(Photo Courtesy of North Carolina Athletics)
From animals to representations of warfare to terms used to identify the people of a certain state, the nicknames in college sports vary tremendously from one end of the spectrum to the other.
But maybe more interesting than a team’s nickname is the story behind or meaning of that nickname. From Bulldogs to Tar Heels, every nickname has some sort of meaning and history behind it.
Here is a look at the history behind the nicknames of all 75 DI men’s lacrosse schools.
Origin Date: 1959
Air Force was the last of the three service academies to play lacrosse, beginning in 1967. But their nickname, the Falcons, has its origins in the first graduating class of the United States Air Force Academy in 1959. That first graduating class held a vote to decide on what the school’s nickname would be and Falcons was chosen by the popular vote. The nickname is also pretty self-explanatory, given the school’s purpose and the future of the athletes that represent the school.
Nickname: Great Danes
Origin Date: 1965
Albany is the only college in the country that claims the Great Danes as their nickname. And similar to Air Force, the school got its name through a popular vote. The Great Dane was chosen because it is big, strong, and known by many as “the dog of war.” Kathy Earle, who suggested the name, received a $25 savings bond for winning the contest to rename the mascot of the school. Prior to 1965, Albany was nicknamed the Pedguins, which is an imaginary figure and was meant to represent the university’s status as a teacher college.
Army West Point
Nickname: Black Knights
Origin Date: 1940s (full use in 1999)
Army West Point went by the nickname “cadets” for the majority of their athletic history. It wasn’t until 1999 that the school fully adopted the Black Knights name across the board for all athletics, despite the academies football team being nicknamed “The Black Knights on the Hudson” in the 1940s due to their black uniforms and the backdrop for Michie Stadium being the castle-like structures that makeup campus.
Origin Date: 1950
Bellarmine has been the Knights from the first year of the school in 1950. Like many other Catholic universities, the Knights nickname is a reference to the Catholic Crusades of the middle ages.
The Binghamton lacrosse team has never been known as anything but the Bearcats, as the school didn’t add lacrosse until 2002. But the school did go by two other nicknames prior to the Bearcats. They became the Mexican Burros, which is a Donkey, when they joined the SUNY system in 1954. When they became SUNY Bighamton they adopted the nickname of the Colonials, which they used until changing to Bearcats when they joinined the DI ranks in the 1999-2000 school year. And if you’ve ever wondered what a Bearcat actually is, it is another name for the Binturong, which is native to Southeast Asia.
A vote was held during the 1917-18 school year to decide what the school’s mascot would be, and the Boston Terrier was chosen by popular vote. The nickname comes from the dog breed, which was first bred in Boston in the late 1800s.
Brown’s original mascot was a Burro (Donkey), which they brought out for a football game in 1902, but that didn’t last long at all. The school later decided on a Bruin as the school’s mascot, but they later changed it to just a Bear. The meaning behind a bear goes back to when a member of the universites building committee placed the head of a real bear on the top of an archway above the student union in 1904.
Bryant athletics goes back to the 1980s, when they were located in Providence, R.I. However, until 1995 the school’s sports teams under the Indians nickname. The name was changed to Bulldogs in 1995 after a vote amongst the student body was held to find a new nickname.
The history of the Bison nickname goes back to 1923, when Dr. William Bartol suggested that the school take the nickname due to their location in the Buffalo Valley. The idea from Bartol was partially spurred from Penn State, who’s nickname has a very similar origin to Bucknell’s.
Nickname: Golden Griffins
The nickname Golden Griffins was adopted by the school in 1932, following a story written by an alum, Charles A. Brady, that Canisius published. The story honored the 100th year of Buffalo, N.Y. as a city. Rene-Robert’s ship Le Griffon, which was the first European ship to sail the upper Great Lakes and built in Buffalo, was mentioned in the story and the name Golden Griffins was born from the name of that ship.
