The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

George Washington University’s new nickname is ... the Revolutionaries

Colonials, the moniker since 1926, is out.

Kogan Plaza at George Washington University in D.C. (Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)
3 min

George Washington University unveiled a new nickname Wednesday to replace one that its leaders and many students had deemed divisive and dated during a recent period of racial and social reckoning. No longer to be known as the Colonials, sports teams and other groups on the D.C. campus will go by the Revolutionaries.

The choice, made after four finalists were disclosed in March, was announced as the largest university in the nation’s capital wraps up the school year. With it, GWU bypassed a whimsical proposal that had been a favorite of many of its roughly 26,000 students — Blue Fog. The other finalists were Sentinels and Ambassadors.

George Washington University narrows list to replace Colonials moniker

“This is an exciting day for the George Washington University Revolutionaries,” Mark S. Wrighton, the university president, said in a statement. “I am very grateful for the active engagement of our community throughout the development of the new moniker.” The university said it had received “47,000 points of feedback” and “8,000 moniker suggestions” in the past year.

A point of clarification: The university is not changing its mascot. That remains George, in honor of its namesake, the first president. Also, there is no move to rename the university itself even though Washington enslaved people of African descent on his plantation in Virginia.

Revolutionaries, tying to Washington’s role as a military leader in the American Revolution, is GWU’s first new nickname since Colonials was adopted in 1926. In the past few years, Colonials fell out of favor because the moniker was seen as a proxy for European imperialism, offensive to Indigenous peoples in the United States and elsewhere. Many non-White students, in particular, did not identify with the nickname.

Across the country, various colleges and universities during the past decade have confronted similar issues. Campus statues have been moved, buildings renamed and nicknames reconsidered.

In 2016 Amherst College renounced usage of the unofficial mascot “Lord Jeff” amid scrutiny of an 18th-century British lord, Jeffery Amherst, who had proposed using the smallpox virus to attack Native Americans. A year later, the college adopted the mascot the Mammoths.

In 2019, GWU students approved a referendum urging the university to replace the Colonials moniker. Racial justice demonstrations that arose nationwide after the murder of George Floyd in 2020 led to intensified scrutiny. In June 2022, the GWU board of trustees announced the moniker would be replaced by the 2023-2024 school year. Some on campus disagreed, saying Colonials was a fitting nickname and point of pride.

For all the feedback the university received, the final call on the nickname was made by the trustees, accepting a recommendation from Wrighton — who is stepping down in a few weeks — and an advisory committee. But GWU said in a news release that Revolutionaries ranked as “the top option” when the university community submitted feedback on the four finalists.

Chuck Todd, host of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” a former GWU student who received an honorary degree from the university last year, helped publicize the nickname with a newscast-style video circulated on social media. “Hi there — I’m Chuck Todd, and I have a breaking news story,” he said in the video. “It’s a story we’ve been following for months. The George Washington University has, at last, decided on its new moniker.”