Officials have chosen Revolutionaries to be GW’s next moniker, but don’t hoist your banner or form a barricade just yet. In the truest meaning of “revolution,” the University’s moniker process has gone full circle — after years of discussion and debate, we’re back where we started.
If officials took anything away from the now-defunct Colonials moniker, it should have been that words have meanings. Monikers are meant to uplift and unite, not denigrate and divide. Colonials, which encapsulated a painful and ongoing history of violence and exploitation, failed as a moniker because it did the latter.
After feedback forms, focus groups and four finalists, we’ve finally and rightfully replaced Colonials. But how exactly is Revolutionaries any less of a loaded term than Colonials? If anything, it just seems like a more palatable iteration of the same idea — a “precious heritage” tied to the University’s namesake and the newly independent United States.
We can’t honestly claim that heritage, real or imagined, as our own. GW only became “The George Washington University” in 1904 and didn’t embrace the Colonials moniker until 1924. So celebrate the University’s storied history all you like, but we’re not inextricably linked to the founding of the country. George Washington crossed the Delaware, we cross 23rd Street — that’s not exactly upholding the principles of the Founding Fathers.
And while officials surely meant Revolutionaries to conjure up images of the American Revolution, it can just as easily apply to other movements for both good and for ill. Slave revolts, guillotines, independence struggles, political purges, even campus protests — the course of history has muddled the new moniker’s meaning. And the overtures to history aside, there’s something deeply ironic about an institution so thoroughly enmeshed in the establishment opting for such a radical-sounding name.
So, who was Revolutionaries for? Out of the 10 initial and later final four moniker options, Revolutionaries was and remains the most conservative and cautious choice — the opposite of what you’d think such a name would imply.
I’d hoped we might do something different regarding our new moniker — we’d challenge the idea that GW is a stuffy, self-serious institution obsessed with its own past. Instead, we’ve doubled down on some mythologized version of history and returned a similar, albeit less offensive, moniker.
A moniker is ultimately a branding gimmick. But as long as we’re going to try to make it into something more — a representation of who we are and who we strive to be — we ought to get it right.
Ethan Benn, a rising senior majoring in journalism and mass communication, is the opinions editor.
This article appeared in the May 22, 2023 issue of the Hatchet.