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Death To The NCAA

I Cannot Tell A Lie: These Proposed George Washington University Nicknames Stink

"Father, I cannot tell a lie: I cut the tree" / painted by G.G. White ; engraved by John C. McRae. Print showing George Washington as a young boy telling his father that he cut the tree.

“Father, I cannot tell a lie: I cut the tree” / painted by G.G. White; engraved by John C. McRae

George Washington University is moving closer to leaving its Colonial era. The school says it is changing the nickname used by its sports teams due to “division among the community.” GW had had previously declared it would not be changing its nickname to Hippos, which would reference the time a former school president drunkenly bought a hippo statue at a flea market and then forced the school to install it after his wife told him to get it out of their house. That was also due to division among the community, in the sense that the athletes reportedly didn’t like it much.

I am not now and have never been a student at George Washington, but I think it's both a really good name and a great backstory for a school nickname. I am not alone in this, but not everyone agrees. Apparently the people who hate Hippos really hate Hippos—enough for the school to shoot it down prematurely due to “negative feedback during engagement events from various members of the community.” In a release this week, GW also rejected three other possible nicknames—Patriots, Eagles, Capitals—as they’re already the names of D.C.-area sports teams from George Mason University, American University, and the NHL, respectively. But the press release announcing “Moniker Madnessdid narrow the search down to 10 possibilities:

Ambassadors, Blue Fog, Catalysts, Fireworks, Independents, Monumentals, Revolutionaries, Sentinels, Squad, and Truth

As I previously reported, GW and branding firm Sullivan have said the new moniker must fit three principles: Shaping the Future, Free to Be Bold, and At the Center of Power. These “principles” are so vague (and also so obviously not principles) that they could fit basically any possible nickname George Washington could choose. I think it’s clear none of the proposed nicknames fit better than Hippos, but no matter. Let’s try to move on.

One odd thing about the nicknames that made the final round is that they’re all somehow even more vague than the guiding principles. Here’s a quick ranking of them from best to worst, in my opinion: Blue Fog, Sentinels, Catalysts, Fireworks, Monumentals, Ambassadors, Independents, Revolutionaries, Squad, Truth. I don’t love any of them.

But some are better than others. Blue Fog references one of the school’s primary colors and its location in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood. Sentinels comes from the military and basically just means “watchmen.” Catalysts is really vague, but fun to say. Fireworks sounds like a name a minor league baseball team renames itself for one night in July. Monumentals is unique, but also doesn't quite seem like a noun. Ambassadors is a weird one, but still way better than Independents. Revolutionaries is just lazy. It’s essentially trying for the same thing as Colonials; if you’re going to change it, change it. Naming a sports team “Squad” might even be worse than if they were the “Team.” In any other circumstance it would be a pretty obvious Worst Possible Option when it comes to a team's nickname.

You should feel free to quibble with my rankings in the comments, with one exception: Truth is by far the worst nickname on this list. It is the worst potential nickname for any sports team ever, worse than even the proposed New Hampshire Primaries baseball team. If current athletes hated Hippos, what are they going to say about Truth?

No doubt it comes from the oft-told story about how George Washington chopped down his father’s cherry tree and, when confronted about it, admitted to it by saying “I cannot tell a lie … I did cut it with my hatchet.” Like many stories about politicians from colonial era, it is completely made up. The story behind it is pretty great, though. It was made up in the 19th century by Mason Locke Weems, who wrote The Life and Memorable Actions of George Washington in 1800. It was not until the book’s fifth edition, in 1816, that the story about the cherry tree made it in. Parson Weems said he heard it from an old family friend of the Washington’s, but we are all adults here. He made it up.

But did you notice that great potential nickname for George Washington University in the preceding paragraph? The school needs to add an 11th potential nickname. Forget The Truth, the Atlantic 10 needs the George Washington Memorable Actions.

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