Several universities have names for the school’s athletic teams and student body that are unique and sometimes strange or puzzling.
More than a few universities and colleges have shied away from using common nicknames and/or mascots such as Bulldogs, Lions, or Warriors. Instead, they have chosen names that are distinctive. Some have historical significance, or indirectly honor an individual, or are regional in origin. Here are the stories behind five such names.
Stetson University Hatters
In 1883 three year-old, and generally unknown, DeLand Academy in Florida was having severe monetary problems. Nationally known hat manufacturer John B. Stetson, who wintered in DeLand, became interested in helping the school and through his efforts he brought financial stability and recognition to the Academy. In appreciation, he was appointed Chairman of the Board of Trustees in 1889 and the school renamed in his honor.
Stetson University fielded its, and Florida’s, first football team in 1901. The term “Hatters” was applied to the team and later to all the school’s teams in honor of John B. Stetson and his many styles of hats. Today, the term “Mad Hatters” is sometimes unofficially used.
Furman University Paladins
The word “paladin” today can refer to anyone who is a champion of a cause or a defender of the weak. However, the original “Paladins” were trusted military leaders in the court of the French emperor, Charlemagne – “knights in shining armor” as it were. It is from this original definition that Furman University gets its nickname and mascot.
First used by a Greenville, South Carolina, sportswriter in the 1930s, for many years the name “Paladins” just referred to Furman’s basketball team. Until 1961 the school’s baseball teams were known as the “Hornets” and the football teams as the “Hurricanes.” On September 15th of that year, the student body voted to make “Paladins” the official nickname of all of the university’s intercollegiate athletic teams.
University of Arkansas Razorbacks
Any proud Arkansan, whether he or she attended the university or not, knows that a “Razorback” is a type of wild boar whose ancestors were brought to the New World in the 16th Century. The animal was once very common to the present-day state and is still known for its tenacity and fighting ability.
In 1884 the University of Arkansas student body picked the “Cardinal,” a name based on both the bird and one of the school’s colors, as the school’s nickname. That name continued until 1909 when the football team concluded an undefeated season with a 16-0 win at archrival LSU. On the team’s return to Fayetteville, Coach Hugo Bezdek announced to a waiting crowd that his team had played “like a wild band of Razorback Hogs” that day. The term became increasingly popular and the following year the “Razorback” became the school’s official mascot.
The only university or college with a similar symbol is Texas A&M at Kingston, whose mascot is the Javelina – an animal which is related to a wild boar.
The University of Idaho Vandals
Some people may see the name “Vandals” in a negative light because of its close association with the term “vandalism;” and, there is indeed a relationship between the two terms. The Vandals were an ancient Germanic tribe most remembered today for their sacking and pillaging of Rome, an event that hastened the fall of the Roman Empire.
An area sportswriter during the World War I era first used the term when he noted that the University of Idaho’s basketball teams played with such intensity that they “vandalized” [destroyed] their opponents. Other writers picked up on the idea and “Vandals” as a nickname was first used in 1918. Like Furman, for the first few years the name was only applied to the basketball team. That changed in 1921 when the U of I officially adopted “Vandals” for all its athletic teams.
The University of Akron Zips
Akron undoubtedly has one of the most unique nicknames in all of intercollegiate athletics and it is all due to a rubber manufacturer located in this Ohio city. In 1923 the B. F. Goodrich Company introduced an overshoe with a revolutionary fastener. Instead of buckles, the shoe opened and closed through the use of a zipper. The shoes, known as “Zipper Boots,” immediately caught on with the public.
Three years later, the University of Akron ran a campus contest to determine a nickname for the school’s athletic teams. Entries included Golden Blue Devils, Tip Toppers, Rubbernecks, Hillbillies, and Kangaroos; but, the eventual winner was submitted by freshman student Margaret Hamlin, whose choice of “Zippers” was influenced by Goodrich’s overshoes. In 1950 the name was officially shortened to “Zips.”