How Do German Teams Get Their Names

The Ultimate Guide To German Football Team Names

You may have noticed that some German teams have unique names.

How exactly did they come about?

Here’s what you need to know about the origins of these names:

Why do German teams have numbers?

German teams have ‘1.’ at the front of their name to signify that they were the first club to have been founded in their city. Some also have a number at the back of their name, which usually signifies the year they were founded.

Here are some examples of German teams with numbers in their name:

Club NameReason for Number
1. FC Union Berlin1st club to be founded in Berlin
1. FSV Mainz 051st club to be founded in Mainz and founded in 1905
1. FC Koln1st club to be founded in Cologne
1. FC Nürnberg1st club to be founded in Nuremberg
FC Schalke 04Founded in 1904
Hannover 96Founded in 1896
1899 HoffenheimFounded in 1899
SV Darmstadt 98Founded in 1898
Borussia DortmundFounded in 1909 (on logo)

Why does Union Berlin have a 1?

Union Berlin wanted to show that they were the first official club founded in Berlin, so the ‘1.’ was added in front of their name to signify this.

Union Berlin actually had many names, such as:

  1. Union Oberschöneweide
  2. BSG Motor Oberschöneweide
  3. BSG Motor Oberschöneweide
  4. TSC Oberschöneweide
  5. TSC Berlin 

They finally renamed themselves as 1. Union Berlin in 1966.

Interestingly, Hertha Berlin was actually founded earlier than Union Berlin (in 1892)! Even so, Union Berlin still keeps the ‘1.’ in their name, while their fierce rivals do not have it on theirs.

Why does FC Koln have a 1?

FC Koln wanted to show that they were the first official club founded in Cologne, so the ‘1.’ was added in front of their name to signify this.

There are only 4 clubs founded in Cologne:

  1. FC Koln
  2. SC Fortuna Köln
  3. FC Viktoria Köln
  4. VfL Köln 99

Interestingly, VfL Köln 99 actually has claim to be the oldest club in Cologne, as they were formed in 1899. Meanwhile FC Koln was founded in 1901!

Even so, FC Koln still has the ‘bragging rights’ with the ‘1.’ in their name.

Why does Schalke have 04?

Schalke has the numbers ’04’ in their name to signify that the club was formed in 1904. They are one of the oldest clubs to be playing in German football.

Why does Dortmund have 09 on their badge?

Borussia Dortmund has the numbers ’09’ on their badge to signify that the club was formed in 1909.

Their logo also has the words ‘BVB’ as well. This is in reference to their original name, Ballspiel-Verein (BV) Borussia 09 e.V. Dortmund.

As such, the BVB stands for Ballspiel-Verein Borussia (Borussia club for ball games).

Why do some German teams have ‘Borussia’ in their names?

Borussia is the Latin name for Prussia. Monchengladbach originated from the former Kingdom of Prussia, so the Borussia name was adopted as a nod to their roots. Meanwhile, Dortmund adopted Borussia into their name due to the nearby Borussia brewery in their city.

There are actually a few other clubs that have Borussia in their name too:

  1. Borussia Fulda
  2. Borussia Neunkirchen
  3. HSV Borussia Friedenstal
  4. Tennis Borussia Berlin
  5. Wuppertaler SV Borussia

Interestingly, Tennis Borussia Berlin also had its roots in Prussia, which was why it adopted Borussia in its name too!

This is because only Monchengladbach and Berlin originated from the Kingdom of Prussia.

What does VfL mean in German football?

VfL stands for “Verein für Leibesübungen“, which a direct translation to English means ‘club for sports’. It provides a very basic description of what the football club is in an abbreviation.

The VfL prefix can be found in 2 clubs in German football:

  1. VfL Wolfsburg
  2. VfL Bochum

What does Bayer mean in German football?

The club from Leverkusen was founded by employees of the pharmaceutical company Bayer in 1904. This led to the club having its roots with the pharmaceutical company ever since then.

An employee, Wilhelm Hauschild, wrote to his employers at Bayer to request for the company to support the formation of a sports club.

This initially included a lot of different sports, such as:

  1. Athletics
  2. Gymnastics
  3. Basketball

The football club became a separate entity in 1999, with the formation of ‘Bayer 04 Leverkusen GmbH’.

The Bayer logo has always been incorporated into Bayer Leverkusen’s logo, ever since 1928!

What does RB in RB Leipzig stand for?

The RB in RB Leipzig stands for RasenBallsport, which means “Lawn Ball Sports”. Due to regulations by the German FA, the club could not be called Red Bull Leipzig for marketing reasons. As such, Leipzig took up the RB as an indirect reference to their owners.

Initially, RB Leipzig was called SSV Markranstädt, a club in the fifth tier of Bundesliga football.

They were then bought by Red Bull GmbH, who had the intent of reaching the Bundesliga in 8 years.

Due to the statutes in the German FA, they prevented Red Bull’s corporate name to be included in the club name. This is why the club decided to use RasenBallsport, so that they could have the RB initials in the club name.

That way, they could still have an indirect link back to their Red Bull origins!

RB Leipzig are the only club owned by Red Bull to not have ‘Red Bull’ in their name. The other 3 clubs that Red Bull owns include:

  1. New York Red Bulls
  2. Red Bull Brasil
  3. Red Bull Salzburg

It is interesting that Leverkusen was able to have the name Bayer incorporated into their club name. However, this was not possible for Leipzig!

The 50+1 rule

The Bundesliga has a 50+1 rule. This requires clubs to have at least 50% and 1 additional share of the football company. With this rule, it prevents clubs to be owned by large companies.

Instead, the club’s members will have the majority of the voting rights in the club!

However, Bayer Leverkusen is one of the exceptions to this rule. So long as a company or person has substantially funded the club for more than 2 decades, the German FA allowed them to have a controlling stake in the club.

Since Bayer Leverkusen were founded since 1904, they have a rich history with the pharmaceutical company. As such, Bayer was still able to keep a controlling stake in the club!

Another example of this exception is Volkswagen’s ownership of VfL Wolfsburg.

This is different from RB Leipzig’s case, where they were only founded in 2009!

As such, it was not possible for Red Bull to have their company name incorporated into the club’s name.


The names of German football teams can be really long and confusing.

However, it is interesting to see the rich history of how these teams have certain names and numbers in their team name!

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