George Washington University announced a new name — Revolutionaries — for its athletic teams on Wednesday, after years of pressure from students who said the previous moniker, “Colonials,” glorified violence toward Native Americans and other colonized people.
Chuck Todd, the host of NBC’s “Meet the Press” and an alumnus of George Washington, made the announcement in a video posted on the school’s social media pages.
“What’s in a name? Plenty, it turns out,” he said in the video. “Raise high, Revolutionaries!” he concluded, an update to the school’s chant.
George 1 will remain the mascot for the George Washington University.Credit…George Washington Univeristy
The school’s mascot will remain George 1 — George Washington’s head, donned by a student wearing a Revolutionary War uniform. The school’s colors, buff and blue, will also remain the same.
The full adoption of the Revolutionaries moniker will be implemented during the 2023-24 academic year, the school said.
Why It Matters: Institutions are retiring dated monikers.
The change is part of a larger shift in American sports and beyond as collegiate and professional teams drop monikers based on Native American and Confederate imagery, a trend that accelerated after the murder of George Floyd in 2020.
The N.F.L. team in Washington became the Commanders in 2022 after nearly 90 years of using a slur against Native Americans. The M.L.B. team in Cleveland is now the Guardians after more than 100 years under a name with similar connotations. In 2010, the University of Mississippi replaced its longtime mascot, a Southern plantation owner known as Colonel Reb, with the Rebel Black Bear.
The Colonials name has been part of the university’s identity since 1926, replacing the Hatchetites, Hatchetmen, Axemen and Crummen (for Henry Crum, a football coach).
Background: Students have called for the change for years.
The decision comes after a year of community engagement efforts that included focus groups, surveys and a “Moniker Madness” selection process that prompted students to vote during a men’s basketball game.
The university, in Washington near the White House and National Mall, received 8,000 moniker suggestions that were then narrowed down to 10 options “that best reflected the spirit of GW,” the school said in a statement. Students, faculty, staff and alumni narrowed that down further to four finalists — “Ambassadors,” “Sentinels,” “Revolutionaries” and “Blue Fog,” after the Foggy Bottom neighborhood — in March.
Opposition to the Colonials nickname erupted in 2019, when the student body voted to remove it, and formed the “Anything But Colonials Coalition.” The next year, student organizations delivered a petition to the university president’s office seeking a name change.
But some alumni were attached to the old name and its connection with the revolutionary spirit that defined Americans during the British colonial era. Opponents argued Colonials was synonymous with violence and historically inaccurate, because George Washington and his contemporaries viewed it as a way of saying Americans were parochial.
“It was a term that he associated with narrow-mindedness, with a certain provincialism,” said Denver Brunsman, an associate professor of history at the university who is a member of a committee that recommended the change to the board of trustees, in a March interview with The New York Times.
Georgie Britcher, a white person with Indigenous ancestry who was also a member of the committee, said the Revolutionaries is “a new moniker to be proud of.”
“I think that getting rid of the Colonials was the most important move,” she said in a text message. “This name is a much more appropriate direction that aligns with the school’s community.”
Full disclosure: This alumna voted for Blue Fog.