William Shakespeare asked, “What’s in a name?” The King James Bible declares, “A good name is better than precious ointment.” W.C. Fields said, “It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.”
In the world of sports, names mean plenty. They conjure rivalries and the spirit of competition. Names serve to identify you, setting you either with or against other fans. The teams and fanatics want to take on the mascot’s persona, because it is their representative in a battle.
Speaking of battles, many universities like to call themselves versions of soldiers, including Knights, Vikings, Spartans, and Trojans. Pirates and Marauders belong in this category. The Illinois College Blueboys and Lady Blues got their nicknames from the blue Union soldier uniforms worn during the Civil War.
Naming school teams after members of the animal kingdom is always popular. Felines, canines, ocean creatures, and birds of prey are wild and supposedly ferocious. Costumed insect and spider mascots with deadly real-life counterparts dance on college sidelines year-round.
Then there are localized nicknames, like the Miami Hurricanes, the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, UNLV’s Runnin’ Rebels, and UNC’s Tarheels. Columbia College in California calls themselves the Claim Jumpers. Wichita State’s Shocker is a cousin to the many schools holding up the Aggie mascot, short for agricultural, which evokes visions of a farmer in overalls hooping it up.
But these are all fairly rational names, either concerned with representing the region or with presenting a fierce attitude. Some colleges take it further, like the St. Louis College of Pharmacy’s Eutectics.
The Silly. The Artichokes of Scottsdale, Arizona were obviously named tongue-in-cheek. Same goes for the Nads of the Rhode Island School of Design. UC Santa Cruz’s Banana Slugs and Delaware’s Blue Hens make most fans laugh the first time they hear of them, which was partly the goal. And have you ever heard of a Gorlok? Webster University of the SLIAC’s rep has the paws of a cheetah, the horns of a buffalo, and the face of a Saint Bernard dog. Virginia Tech’s Hokie might be the most famous head-scratcher of a college nickname… if it was not for the Maryland Terrapin.
The Profane. This group starts with the Duke Blue Devils, DePaul Blue Demons, St. Louis Billikens, and Arizona State Sun Devils. There are DustDevils, Red Devils, Sea Devils, Golden and Red and regular (green?) Dragons, Titans, Devilettes, and plain ol’ Devils. Few believe the Bible in our time, but most believe in the devil. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be this popular with the schools. The Wake Forest Demon Deacon seems to represent some kind of crazed, possessed religious fanatic. Probably it’s a good thing that there are Saints, Preachers, Friars, Fighting Christians, and Samsons to balance things a little.
The Caricature. Notre Dame Fightin’ Irish never gets mentioned in these conversations, but the Irishman is as much a stereotype as Native American mascots. St. John’s switched from the “Redmen” and Marquette did the same with “Warriors” some years ago. In 2012, North Dakota was forced by the NCAA to abandon the Fightin’ Sioux name. But there are still the Florida State Seminoles, existing under the controversy radar. Most polled Native Americans don’t seem too wound up about it. Which leaves one question: Do any descendants of the Aztecs hold a grudge against San Diego State?