bear. Then someone suggested Yogi, and they all thought it sounded great. Hanna and Barbera did admit that maybe the reason it sounded so good was that they'd heard it before. Hanna noted that Berra was often in the news at the time, while Barbera had grown up in Brooklyn and attended many New York baseball games. It seems that they may have, unconsciously, taken Yogi Bear's name from Berra's.

How Yogi Berra felt about the Bear

Yogi Berra sued Hanna-Barbera for defamation of character because of their character's name, as Slate reports. However, The Hollywood Reporter delved into the story and couldn't find any court records of the case. They say Warner Brothers, which owns Hanna-Barbera, claims there was never a suit in the first place.

Berra himself said that he considered suing until someone reminded him that Yogi isn't actually his real name. Interestingly, he did later sue TBS in 2005 because they used his name in a risqué joke to advertise "Sex and the City" (via The Hollywood Reporter).

Berra disliked being called Yogi Bear, according to Reuters, but apparently said, "Television is big enough for both me and Yogi Bear" (via The Hollywood Reporter). He even noted that his kids liked the character because he reminded them of their dad. Berra claimed he'd never even heard of Yogi Bear until his kids started watching the show. So it seems that while Yogi embraced his own nickname, he had mixed feelings about his namesake bear.