In this post, we step back a bit from the heavy historical detail in Naming Rites to review some of the surprising, sweeping, repeating patterns in the names of your favorite sporting sides. Every effort will be made to avoid the hot-button topic of the day, the controversy surrounding the NFL team that currently plays in Washington D.C.

1. 1947 was a banner year for team naming.
A surge of young male veterans took advantage of 1944’s G.I. Bill to enroll in college. A ton showed up for the 1946/47 academic year as players and fans that raised their institutions’ athletic profiles. Quaint and esoteric nicknames suddenly yielded to more recognizable monikers with hopes of attracting national attention.
   For example, the Michaelmen at St. Michael’s College switched to Purple Knights in 1947. Westmont College sent a disproportionate number of men to war who returned to trade Wildcats for Warriors in 1947. Merrimack College and El Camino College both opened in ’47 to serve veterans who would compete as Warriors. There were new Warriors by October at a junior college that had just become a four-year, Lycoming College. (Merrimack, El Camino, and Lycoming all had Indian mascots that obscured their post-war roots for decades.) That same year, the Fighting Teachers at Fairmont State University became Fighting Falcons. Fighting Lutherans from Wittenberg University completed their transition to Tigers in the immediate post-war era. Greenville College put forth teams of Gremlins in 1944 after Yanks overseas had spent years listening to R.A.F. pilots blame gremlin saboteurs for every mechanical malfunction. By late 1947 however, Greenville was backing Panthers. UMass-Dartmouth’s post-war teams were Corsairs because the school prez had flown the Navy’s F4U Corsair fighter in the Pacific theater, but that the school has piratical mascots owes to corsair being originally applied to North African sea raiders of the Barbary Wars. In 1947 war vets on the hoop team at Jacksonville State University became (Fighting) Gamecocks.

UMass-Dartmouth’s Corsairs and Merrimack’s Warriors were both named in 1947. The Corsairs use pirate mascots even though they’re namesakes of the Corsair warplane. Merrimack opened to educate warrior-vets in 1947, but their classical warrior mascot (and former Indian) belies that history.

   Many women’s colleges went coed to chase the dollars promised in the G.I. Bill (p. 27 here). In 1946, President Samuel Page Duke welcomed male students to James Madison University, and teams of Schoolma’ams gave way to Dukes within a year (joined for a spell by Duchesses in transition). The University of Florida opened a branch just for war vets on the Tallahassee campus of the Florida State College for Women. Their merger as Florida State University occurred in the same year it first presented teams of Seminoles … 1947.

2. The most endangered team name is … not “Redskins.”
Athletic Crusaders are usually found at smaller bible colleges. Even with low enrollments, those schools send a disproportionate number of students on evangelical missions to non-Christian countries. The last thing one of those kids needs is some potential convert in the Middle East surfing over to to find C-R-U-S-A-D-E-R-S splashed across the home page. (Google it: crusades + atrocities + middle east.)
   Illinois’s Methodist-founded Wheaton College has a rep for evangelical zeal, but its Crusaders still came on a little strong for some, and in 2000 they became the Thunder, citing biblical passages that compare God’s awesome power to heavy weather.
   The next fall came the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and President George W. Bush described a response that would be launched on predominantly Muslim countries: “This Crusade, this war on terrorism, is gonna take a while.” With old East vs. West feelings back in play during wartime, Christian colleges started scrambling to bench their Crusaders. Pity then, poor North Greenville University (Tigerville, S.C.), which had just traded Mounties for Crusaders in August because it “better represented the Christian college’s goals and purpose.” [note 1, below].
   San Diego’s Point Loma Nazarene University cited the “changing international meaning of the term crusader” when switching its Crusaders to Sea Lions in 2003. San Antonio’s University of the Incarnate Word called its Crusadersnothing to be proud of” in 2004, presenting Cardinals thereafter. Eastern Nazarene College said the name didn’t send a message of Christian love and threw its Crusaders out for Lions in 2009. Maranatha Baptist University noted that “Our world has changed since 9/11” when it replaced Crusaders with Sabercats earlier this year.
   When their nickname started turning into a latter-day “Redskins,” the colleges that maintain Crusaders got slightly defensive. Susquehanna University made a point to say, “What we’re embracing is not the historical concept of the Crusader,” and Northwest Nazarene University is determined to “redefine [and] identify more contemporary uses” of crusader. In other words, Susky and NNU intended to invoke a metaphor while distancing themselves from the very events that effect its metaphoricity. Sort of like, “We’re Lions, dammit! … but not so much in the lion sense of the word.” (UPDATE: Susquehanna did in fact switch to “River Hawks” in fall 2016, and NNU adopted “Nighthawks” a year later. Both new names lead to point no. 5 below.)
   On 6 February 2017, 48 faculty members at Holy Cross send a letter to the editor of the campus news, the Crusader, saying the publication itself might “initiate a discussion” to consider a name change. The letter cites the institutional mission statement, which aims for a “community marked by freedom, mutual respect, and civility,” also suggesting that that “anti-Muslim tensions in our country” (early in the Trump administration) are at too close to the aims of the Crusades. The college president had gone on the record in June 2016 to recognize that some “would like us to consider the appropriateness of the “Crusader” mascot in light our commitment to interreligious understanding.”
   Only Holy Cross and Valparaiso University present Crusaders at the NCAA Division I level. Valpo’s own campus news reconsidered its own Crusaders briefly in 2000, and things seems to be heating up again in 2017.
   In March 2017 the Franciscan-founded Alvernia University announced that it will replace its Crusaders in June. They cited St. Francis’s own evolution from Crusader to peacemaker in those medieval holy wars.
   The Crusaders at Iowa’s Clarke University change to a Pride in summer 2017, with one faculty member observing, “The name Crusader refers to really the marriage between religion and violence.”
   Folks at Capital University have recently considered ditching its Crusaders (even some at the top administrative level).

