George Washington University to replace controversial 'Colonials' moniker

The university has narrowed its decision to four choices.

March 27, 2023, 4:25 PM

While a slew of professional and collegiate athletic teams have recently changed their names to do away with racially charged titles, George Washington University has joined the move by changing the nickname for its teams.

Known as "Colonials," the university's sports teams were the source of controversy when students said the name had a negative connotation regarding violence toward Native Americans and other colonized people.

The original list of replacement names started at 10, and in what the school is calling "Moniker Madness," the campus community has narrowed the options to four after receiving "nearly 20,000 points of feedback from the GW community," according to a news release.

"It has been energizing to see so many members of the GW community participate in the development of our new moniker," said Ellen Moran, vice president for communications and marketing. "As we begin this next phase of feedback, I hope all GW community members continue joining us in this deliberate and thoughtful process for developing the new moniker."

The final four nickname options narrowed down during the "First Impressions" phase of decisions are "Ambassadors," "Blue Fog," "Revolutionaries" and "Sentinels."

The next phase, "Try It on For Size," which runs from March 20 to April 28, will include feedback from students, faculty, staff and alumni. During this phase, the community will have a chance to view "hype videos" of each name option and be able to select branded merchandise for each moniker option.

According to the university's student led newspaper The Hatchet, calls for the change of the moniker began in 2018 when students launched a petition urged university officials to change the "extremely offensive" name that ended with nearly 550 signatures. In 2019, the student body held a referendum where around 54% of students voted in favor of changing the name, according to the newspaper.

Students and alumni criticized the Colonials moniker during the Diversity Summit in the fall of 2019 at an event hosted by the "Anything But Colonial Coalition," citing the nickname reinforced a “divisive hierarchy” and made the University “complicit” in centuries of colonial violence and repression, according to The Hatchet.

The Hippo served as an unofficial mascot for the university, according to the student newspaper, but due to trademark troubles, was never official.

This renaming joins the many athletic teams who have recently undergone brand changes due to negative racial connotations, including Cleveland pro baseball team's change from Indians to Guardians and the Washington football team's change from Redskins to Commanders.

While some athletic teams are changing their names, some teams, like the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs, argue their teams' original names are crucial to their history.

"While the origin of the team's name has no affiliation with American Indian culture, much of the club's early promotional activities relied heavily on imagery and messaging depicting American Indians in a racially insensitive fashion," the Kansas City Chiefs website says. "Over the course of the club's 60-plus-year history, the Chiefs organization has worked to eliminate this offensive imagery and other forms of cultural appropriation in their promotional materials and game-day presentation."

While there are still growing calls for the Kansas City Chiefs to change their name, they have not budged and instead established an American Indian Community Working Group in 2014 that banned headdresses and face paint at games and retired the use of Warpaint as an ambassador of the Chiefs, among other things.

As for George Washington University, the board of trustees will announce a new nickname for its athletic teams by the 2023-24 academic school year. The university mascot, George 1, that's been around since 1948, will remain the same.

The school's official guiding principles released in January for the new moniker outline three themes, "Shaping the Future," "Free to Be Bold" and "At the Center of Power," and three personality traits, tenacious, electric and open, for the new moniker to embody.