Several American universities and colleges sport nicknames that are truly unique in that no other school uses the same name. Here are the stories behind four of them.
One of these universities chose a team name that has no relationship to the school at all; another chose one that was originally an insult; the third looked to its history in determining a name; and, the last came about because of some teasing young ladies.
University of California, Irvine
Cal-Irvine is one of ten schools that make up the University of California system. Shortly after the school was organized in 1965, a search began for a school name and mascot. Although considered, there was little support for the “Bears” because three other universities within the system — Cal-Berkley, UCLA, and Cal-San Francisco — were already using that team name or a variation of it.
Two water polo players, Pat Glasgow and Bob Ernst, along with cheerleader Schuyler Bassett, started a clever and aggressive campaign for the “Anteater” as school mascot. They had gotten the idea from the anteater character in the comic strip B.C., and argued that it was the perfect choice because it had no relevance whatsoever to Cal-Irvine!
In November 1965 a campus election for mascot was held that included, besides “Anteaters,” the following nominees: “Eagle,” “Unicorn,” “Golden Bear,” “Seahawk,” and “None of These“). “Anteaters” garnered 56% of the vote, winning out over “None of These.”
Ironically, the selection did not completely prevent a link with the three sister schools. The anteater is often mistakenly called the aardvark, although the two are not related. In turn, the aardvark is also known as the “ant bear.”
Purdue University Boilermakers
Purdue University was established in 1869 as a result of the Morrill Act (1862) that set aside federal lands for the creation of schools specializing in “agricultural and mechanical arts.” Because of its appeal to “lower class” students, Purdue was looked down upon by the “prestigious” schools in the area such as DePauw, Butler, and Wabash, and its students were called derogatory names with A&M roots such as grangers, pumpkin-shuckers, rail splitters, cornfield sailors, blacksmiths, and foundry hands.
In the 1891 season opener, Purdue’s football team traveled to Wabash College in nearby Crawfordsville. Following a 44-0 drubbing of Wabash, the Crawford newspaper called the Purdue team “burly boiler makers” and implied that they won not because of athletic ability but because of brute force and rough play. The West Lafayette paper, where Purdue is located, responded to the taunts by praising the “boiler makers.” Thus, a name was born.
Washburn University of Topeka Ichabods
This school in Kansas obviously got its name from the Ichabod Crane character in Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and its mascot must be a headless horseman. Right? Well, that’s a creative theory, but nothing could be farther from the truth, although the school’s mascot symbol, created in 1938, could be mistaken for Crane.
Washburn University was originally named Lincoln College when it was founded in 1865 by the Congregational Church. Three years later Ichabod Washburn of Massachusetts, a prominent figure in the church hierarchy and a wealthy industrialist, donated $25,000 to the school. In appreciation for the gift, Lincoln College was renamed Washburn College. It later became a municipal university.
“Ichabods” actually refers to just the men’s athletic teams. The women’s teams are called the “Lady Blues.”
The Rollins College Tars
The University of North Carolina’s teams are known as the “Tarheels.” So is the term “Tars” simply an abbreviation of that word? Not likely, since the term “tar heels” has definite historical significance in North Carolina, but not in Florida where Rollins is located. Instead, the school’s relationship with “tars” dates back to the days of the first World War.
By early 1918, there was a dearth of male students on campus because of the war. So, it was only natural that the women students of Rollins turned their attentions to sailors at a nearby U.S. Navy training station. Many of these coeds good naturally called the trainees “tars,” a centuries old British term used to describe English sailors. By 1920, “Tars” was being applied to Rollins’ male athletes and soon officially replaced “Blue and Gold” as the nickname for the school’s sports teams.