3. Team names and mascots are stupid (or at least they should be).
Do you know what a Hoya is? ... a Hokie ? ... an Oski ? Nobody does. They’re all syllabic meditations on their own weirdness that fans in the Olden Days thought should be yelled toward the visitors’ bench. Newspaperman Fred Pettijohn called one new sports moniker potentially “ill-fitting” in 1947. He was talking about FSU’s apparently awkward new nickname: “Seminoles.”
   In some cases, intended insults like “Boilermakers” and “Tar Heels” become embraced by the student body that is the intended target. The suggestion is that unfamiliar and odd team names are the ones that can become most quickly associated with their sponsoring institutions.
   I now get a lot of emails that ask what I would nominate as a name for a college team, one perhaps dropping its Redmen or Crusaders. My advice: Pick the most nitwitted thing possible and try to outwait the critics. That’s how the UC-Santa Cruz Banana Slugs , Evergreen State College Geoducks , and Scottsdale Community College Fighting Artichokes have inadvertently brought national attention to otherwise not-so-high-profile teams.
   None of the names that we find fabulously unique—Crimson Tide, Demon Deacons, Sycamores—would survive the first round of voting today, and you’d be tarred and feathered for nominating a team name as asinine as “Tar Heels” or “Hokies.” More teams of Hawks or Bears or Green Storm aren’t going to drive our species forward one bit, but that’s largely what our future holds.

None of these classic team names—NONE—makes it past the first round of voting by a modern Nickname and Mascot Assessment Committee.

4. The good backstories are hiding in plain sight.
Seemingly run-of-the-mill team names are often hiding some interesting anecdotes. At least that’s the case in these instances:
• “Spartans” was assigned to D’Youville College’s athletes for exhibiting a combative spirit while refusing to yield to inclement weather. Which warriors were these? ... the croquet team at what was then a women’s college [note 2, below].
• Modesto Junior College athletes were called Pirates after heavy rains forced them to navigate large campus puddles in 1927.
• Landmark College’s Sharks reference Chevy Chase’s “Landshark” skit from the early days of Saturday Night Live.
• The Panthers at Rowan College at Burlington County were voted out to bring in Barons in 1989 because they’re bumped up against New Jersey’s Pine Barrens.
• Basketballers at the Milwaukee School of Engineering switched from Engineers to Raiders after dressing up like newly famous ark-raider Indiana Jones for a 1982 photo shoot [note 3].
• The Blue Hose at a Presbyterian college in South Carolina that’s actually called “Presbyterian College” seem to offer an alt-take on some better-known White Sox and Red Stockings, but they allude primarily to the conservative Presbyterians in Oliver Cromwell’s government, the “Blue Stocking Parliament.”
• Susquehanna (also above in no. 2) is a former Christian seminary, but its Crusaders owed to an athletic director of the 1920s whose goals of true amateurism and fair play were characterized as a personal crusade.
• Minister J.B. Grinnell said it was he to whom the advice “Go west, young man!” was given by New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley in 1891, so the Iowa school he financially backed, Grinnell College, fields Pioneers.
• Stereotypical collegiate letter sweaters made jocks at Chicago’s DePaul University the D-Men, which evolved into Blue Demons. In a similar fashion, Nova Scotia’ St. Francis Xavier University ran for six decades with X-Men (and later X-Women) before Marvel Comics took up that name.