Cleveland State started out as the Cleveland YMCA School of Technlogy from 1921-1929 before being called Fenn College from 1929-1964. During their time as Fenn College they were nickname the Foxes. When the school changed names to Cleveland State, the university chose the nickname Vikings, which is obviously a reference to the Norse people of Souther Sacandaniva from the 8th through 11th century.
Colgate originally adopted the nickname Red Raiders in 1932, which was supposedly a reference to the football team’s maroon uniforms and the fact that the school was lesser-known, but still was able to hold their own against ane even beat top teams. Some backstories behind that name include the football team playing a game in a storm and their uniforms turning red. However, the name was changed to just Raiders ahead of the 2000-2001 school year due to the racist connotations against Native Americans that the term ‘Red” held to many.
Nickname: Big Red
Until 1905, Cornell has no nickname or mascot for their sports teams. The name Big Red comes from a song that Romeyn Berry, a 1904 Cornell grad, wrote for the football team, which included the lyrics “The Big, Red Team.” The term quickly stuck and soon became widely used as the nickname for Cornell’s athletics teams.
Nickname: Big Green
In the 1920s, the nickname Indians became widely used as the unofficial nickname of the universities sports teams. The name stuck until the early 1970s when Native American students wrote a statement requesting the name and logo be discontuned. The trustees of Dartmouth honored the request and deemed the moniker to be inconsistent with the school’s objective to advance Native American education. Big Green was chosen as the school’s new nickname, with references to the Dartmouth Green in the center of campus and the green uniforms of their sports teams as the inspiration for the name.
Nickname: Figntin’ Blue Hens
The Blue Hen is the official state bird of Delaware and the university was gifted a dozen Blue Hens in the 1960s, but that is not the actual what the nickname Fightin’ Blue Hens derives from. The nickname comes from a military battalion from Delaware that was part of Congress’ commission in 1775 to form a military battalion from the lower three counties along the Delaware River. Capt. John Caldwell was the leader of the second company and he owned gamecocks, whom his troops liked to use to stage cockfights. This and their effective fighting led to his troops being called “Caldwell’s Gamecocks” and the Delaware Regiment was often referred to as “The Blue Hens’ Chickens.” The university chose the name in 1911 to honor that battalion.
From 1867-1925 Denver had no official nickname for their sports teams. However, sports writers often referred to them by unofficial names, such as “Ministers” or “Fighting Parsons” due to the school’s Methoidst roots. Pioneers was chosen as the official nickname after a student contest in 1925.
Until 1924 Detroit Mercy sports teams were known as the Tigers. However, to eliminate confusion with the Detroit Tigers pro baseball team, the school changed the name to Titans. The name was chosen because no other institution in the country was using the nickname at the time, making it much more unique than their previous nickname.
Accoring to Drexel’s archives there is no known reason why Dragons is their nickname and is no definitive record to show that the university actually decided on it as the nickname of the school. However, the nickname begins to appear in 1927 and seems to have just grown into acceptance for all sports teams by the 1930s.
Nickname: Blue Devils
Duke was originally called Trinity College and had no official nickname until the school lifted their ban on football following World War I. Their football team was called one of three names, the Trinity Eleven, Blue and Whites, or the Methodist. This prompted the school to start searching for a mascot and they collected nominations, which included the modern Blue Devils nickname. Their campaign yieled no favorites, so in 1922 the school told the student newspaper to come up with a nickname of their own. They started to use Blue Devils and it stuck. It is said that the name is derived from a French military unit called Chasseurs Alpins, aka Les Diables Bleus, who many Duke students who served in WWI encountered and were impressed by.
When Fairfled launched their athletics department in 1947 they chose the name “Men in Red” as their nickname. However, the next year in 1948 they held a find a better nickname and the final two were Stags and Chanticleers. Stags was chosen because the school was part of the Dioceses of Hartford and the word Hartford is derived from the word hart, which means a male red deer, and the word ford, which means a shallow place in a stream or river.
