Dr. Elmer Louis Kayser, 89, a professor emeritus of European history at George Washington University and the man who is credited with bestowing upon the school's athletic teams the nickname of "The Colonials," died of cardiac arrest April 28 at the Potomac Valley Nursing Center in Rockville.

Dr. Kayser, a lifelong resident of Washington, graduated from the old Western High School. He took bachelor's and master's degrees at GWU and his doctorate in history at Columbia University.

His professional life was centered around George Washington University. He held numerous academic and administrative posts at the school and received some of its highest honors. In 1962, the university conferred on him an honorary doctorate of laws. He was one of the first to receive the George Washington Award, which was established in 1976 to recognize those who make the university a better place to be. In 1984, GW established the Elmer Louis Kayser professorship in history.

In 1941 and again in 1962, Dr. Kayser received honors from the GW alumni association, of which he was a former president.

Dr. Kayser was appointed an instructor in history when he graduated in 1917. He served briefly in the Army during World War I and then went back to the university. From 1918 to 1927, he served as secretary of GWU in addition to teaching. From 1930 to 1962, he was dean of university students -- the students who are not candidates for degrees -- and he was dean emeritus at his death. He became a full professor of history and had been a professor emeritus since his retirement from teaching in 1967.

From 1962 until the present he was the historian of the university. He published two volumes on the subject, "Bricks Without Straw," a history that appeared in 1970, and "A Medical Center," which appeared in 1973 and recounts the development of medical education at the school.

At various times Dr. Kayser also had been head of the school of government, the head of the summer school and the university marshal, the official in charge of public ceremonies such as graduations.

For more than 25 years, he was vice chairman of the board of what is now Mount Vernon College. That school gave him an honorary doctorate in 1975. He also was a governor of the National Cathedral School for Girls.

Dr. Kayser was a member of the Cosmos Club, the National Press Club and St. Alban's Episcopal Church, where he was a vestryman.

His wife, the former Margery Ludlow, died in 1983. A daughter, Katherine Page, died in 1980.

Survivors include a brother, Paul Kayser of Wahington; a sister, Virginia K. Morrison of New Port Richey, Fla.; one grandson and one great-grandson.