5. For new team names, we have simply run out of ideas.
Colleges have been ditching their Amerindian-themed nicknames and mascots for years. Often those schools remove their thinking caps to launder the process for picking new athletic imagery through high-priced marketing firms that promise unique results.
   Judge for yourself.
   CSU-Pueblo traded its Indians for Thunderwolves in 1995. The University of West Georgia switched Braves for Wolves in 2006. Arkansas State dumped Indians for Red Wolves in 2008.
   The Simpson College Redmen became a Storm in 1991, three years before the St. John’s University Redmen were a Red Storm. The last collegiate Redskins played for Southern Nazarene University until their Crimson Storm arrived in 1998, the same year Oregon’s Chemeketa Community College traded Chiefs for a Storm. Southeastern Oklahoma State’s Savages have been a Savage Storm since 2006. The Redmen and Redwomen at Ohio’s University of Rio Grande were upgraded to a Red Storm in 2008. Keuka College covered multiple bases, changing its Warriors to a Storm in 2000, then switching to a Wolfpack for fall 2014 (after a very real storm brought students together as a pack to clean up flood damage). The tiny D-III school decided to cut back to “Wolves” for fall 2016 after North Carolina State actively enforced its federal trademark protection of any one-word Wolfpack.
   But the largest descending shadow is that of the hawk. Teams that have traded their Indian-themed names for some form of -Hawk since 1989 include Indians-turned-Red Hawks at both Montclair State University and Ripon College. There are now Redhawks (one word) at Seattle University (ex-Chieftains), Martin Methodist College (ex-Indians), Southeast Missouri State University (ex-Redskins), and Lake Michigan College (ex-Indians). Miami of Ohio’s Redskins are now RedHawks (capital H in the middle)[note 4]. Post-1990 Riverhawks represent UMass-Lowell (ex-Chiefs) and Northeastern State University (ex-Redmen). The new century has seen Indians turn into Warhawks at both the University of Louisiana-Monroe and McMurry University. Hartwick College’s Warriors and Chowan University’s Braves are now all Hawks. Stonehill College’s Chieftains are today’s Skyhawks, while Indians at Indiana University of Pennsylvania are Crimson Hawks. The Fighting Sioux at the University of North Dakota were replaced in 2015 with Fighting Hawks. In Naming Rites and elsewhere (notably here) I've called this an “add- Hawk ” solution.
    Indian-esque teams replaced by Eagles in the last generation include the former University of Southern Indiana Chiefs, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Indians, Eastern Michigan University Hurons, Marquette University Warriors, Juniata College Indians, Illinois Valley Community College Apaches, and Husson College Braves.
   Such recycling isn’t new. See if you can name the league that had these contestants in 1933: Brooklyn Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Giants. That’s actually the NFL, where four of ten teams copied the name of their established National League (baseball) neighbors. Two more, the Chicago Bears and Boston Redskins, had been named in association with their NL landlords, the respective Cubs and Red Sox. Those Redskins moved to the nation’s capital in 1937.
   But we weren’t going to talk about them.
Click here to return to the Naming Rites Blog table of contents. Glenn Arthur Pierce is the author of Naming Rites: A Biographical History of North American Team Names, now available at . (Click “Read Excerpt” here.)

1. Frank Fitzpatrick, "A new college crusade aims at controversial mascots," Philadelphia Inquirer (28 Sept. 2017): para. 2.
2. D’Youville’s “oral history” from DYC’s late archivist Sister Alice McCollester, as told to D. John Bray (DYC public relations dir.), email to the author, 13 Aug. 2013.
3. Brian Gibboney (MSOE sports info. dir.), email to the author, 3 April 2008.
4. High schools that have switched from “Redskins” to either “Redhawks,” “RedHawks,” or “Red Hawks” include: Colusa High School (Calif., 2012), Hiawatha High School (Kan., 2001), Marist High School (Ill., 1997), Marshall High School (Mich., 2005), Mountain Empire High School (Calif., 1997), Naperville High School (Ill., 1992), Parsippany High School (N.J., 2001), Port Townshend High School (Wash., 2013), Seneca High School (Ky., 1997), Capitol Hill High School (Okla., 2015), Goshen High School (Ind., 2015).

© Glenn Arthur Pierce, 2015/2016/2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Glenn Arthur Pierce and the book Naming Rites with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Naming Rites: A Team Name and Mascot Blog

Glenn Arthur Pierce
Glenn Arthur Pierce is the author Naming Rites: A Biographical History of North American Team Names. This companion blog continues to track trends and controversies pertaining to team names past and p ...more
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