The nickname Hoyas is derived from the Greek and Latin chant “Hoya Saxa”, which means what rocks. The nickname Hoyas can first be spotted in use at Georgetown in the 1920s following World War I and by 1928 it was used widely as a reference to all of the school’s sports teams.
Ever since their beginnings in athletics, Hampton has been known as the Pirates. The nickname likely derives from the pirates that used to operate along the Virginia coast in the 1700s.
The Hawks nickname goes back to the 1940s, when the school was called Hillyer College. The nickname is thought to have been derived from spectators having to climb four flights of stairs in the old Chauncey Harris School on Hudson Street in Hartford to the “Hawk’s Nest” to watch basketball and wrestling events.
During and 1875 referendum, students at Harvard were tasked with selecting the color of the school. The students selected Crimson to be the school’s color, thus beginning the legacy of the school’s sports teams being called the Harvard Crimson.
History or story behind the Panthers nickname could not be found.
Hobart’s athletics teams were originally called the Deacons. The name Statesmen was first coined by a New York Times article which referred the Hobart football team as “the Statesmen from Geneva” after a game against Amherst.
Hofstra’s former unofficial nickname was the Flying Dutchemen. In 2004, the university announced that they would transition to the Pride nickname. The name is said to refer to the pair of lions that were used as the school’s mascots in the 1980s and the Hofstra Pride on-and-off campus campaign that the school launched in 1987.
While the nickname Crusaders didn’t become widely used to describe the school’s athletic teams in 1925 after a sports writer used the team and a vote was held to officially make it the nickname of the school, the name goes back further than that. In 1884, a Holy Cross alumni banquet had a Crusader engraved on the top of the menu. The name has an obvious reference to the Catholic Crusades of the middle ages.
In 1947, when Jacksonville Unveristy was called Jacksonville Junior, a contest was held to choose a nickname for the College’s newly-organized basketball team. The winner was Green Dolphins, but it was later shortened to Dolphins. It’s said that the name was chosen because of the University’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and because dolphins actually swim in the St. Johns River, which traverses along the school’s campus.
Nickname: Blue Jays
The original nickname for Lafayette was the Maroons, as nickname derived from the Maroon color of the school’s athletic uniforms. The nickname was changed to Leopards sometime in 1924 and that nickname was chosen because the “L” is the first letter in the schools name and a Leopard’s cunning and physical strength, which matched the identity of Lafayette sports teams.
Nickname: Mountain Hawks
The athletic teams of Lehigh (founded in 1865) were known as the Engineers until the 1995–96 academic year. Many believe that this nickname was a reference to the Lehigh Valley Railroad and the school’s engineering program. After a student-led campaign in 1995 to change the nickname, Lehigh announced they would be changing the school’s nickname to the Mountain Hawks.
In October of 2018, LIU Post and LIU Brooklyn announced that they would combine their athletic departments into one LIU. In May of 2019, the Shaks was announced as the new nickname. The name was chosen via student vote, beating out Eagles and Falcons. According to LIU, the nickname Sharks represents an animal which embodies strength, resolve, and brilliance, all qualities that embrace the spirit of LIU and the individuals who comprise our extraordinary University.
The Greyhounds nickname originates from a student vote that was held in 1927 to find a name for the school’s football team. Greyhounds barley beat out the Grey Squirrels for the school’s nickname.
The Jaspers nickname comes from Brother Jasper of Mary who was a memorable figure at the college, serving as head of resident students, athletic director, and baseball coach during the late 1800s.
Nickname: Red Foxes
The Red Foxes was adopted as the school’s nickname in 1961. The nickname is derived from the Red Fox, aka Reynard, which is indigenous to the Hudson Valley. The Red Fox is also what the schools colors or red and white are derived from.
Nickname: Golden Eagles
Prior to 1994, Marquette’s sports teams went by several names, including Warriors, Blue and Gold, and Hilltoppers. The school changed the nickname to Golden Eagles in 1994 and has remained the same ever since. There was an attempt to change the nickname to Gold in 2005, but public backlash made the university reverse the decision and stick with Golden Eagles.
