Though the clock is ticking to determine the University’s next moniker by the 2023-24 academic year, the consensus that GW needs to move past its divisive former moniker hasn’t made it easier to decide on a new one. With suggestions for the new name ranging from Revolutionaries to Riverhorses, officials will have plenty of options to choose from after garnering feedback online and during Alumni and Families’ Weekend earlier this month. Now, we’re throwing our support behind GW’s next mascot – take off your tricorn hats and say hello to the Hippos.
Our favorite mammalian moniker is already popular with the student body. And Hippopotamuses, or Hippos for short, is everything that Colonials wasn’t – it’s divorced from the ugly history of colonialism and racism that marked our use of Colonials. The hippo has already found its way into students’ hearts, whether as the statue outside Lisner Auditorium or on GW-branded merchandise across campus. By picking Hippos as the University’s next moniker, officials can create a campus culture in which everyone feels welcome and bolster GW’s school spirit in years to come.
A 21st-century university deserves something better than a 20th-century distortion of 18th-century history. In a period of racially tinged nostalgia for the American Revolution, a single administrator picked Colonials in 1926 to replace other nicknames that students previously used to describe themselves. The new moniker’s meaning wasn’t lost on students – fraternities and residence hall associations decorated their lawns with GW Colonials slaughtering William and Mary Indians for the football team’s 1946 homecoming game.
The Colonials moniker carried GW through the last century, but it’s grossly out of touch today. The personification of the Colonials moniker exemplifies why it can no longer, if it ever did, unite students. GW can’t squeeze out school spirit from students who understand colonialism as a historical fact, not a mere costume.
That brings us to Hippos, which are expressly apolitical. The University’s love of the hippo began when former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg gifted the now-iconic hippo statue that stands at the corner of H and 21st streets to the Class of 2000. Unlike Colonials, which was foisted upon the University community, students have made the hippo their own. Some 20 years later, they’ve literally left their mark on the hippo, rubbing its bronze tusks and ears out of admiration and as a tradition for good luck.
Even as GW has continued to “hail to the Buff and Blue” in recent years, the hippo hasn’t been far behind. Officials are well aware of the grip that the hippo has on campus, from its appearance at campus events, in promotions and on merchandise sold in the campus store. And what better mascot is there for GW’s sports teams than the hippo, one of the strongest animals on Earth?
Others suggested monikers fall short of our beloved Hippos. Revolutionaries, Patriots or Generals would allow GW to shed its overt Colonial branding while maintaining its early American aesthetic. But that’s a cheap move both financially and morally. If the inventory in the campus store remains practically the same pre- and post-Colonials, then what good did the moniker change accomplish?
And like Colonials, these historically inspired monikers ignore the facts in favor of a flashy brand name. Aside from a visit from the French military leader Marquis de Lafayette in 1824 and Columbian College’s namesake change in 1904, GW doesn’t boast deep historic ties to the American Revolution. Nor do these names set GW apart – George Mason University uses Patriots for their athletic teams across state lines, not to mention the NFL team out of New England. Revolutionaries might celebrate students’ commitment to political change, and Patriots or Generals could honor GW’s military students and alumni, but these monikers can’t resonate with every student. Their close association with politics and war would likely subject them to the same scrutiny as Colonials.
Unlike Colonials or these other monikers, Hippos can be a symbol for students to rally around on game days or events that require no reckoning with history. It’s a mascot that can trot out at half time without making national news. And most of all, it’s something that can bring every member of the GW community together.
If this discussion amounts to overanalyzing GW’s moniker, then we’ve done our job. And we hope officials will be just as careful in their considerations. This University has known the Colonials moniker for nearly 100 years of change, from the highs of the roaring 1920s to the lows of our not-so-roaring 2020s. Let’s replace it with the Hippopotamuses, a name that can truly last through the next century.
Officials have a chance to pick a moniker that encapsulates GW’s values and vision for the foreseeable future – don’t mess it up.
The editorial board consists of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s staff editorial was written by Opinions Editor Ethan Benn and Contributing Opinions Editor Riley Goodfellow, based on discussions with Research Assistant Zachary Bestwick, Sports Editor Nuria Diaz, Copy Editor Jaden DiMauro, Culture Editor Clara Duhon and Contributing Social Media Director Ethan Valliath.
This article appeared in the October 10, 2022 issue of the Hatchet.