The New York John Cheeses

This is probably going to be our one and only blog about sports. We are not fans, nor do we understand why people get all worked up about shooty-hoops, but the origin of the name Yankee, as in the “New York Yankees” is such a fun story, we had to write about it. Also, it totally pertains to our New Amsterdam tour, so, c’mon, check it out. I’m serious.


Anyway, way back in the turn of the century, New York’s baseball team was called “The New York Highlanders.” The fans of the team had nicknamed them “The Yankees” from the beginning, and in 1913, they were officially renamed “The New York Yankees.” Why they chose that name, we may never know. At this point in history, Yankee was a nasty word people used to call New Englanders or just a nasty word to describe Americans, depending on where you were coming from (*cough* Europe *cough*). So why would they choose a derogatory term for their team? Why not just call themselves “The New York fat, lazy New Englanders”?

But this is not the origin of the word itself; it may have evolved into a pejorative term for New Englanders, but it did not start that way. It was meant to humiliate a whole other group of people. As with so many great New York words, it all comes back to New Amsterdam and the original Dutch colony.


In the background of this painting is the English fleet under the command of Richard Nicolls entering New York Harbor. We can see the colonists pleading with Peter Stuyvesant to surrender, and judging by the look on his face, someone just farted.

In 1664 the English came in and took over New Amsterdam and renamed it New York, after James, the Duke of York. The English told the Dutch colonists that they could stay and pretty much go about their business, but they would have to obey the English from then on. The Dutch were stoked on this deal- up to this point, they had been employees of the Dutch West India Company. Basically, they were treated like serfs and, after a series of really dumb moves by the Dutch West India Company, they were ready for a change in government. They happily welcomed their new English rulers.

In the 17th century, the English and the Dutch had been fighting over who was going to be the new world super-power. They had just finished pounding Spain into dirt and now they were pounding each other. After a series of really nasty wars, called the Anglo-Dutch Wars, England was a little bitter. The new English colonists coming to New York were also a little bitter they had to share the space with the Dutch. Its from this time that we get phrases like “going Dutch” or “Dutch Uncle”, all of which were pejorative terms creacheesested by the English to poke fun at their new Dutch neighbors.

Another word that was created at this time was derived from how the Dutch would pronounce the name John, and their fantastic love of cheese. This word, phonetically, would be pronounced “Yan-Cheese”, but spelled Jankees. It was meant to be hurtful, but the Dutch embraced the new word, and soon started to describe themselves as “Jankees”. Over the next few hundred years, people replaced the J with Y, and the word “Yankee” is born.

So next time your sports team is playing basket hoops, or whatever, feel free to cheer them on by their original name, the John Cheeses!

PS– Alex is lactose intolerant, and hates this cheesy post. Get it?

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