Maryland’s nickname was the Old Liners, referencing the state’s nickname of The Old Line State. Maryland football coach Harry C. Byrd came up with the nickname Terrapins in 1932, which is a reference to the diamondback terrains that are indigenous to the Chesapeake Bay region.
The nickname Retreivers was chosen shortly after the school’s founding. The name comes from the Chesapeake Bay Retriver, which is the state dog of Maryland.
Originally called Massachusetts Agricultural College, the original nickname of their sports teams was the Statesmen, in honor of the roles of Massachusetts statesmen in the founding of the country. However, Aggies was also used as a nickname. The school changed nicknames to Redmen in 1948. The name was chosen for the roles Native Americans served in the history of the Commonwealth and for their “strength and fierceness in defending his lands.” UMass changed the nickname to Minutemen in 1972 after the negative connotations of the name were called int question, particularly be Native Americans in the region. The nickname Minutemen was chosen for its ties to the history of the Commonwealth, as the Minutemen were instrumental in the early stages of the American Revolution.
Nickname: River Hawks
Prior to the school joining the UMass System, they were called Lowell College and their athletics nickname was the Chiefs. River Hawks was chosen though a student poll during the transition to the UMass System in 1991. The name was inspired by was inspired by the campus’s location along the Merrimack River.
Mercer’s official nickname was the Baptist prior to 1924 and it was officially changed to Bears that same year via a student vote. However, the Bears nickname goes back to the first football game the school ever played in 1892 against Georgia. During that game a specator asked, “Whence Cometh that Bear?” as a Mercer offensive lineman ran down toward the field.
The Warriors nickname has been with Merrimack since they opened the doors in 1947. While some argue that the nickname has Native American connotations due to the school’s old logo and mascot being a Native American, the school’s first president, Vincident A. McQuade, said, “It was the indomitable spirit of a noble individual dedicated to overcoming obstacles and aspiring to achieve all that is possible, that was the true intent.”
Michigan has been known as the Wolverines since as early as 1861. And while Michigan is nicknamed the Wolverine State, no wild Wolverine was actually seen in the state until 2004. Because of this dilemma, there are many theories as to how the school got the nickname. Former Michigan football coach Fielding Yost suggest the name came from the Wolverine pelt trade in Sult St. Marie, Albert H. Marckwardt wrote in 1952 that reasoning was based on the first settlers in Michigan, who were French, in the late 1700s. The appetites of the French were judged to be gluttonous or “wolverine-like.” The last theory surrounds the border dispute between Michigan and Ohio in 1803. While the two sides argued over proper setting of the state line, The Michiganders were called wolverines.
In 1939, the Press Club at Monmouth College held a student campaign in 1939 to pick an athletic nickname. With 15 different options, Nighthawks won bt a margin of six votes. The school shortended the name to Hawks in 1956.
The Midshipmen nickname has been used for Navy since the school’s opening in 1845. However, the term goes further back than that, as the word originally was used for those who worked or slept in a certain area of the ship, amidships. It later became a term for officers in training.
NJIT adopted Highlanders as their nickname following a vote in 1949. The Highlander nickname is a reference to NJIT’s location, which is presently known as University Heights and formerly known as the Newark Highlands. In addition, NJIT’s mailing address used to be High Street until the street was renamed in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Nickname: Tar Heels
North Carolina first adopted the Tar Heel nickname when the school first started competing in sports in the 1880s. The term goes back to the state’s earliest days when North Carolina was the leading producer of supplies for the naval industry. Workers who distilled turpentine from the sticky sap of pine trees and burned pine boughs to produce tar and pitch often went barefoot during the summer months. The term was meant to describe someone who worked in a low trade. However, the term was popularized as a term to describe the citizens of North Carolina during the Civil War when Confederate soldiers from North Carolina called themselves Tar Heels, flipping the term’s meaning to a sense of pride.
