Why Is Soccer Called “Soccer” Instead of Being Called “Football”?

By Luís Miguel
Updated on

It’s probably one of the most pertinent questions American soccer fans usually ask themselves when they first get involved with the sport…

Why is soccer called “soccer” instead of being called “football”, like everywhere else?

In this article, I’m going to give you the definite answer, explain how the term “soccer” came about and why it stuck in the United States.

It All Relates to the Name of the Game

The game of “soccer” or “football” (depending on where you’re located in the world) was invented in the 19th century. The full name of the sport is “Association Football” and this is an important piece of information in order to understand how and why the term “soccer” originated.

Before diving into the answer to that intriguing “Why is it called soccer?” question… let’s learn a few quick things first.

Where Is Soccer Called… Soccer?

While it is known as “Football” just about everywhere in the English-speaking world, the game of Soccer is known as such mainly in the United States and Canada.

People in South Africa and Ireland use both or either one of these terms and, recently, national associations in Australia and New Zealand decided to start using “Football” as the formal name.

What’s Behind the Origin of the Term “Soccer”?

The reason why “soccer” is called “soccer” in North America (instead of “football”) takes us back to England in the 1800s.

The exact year was 1863. A new sporting governing body, The Football Association (FA), was formed to codify the rules of a particular form of football.

The name “Association Football” was coined by them to distinguish it from the various other forms of football that already existed at the time, specifically “Rugby Football”.

This decision, along with the very specific set of new rules created, formalized the schism between “Association Football” and Rugby. A new game was officially born.

Why Is “Soccer” Called “Soccer”?

The term “soccer” came about some years later and it is a product of the linguistic phenomenon known as the Oxford “-er” of the 1880s.

Back then, probably influenced by the slang of Rugby School, students from the Oxford University used to add the colloquial (and oftentimes playful) suffix “-er” to shorten words. They did it so it would be easier and quicker to pronounce them.

A good example is “Rugger” which is the abbreviated and suffixed version of the word “Rugby”.

Another great example is, of course… “Soccer”, which comes from the word “Association”, the first word of the full name of the game: “Association Football”.

The Use of the Term “Soccer”

As you’ve just learned, it was the British themselves who came up with these two nicknames for these two different forms of football.

So it’s kind of funny, and maybe even ironic, that nowadays the word “soccer” is used in the United States, but not in the United Kingdom where the game is simply called “football”.

This British word was brought to America by the Americans and, as the sport became more popular and more popular, it stuck.

Why Did the Term Stick?

Like I referenced before, there are various different types of football. Not just in Great Britain but all around the world, as well.

There is American Football (which is a type of Gridiron football), Canadian Football, Australian Football (or Aussie Rules Football), Gaelic Football and Rugby Football, for example.

So the reason why the term “soccer” stuck in North America is simple. It’s mainly to help differentiate this sport from the other football games.

The Origin of the Name “American Football”

Now you might be asking yourself, by the way, what’s the origin of the phrase “American Football?”.

Its origin also comes from England since the name of this popular American sport is very much related with the many different forms of football that were played in the United Kingdom in the mid-19th century.

American Football is a direct descendent of Rugby Football. It is simply a variation of Rugby but with a distinct set of rules. So the name “American Football” actually came from its parent sport, “Rugby Football”.

Soccer, Football and the Beautiful Game

“Soccer” or “Football”… regardless of how you refer to it, what matters is how much fun you have whether you coach it, play it, or just enjoy watching your favorite team and players do it… you see, there’s a very strong reason why this sport is also known as… the Beautiful Game.

Guy wearing an SL Benfica jersey holding soccer ball over his head

Article by:

Luís Miguel

As a true soccer enthusiast, I’m Soccermodo’s team captain. My job is to make sure the site’s content is top-notch so that you, our reader, can focus solely on improving your game and reach new heights.