Overdue name change at Johns Hopkins timed for April 1

By Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 1, 2010; 3:15 PM

Early Thursday the institution of higher learning formerly known as Johns Hopkins University made a surprising announcement: It was finally dropping that first, awkward "s" and changing its name to John Hopkins University.

The alteration was quickly made to the university's Web site, and the media relations staff posted photos of the ditched letter being removed from around campus: A worker in a neon work vest filling in an engraved "s" on a marble sign. A crane pulling a metal "s" off a building.

Even the campus bookstore, in an announcement on the university Web site, was stocking up on Wite-Out to help faculty members update their cards.

"We give up," university President Ronald J. Daniels said. "We're fighting a losing battle here. And we strongly suspect the extra 's' was a typo in the first place."

Of course the statement ended with a hint to the joke contained within: The changes would be completed in 41 days. "This is April 1st," spokesman Dennis O'Shea said. "You do the math."

The competition for April Fool's Day jokes ran the gamut Thursday on America's college campuses. Towson University's campus newspaper announced a war on the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. At the University of Maryland, College Park, the Diamondback newspaper reported that the school's mascot might change from the Terrapins to the Pandas. But the John Hopkins renaming ranked high for its combination of sly self-mockery and head-smacking obviousness.

Ever since the university was established in 1876, many people have had difficulty remembering to include the "s" in the cumbersome name -- or placed it in the wrong spot.

"We've heard 'John Hopskins.' We've heard 'John Shopskins.' One flustered high school kid in an admissions interview the other day actually called us 'Bob Hoskins,' " Daniels said in the statement. "We've had an entire team of psychiatrists doing nothing but treating our undergraduates for advanced identity crisis."

But, of course, not everyone immediately got the joke.

A reporter from a Baltimore television station called Tracey A. Reeves, the university's director of news and information, to let her know someone had hacked the university's Web site.

"For a minute there, I played along with her," said Reeves. Then she gently broke the news that this was a prank the university had been carefully planning for almost a year.

There was also a woman who called in a huff, upset that she didn't get the joke until after she had replaced all of the "Johns" with "John" in a listserv. A few other universities e-mailed and offered to remove letters from their names in an act of solidarity.

"A bulk of the reaction has been, 'Oh my gosh, that's so funny,' " Reeves said.

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