Nickname: Fighting Irish
Exactly where the Fighting Irish nickname came from is unknown. It wasn’t used as nickname until the mid 20th Century after the school had various nicknames, such as Rovers, Ramblers, and Terriers. Some stories trace the name back to the Union’s Irish Brigade during the Civil War, in which the third president, Fr. William Corby, was a member of. Other theories suggest the nickname comes from the Irish freedom fighters in the Irish Revolution. You can read more about all the theories surrounding the nickname here.
Ohio State officially adopted the Buckeyes nickname in 1950, but it had been in use for some time before that date. The name comes from Buckeye Tree, which grows the Buckeye nuts. The name was originally coined by Native Americns, who called the nut “hetuck,” which means “buck eye”, because the markings on the nut resemble the eye of a deer.
Penn’s nickname has little to do with the religious group known as the Quakers. The school is not and has never been a Quaker school. However, Philadelphia was called the Quaker city in the 1800s and thus that fact prompted Philadelphia sportswriters in the 1880s and 1890s to call Penn the Quakers. The nickname stuck and became the official nickname of Penn.
Nickname: Nittany Lions
The Nittany Lion nickname was first coined by Penn State senior H. D. “Joe” Mason in 1907. He had come up with the idea while on a trip to Princton in 1904 and being embarrassed that Penn State didn’t have a mascot. He wrote in the student newspaper in 1907 that the Nittany Lione should be the school’s nickname and mascot because a lion is dignified, courageous, magnificent, and represents all that college spirit at Penn State should be. The roots of the Nittany Lion nickname come from the mountain lions that roamed Mount Nittany, which is near Penn State’s campus, until the 1880s.
One of Princeton’s many claims to fame is being the first to adopt the Tiger nickname. The nickname drivers from the fact that Princeton football players had orange and black stripes on their socks, jerseys, and stocking caps (Yes, you read that right.) in the 1880s, which led sportswriters to call them the Tigers. By 1911 the Tiger had been fully established and integrated as the school’s mascot.
Providence originally used one of two nicknames, the Dominicans, which is the religious order that runs the school, or the Black and White. It wasn’t until an article in 1929 that the term Friars was used to describe the Providence baseball team that the nickname came about. The term Friars comes from the term Blackfriars, which is the shortened name for the Dominican Order.
In Deember of 2001, Quinnipiac dropped their prior nickname, Braves, and they moved to their modern day nickname of Bobcats in the fall of 2002. The Braves nickname, according to the school, was meant to honor and remember the Native American group known as the Quinnipiaks. However, they changed it to put an end to any negative connotations of Native Americans that their nickname and logo may have represented.
Richmond is the only school in the country to use the nickname of Spiders for their athletics teams. The nickname was adopted somewhere between 1892-1894 and is said to have come from an article that referred to a Richmond baseball player as a spider due to his lanky arms. Prior to the Spiders nickname, Richmond went by the Colts.
Robert Morris gets its namesake from the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Articles of Confederation signer Robert Morris. He also was a financier of the American Revolution. The namesake of the school led to them adopting the Colonials nickname in 1963 when athletics started at the university, which was a junior college at the time.
Nickname: Scarlet Knights
Originally, Rutgers went by the nickname of The Scarlet or Queensemen, referencing the universities original name of Queen’s College. The mascot was switched to a Chanticleer, a fighting chicken, in 1925. Because it represented a chicken many took issue with that nickname and in 1955 Rutgers held a vote to find a new nickname and Scarlet Knights was chosen as the winner.
While it isn’t 100% clear, the Pioneers nickname seems to come from the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred Heart, which is an international Roman Cathoilc organization. Due to the school’s Catholic founding in 1963, the connections between the two are very likely.
From 1972 until 1992, St. Bonaventure went by the nickname of the Brown Indians. The nickname of the school was changed to the Bonnies in 1992 after years of controversy surrounding the school’s former nickname.
