What’s With College Sports Nicknames?
The controversy over the Washington franchise of the National Football League using “Redskins” as its moniker has prompted me to think about college nicknames and how they are used. Of course, Florida State University uses “Seminoles” for its sports, but with the permission of the actual Seminole Indians in southern Florida. However, the Eastern Michigan University team changed its name from the Hurons to the Eagles in 1991 in order to comply with a suggestion that the name “Huron” contributed to Native American stereotyping. It is interesting that EMU chose “Eagles” over another bird. They could have easily been called the “Emus” and it would have been far more a propos than aligning with the plethora of schools that use various species of eagles for their mascots.
Some schools choose animal species that do not exist. My alma mater, Oakland University changed its moniker from the Pioneers to the Golden Grizzlies when it stepped up to Division I in 1998. The OU logo is a fearsome bear (of some sort). I wonder how many OU students are aware that their mascot is a non-existent mammal?
Two types of mascots have caused me to wonder what the founders were thinking. Both the Georgia Bulldogs and University of South Florida Bulls provide fodder for linguists. University of Georgia coined their athletic teams the Bulldogs in 1920, about the same time as women received the vote. Although women had been enrolled at the school since 1903, there was probably no thought that women would ever compete in athletics, so they did not have to worry about what they might call the women’s teams. Needless to say, the women prefer “Lady Bulldogs,” over “Bitches.” However, one cannot help to consider the latter as an inappropriate, but applicable substitute. To my knowledge, there has been no attempt to change UGA’s mascot due to stereotypes or considerations of courtesy.
The story behind the USF Bulls is probably more egregious. In 1962, the university adapted the nickname of the Golden Brahmans. Like golden grizzlies, golden Brahmans do not exist—at least not in nature. However, apparently golden Brahmans is a bit of an unwieldy nickname. By the late ‘80s they became the “Bulls.” Also, by the late ‘80s they had women’s sports. So what do the women’s teams call themselves. As “bull” specifically refers to the sex of certain animals, “Lady Bulls” is a bit of an oxymoron, but “Cows” is inappropriate. Like UGA, USF has not considered altering the names of its teams out of consideration for the women athletes.
I have always enjoyed the nicknames of various schools whose founders had both a sense of creativity and humor. Texas Christian University chose “Horned Frogs” as their moniker. The women’s teams call themselves the “Lady Frogs.” Now I don’t know about all horned frogs, but the African Horned Frog is hermaphroditic. So Horned Frogs is appropriate to the men, women, and transgendered athletes at the school. It and the following moniker may be the most appropriate mascots in the NCAA.
As well, Evergreen State College in Washington is known as the “Geoducks” (that’s pronounced Goo-y-Ducks). Oh, and it is not a waterfowl—it’s a mollusk. The original motto of the school was “Let it all hang out.” And since the geoduck cannot be contained within its shell, the mascot was deemed appropriate, but it is unclear to what it is appropriate. Since then, ESC teams have been happy as clams. Like the African Horned Frog, the geoduck is hermaphroditic, so it is appropriate to all athletes. An explanation of the naming of the Geoduck as the ESC mascot is at http://www.evergreen.edu/geoduck/.
Here’s a little game. Match the real college or university to an appropriate nickname. For instance: Casper College matches Ghosts. The answers follow the next paragraph:
Alma College All Stars
Aurora College Brides (and Grooms)
Bluffton College Gamblers
Calvin College Ghosts
Casper College Hobbeses
Converse College Jokers
Embry-Riddle University Lures
Fisher Junior College Northern Lights
High Point University Pinnacles
Rice University Road Kill
Tulane University Soul Sisters
Commerce entered the name game in about 1965 when Gatorade was invented at the University of Florida. Of course, the drink was named for the team nickname of the Gators. Its success as an electrolyte replacement product is well-documented. The need for such a product is especially important in southern states like Florida. But one wonders, if the drink had been invented at Florida State University, would it have been called “Seminole Fluids?”
If you are actually reading this far, the answers to the quiz are:
Alma Soul Sisters (let the men fend for themselves), Aurora Northern Lights, Bluffton Gamblers, Calvin Hobeses, Casper Ghosts, Converse All Stars, Embry-Riddle Jokers, Fisher Lures, High Point Pinnacles, Rice Brides, and Tulane Road Kill).