Of course, they admit, it will sound strange at first. But before long, officials at the institution formerly known as Mary Washington College say, their new name will come tripping off the tongue with ease:
The University of Mary Washington.
One more time now:
The University of Mary Washington.
"You get used to it," insisted Ron Singleton, a senior vice president at the 96-year-old public college in Fredericksburg.
Yet as Mary Washington made the switch official last week -- unveiling a new logo and hoisting a new flag -- the name was still sticking in a few craws. After all, the lengthy search for something that could reflect the liberal-arts school's growth into a full-fledged university had managed to agitate several of the major sensitivities found in academia.
Such as gender. And tradition. And, of course, grammatical syntax.
"Linguistically, it would have been better to say 'Mary Washington University,' " said Ryan Butts, a 22-year-old senior who will graduate this summer and recently learned that her diploma will carry the new name.
"I'm not too happy about that," she said.
"University of Mary Washington" emerged very late, and as something of a compromise, in a debate that roiled the campus for years.
In 1985, President William Anderson proposed changing the name to Washington-Monroe College, which, he argued, would raise the school's profile and attract more applicants. But students took offense, seeing it as an attempt to conceal its origins as an all-female college. (Formerly a satellite campus of the then-all-male University of Virginia, Mary Washington went co-ed in 1972 and now has an undergraduate population that is about 34 percent male.)
Students protested the Washington-Monroe proposal by marching from the campus to the grave of the school's namesake -- George Washington's mother -- and then to the home of the college president, who later agreed to preserve the old name.
But the issue resurfaced in the late 1990s as Mary Washington began to expand its graduate programs. A new satellite campus in Stafford, now enrolling about 1,000 students, was named the James Monroe Center for Graduate and Professional Studies. And with the college recently being granted the status of university by the Carnegie Foundation, school officials decided that a new name was in order to reflect the new identity.
Surveys last year found that alumni and students both preferred "Mary Washington University" to "Washington & Monroe University" by a wide margin. After expressing a preference to keep the "College" name, faculty members issued a resolution supporting "Mary Washington University."
"It's the only public institution of higher learning named specifically for a woman, and we're very proud of that," said Steve Watkins, an associate professor of English. "We [wanted to preserve] that as a way of recognizing women's contributions to society."
Yet when a naming committee appointed by Anderson met in November, a surprising split vote emerged. A slim majority of 10 favored Washington & Monroe, while nine opted for a previously unheard-of choice: the University of Mary Washington.
Days later -- after a spirited protest at which students chanted "Who's the bomb? George's mom!" and "Wash-Monroe, hell no!" -- the school's Board of Visitors voted unanimously for the University of Mary Washington.
What, meanwhile, had happened to Mary Washington University? Some on campus theorized that it had been ditched in an attempt to scoot the college away from the other Marys with which it is often confused -- Mary Baldwin College, Marymount University, Mount St. Mary's, St. Mary's College of Maryland -- or to subvert its femininity.
Not at all, said Martin A. Wilder Jr., vice president of admissions and head of the naming committee. The University of Mary Washington, he said, was suggested by a student member, and people just liked how it sounds.
"It simply has a more prestigious and distinctive tone," he said, offering comparisons to the College of William and Mary and the University of Notre Dame.
But the name triggered yet another debate -- this time about syntax. Some faculty insisted that the construction "University of . . ." should precede only a geographic location, not a person. State Sen. R. Edward Houck (D-Spotsylvania) argued against the name change on syntactical grounds before the Virginia legislature. (It ultimately passed.)
"I think the name is awkward," Houck said last week. "And it certainly diminishes Mary. . . . I haven't found anyone other than those who were paid to say it who felt that this was the most appropriate name."
Wilder, though, said he did not believe there is anything "technically incorrect" about the name. "It is unusual," he said. "One of the reasons I preferred it is because it was unusual."
In fact, Wilder said Mary Washington could see a rise in the number of applications this year because of the attention drawn by the name change and the luster of its new status as a university.
Meanwhile, college officials were busily changing all the things that needed changing with the advent of the new name -- signs, stationery, Web sites, e-mail addresses, voice-mail messages, the emblem design for class rings.
"It's like moving," said spokeswoman Margaret Mock. Altogether, the change will cost about $200,000, to be split between the university and its fundraising foundation, she said.
Some said that it's the mere habit of saying "Mary Washington College" that could be the hardest to change. But students said it should be no problem -- most just call the place "Mary Wash" or "M-Dub" anyway, said Ryan Butts.
"So either way, that will still work," she said.