Nickname: Red Storm
Prior to the 1994–95 school year, the university’s nickname was the Redmen, which referenced the red uniforms worn by its teams in competition. However, the name was interpreted as derogatory against Native Americans and they did have a Native American mascot. The school changed the name to Red Storm during the 1994-1995 school year.
The Hawk nickname has represented Saint Joseph’s athletics since 1929. The Hawk was chosen in a vote. The reason for the Hawk nickname is said to be that typified “the fighting spirit of our crimson and gray athletes and it is suggestive of the aerial attack which has made our football team famous.”
Siena originally went by the nickname of Indians until the university dropped the name in 1988 due to racial connotations with the name and to make the campus more accepting for all. The school later chose the Saints, which references the school’s namesake, Saint Bernardine of Siena.
Originally, Stony Brook’s athletic teams were known as Soundmen or the Baymen. The nickname was changed to Warriors in 1960 and was changed against to the Patriots in 1966. The Patrior name stuck until Stony Brook’s jump to DI in 1994, which prompted them ti change the name to Seawolves. The nickname is said to be a mythical creature from the Tlingit tribe which brought good luck to those able to see it.
The color orange was chosen as the official school color in 1890, and is said to have a connection with the Dutch, who were the primary group of Europeans to settle New York. Until 2004, Syracuse went by the nickname Orangemen. The nickname was dropped due to the negative connotations with Native Americans.
Before 1962, two years after the school’s name was changed from Towson College to Towson Univeristy, the school switched nicknames from the Knights to the Tigers. John Schuerholz, who was a Towson student at the time, pushed heavily for a new nickname.
Before 1972 Utah used the R-Word as their nickname. The nickname was discontinued by the university due to hist offensiveness. The Ute nickname comes from the Ute tribe, from which the state of Utah is named after. The Ute tribe has given Utah explicit written permission to use their name as the nickname for their athletic teams. They actually just renewed the agreement earlier this year.
In 1926, the university held a vote to find a nickname and Catamounts won. A catamount is another name for the American panther, cougar, mountain lion, painter and puma. The animal was actually hunted to instruction in Vermont and most of the eastern United States, with the last known siting in Vermont being in 1881.
The university held a vote in 1926 to determine the school’s nickname and Wildcats won. The nickname is meant to convey the fighting spirit, alertness and skill of the animal chosen in vanquishing its enemies.
Virginia officially adopted the Cavaliers nickname in 1923. It is said that the nickname was taken to to pay homage to the loyolaist of the Commonwealth of Virgia, who aligned themselves with the Royalist supporters and were often called Cavaliers during the British Civil War. Wahoos, Hoos for short, are also used as unofficial nicknames. The origin of the name goes back to the 1890s when Washington & Lee fans called Virginia fans Washoos during a baseball game.
From around 1917 until the 1930s, VMI was known as the Flying Squadron. Keydets came into use with the school’s athletic teams in the 1930s. The name Keydets is derived from a southern drawl pronunciatio of cadet. However, Amy West Point claims that they term was used to denote the gray of the standard uniform of a cadet.
Origin: 1800s (Debated)
It is difficult to decipher when the first mascot hit the scene but some say that the first dates back to 1883 with a baseball good luck charm named Chic that would carry bats and run errands for players during games. The seahawk provides examples leadership, partnership, and sharp focus, which aligns with Wagner’s mission and pillars.
The Yale Bulldogs name goes back to 1890s, when Andrew B. Graves, an 1892 Yale grad, took notice of a dog sitting outside a nearby shop. He purchased that bulldog from a blacksmith for $5. The dog, soon named Handsome Dan, was led across fields before football and baseball games, according to archives provided by Yale. However, Yale also goes by the unofficial nickname of the Elis. This name goes back to the founder of the school, Elihu Yale, who was a Welsh merchant, slaveholder, and slave trader for the British East India Company in the 1700s.