Op-ed: Students and alumni deserve more than ‘pick your poison’ moniker choices

John Prokop received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from GW in 1962 and graduated from GW Law in 1968.

The 10 options officials initially selected for GW’s new moniker – Ambassadors, Blue Fog, Catalysts, Fireworks, Independents, Monumentals, Revolutionaries, Sentinels, Squad and Truth – were a “pick your poison” list. Last week, officials narrowed the 10 to four final options – Ambassadors, Blue Fog, Revolutionaries or Sentinels. When they select one of these names, GW will have missed a golden opportunity to choose an effective moniker.

These monikers did not offer anything you would really want to or could easily identify with – they do not indicate what GW is or who its students are, and they encounter the same problems of the “Colonials” they are meant to replace. Whatever their intentions, revolutionaries can engage in violent activity. The term’s connotations mean international students from countries undergoing political upheaval may not always look upon the moniker favorably, just as students found Colonials and its association with violence “extremely offensive” toward Indigenous people and people of color.

Like Colonials, Ambassadors, Blue Fog and Sentinels are difficult to portray in a graphic and as contentious sports opponents. College students need to identify with a formidable-yet-fun figure to express their intent to overcome rival teams. A ferocious animal like a bear would make a better moniker than Ambassadors, Blue Fog, Revolutionaries or Sentinels. They immediately convey a formidable message – “Don’t fool with me!” The bear lived in all 13 colonies and was an animal that George Washington would have encountered. How about the Buff and Blue Bears?

As a student, I worked on many a float for parades before major athletic events – usually football back in those days – which traveled down G Street to pass before the judges who sat in front of the old student union. We were all proud of GW, of being GW students and displaying GW spirit, but we struggled portraying Colonials to effectively appear as a formidable opponent to Georgetown’s Hoyas and their bulldog mascot.

We were neophyte amateurs working with limited resources, volunteers and time. You want the easiest path to conclude the job – but to win, it must look good. For us, it was easier to brand our float with “GWU” than “Colonials.” I favor short, evocative or symbolic words in logos and on signage because you can fit a large four- or five-letter word in a smaller space than one for a 10- or 12-letter word. A large four-letter can be seen from a greater distance than longer words with smaller letters.

You have only a limited time to get your message across in visual communication, so you must do so quickly and effectively. And “GWU” is one of the most recognizable names and really a moniker in itself. It stands up there with UCLA, for the University of California, Los Angeles, as easily and clearly identifiable.

It would be hard to find any one or two words that could convey all of the messages the committee set out for the monikers – that GW is “tenacious, ambitious, resilient,” “electric, energetic, charged,” “open, approachable” and “diverse.” As words, Ambassadors, Blue Fog, Revolutionaries or Sentinels cannot demonstrate how GW strives for success, bursts with excitement and passion or welcomes new people as much as new experiences, ideas and ways of thinking. GW’s core values are more than one word or one enlightened theme slogan, and perhaps the criteria were so formidable that they discouraged people from attempting to find the one word that would convey all or even a part of them.

GW’s new moniker should be short, and the shorter the moniker, the easier it is to understand and merchandise. For example, “Hoyas” with a picture of a bulldog instantly says Georgetown University, and “Bison” signals the strength of Howard University. An instantly recognizable moniker can help sell the University on all levels whether on posters, T-shirts, sweatshirts or all sorts of other paraphernalia. But how will the moniker work on an athletics level? Saying “the Ambassadors won a tough one” would be better than cheering on the “Truth.” But the media, including the sports press, will continue to use the more recognizable “GW” in headlines instead of the generic “Ambassadors.”

When I emailed my idea for the Buff and Blue Bears to officials, I got the impression, but no explicit statement, that they desired a more demure moniker – no animals, weapons or warriors but maybe Revolutionaries. Officials definitely did not want “Hippos,” and they ruled that option out in January. The choice of the moniker was almost a foregone conclusion, and the decision-making process has been a performative effort to raise alumni and student interest while staving off criticism that they were not involved.

I do not mean or intend to disparage the work of the volunteers and professionals who are employed in this effort – I think they are working hard and have some good concepts, and no one said this was going to be an easy job. But we should not hinder the University with a moniker that is not symbolic of GW and is difficult to portray. Each student and alum should be proud to identify with the moniker. Alas, these “pick your poison choices” fail in all respects. I applaud the effort, but GW, we could have done better.

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