Mascot Mania Strikes Back

 SchoolCenter Picture

In keeping with our love of summer blockbuster sequels, I have another post on school mascot names.  Just to set the stage, let’s have a flashback to my first mascot post:

“The names we choose matter.  When we name our children, or name a public school, or name a public park or courthouse — we are signaling what is important to us.  Once names are given, there is an opportunity for people to learn about the values those names represent and promote those values in the world.   

With Brian Kisida and Jonathan Butcher, I have already analyzed patterns and trends in what we name public schools.  We found a trend away from naming schools after people, in general, and presidents, in particular.  Instead, schools are increasingly receiving names that sound more like herbal teas or day spas — Whispering Winds, Hawks Bluff, Desert Mesa, etc… 

[We found] that there are more public schools in Florida named after manatees than George Washington.

Now I am turning my attention to school mascots.  I understand that mascot names aren’t taken very seriously and are often chosen without much deliberation or care.  But even something trivial, like what we name our pets or the mascot names we adopt says something about us.  Besides, this is a bit of fun.”

In a subsequent post I identified a national data set of mascot names and offered some very preliminary analyses.  With the help of Jonathan Butcher and Catherine Shock, I now have some more detailed analyses to present.  In particular, I can show a list of the most common mascot names, show that Indian or war-like mascot names are fairly common, and show that those Indian or war-like names have not become dramatically less common over time.

I have a list of 19,785 mascot names (including some private and Canadian schools), while there are about 23,800 public secondary schools in the US (some of which probably do not have mascot names).  So, my list captures a large portion of all high school mascot names in the US.

There are 1,566 unique mascot names, but the more common 182 names account for 88% of the total.  Below is a list of the 60 most common mascot names, which account for 79% of all mascot names.  As you can see, animal mascots predominate.  Human or humanoid (like devils) mascots are about 36% of all names.  The remaining 64% are almost all animals, with a sprinkling of weather names (e.g., blizzards, hurricanes, tornadoes). 

Eagle, which suggests both patriotism and ferocity, is by far the most common mascot name, accounting for 6% of all names.  The next most common names are tigers, bulldogs, panthers, and wildcats.  The most common “person” mascot is warrior, which ranks 6th and accounts for 3% of all mascot names. 

Rank         Name          Frequency

1 eagle 1223
2 tiger 914
3 bulldog 816
4 panther 804
5 wildcat (or kit) 706
6 warrior 630
7 lion 507
8 cougar 469
9 knight 466
10 indian 435
11 hawk 424
12 mustang 400
13 raider 399
14 bear 387
15 trojan 387
16 viking 362
17 falcon 361
18 devil 336
19 wolves 325
20 ram 322
21 cardinal 299
22 spartan 288
23 pirate 268
24 hornet 264
25 patriot 241
26 crusader 210
27 rebel 188
28 bobcat 182
29 yellowjacket 164
30 angels 155
31 wolverine 146
32 dragon 143
33 huskie 143
34 titans 140
35 saint 137
36 jaguar 134
37 charger 126
38 braves 116
39 rocket 111
40 chief 107
41 pioneer 102
42 cavalier 88
43 bronco 77
44 ranger 75
45 redskin 72
46 cowboy 71
47 owl 71
48 gators 70
49 longhorn 69
50 hound 66
51 tornado 66
52 royal 66
53 bruin 63
54 bluejays 61
55 hurricane 55
56 buccaneer 55
57 highlander 55
58 colt 55
59 irish 54
60 buffalo 53

Indian mascots, including chiefs, braves, and specific tribal names, are about 4% of all mascot names.  The warrior is sometimes represented by a Native American, but I have not included warriors among Indian mascots. 

Indians are not the only ethnic/national group featured as mascots.  There are also a fair number of Highlanders, Irish, and Scots as mascot names.

War-like names, including anything with “fighting” in it or warriors, raiders, pirates, bombers, etc…, are about 19% of all mascot names.  Excluding animal mascots, war-like mascots account for about half of the remaining “people” mascots.  Respect for a martial spirit is represented in a very large portion of all mascot names.

This interest in ferocity has only declined slightly over time.  Repeating a technique that I employed in the study of school names, I used the age of school buildings as a sort of “time machine.”  If schools built more recently have mascot names that are different from schools built a long time ago, then we could observe a trend in mascot selection over time.  Of course, there are problems with this technique.  For example, old schools might change their mascot names.  I can’t observe old schools that have closed.  I only have building age for a limited number of schools in a limited number of states.

With all of these confessions out of the way, I still believe that if there were a big change in mascot names, newly built schools should have very different mascot names than old schools.  I do not find a big change. 

I looked at mascot names for schools built before and after 1970 in Arizona, Florida, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Wisconsin.  There appear to be some modest trends.  Schools seem to be less likely to have a “person” mascot over time.  Animals are becoming somewhat more common as mascots.  And Indian mascots in these five states are becoming less common, but by no means have disappeared.  Lastly, there has been a modest decline over time in schools having war-like names. 

  Before 1970 After 1970
“Person”    40.0% 35.6%
Indian    8.1% 6.5%
War-Like    22.2% 19.2%

It’s possible that flaws in the analysis are understating the trends, but even if that were the case the changes are unlikely to be large.  The shift away from “people” mascots, away from Native American names, and away from war-like names is happening, but it is happening gradually. 

My guess is that the appeal of tradition in mascots is likely to be very strong.  Change can only occur gradually, as old schools are closed and new ones opened.  We occasionally hear news stories about schools changing mascots, but those stories may account for almost all of the instances of such shifts actually occurring.  When a school changes mascots it tends to make news.

Curiously, the change in mascot names over time is much less dramatic than the change in school names.  Perhaps school boards increasingly avoid naming schools after people because they wish to avoid fights over who should be honored, but are less politically sensitive about mascot names because they provoke less conflict.  Maybe our commitment to the values of fierce mascots has not changed much over time, while our commitment to honoring great presidents, educators, and other people has declined.

The first person to post a comment identifying the schools and mascot names represented by the three images at the top wins a prize!

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15 Responses to Mascot Mania Strikes Back

  1. Eric says:

    I think I’ve got the mascots:

    1. Fayetteville HS Bulldogs
    2. New Trier Township HS Trevians
    3. Tufts University’s Jumbo the Elephant.

    What do I win?

    I wonder if there has been any uptick in patriotic school/mascot names since 2001? I can think of a few schools in the southeast that have opened in recent years named things “Liberty MS” or “Freedom HS” with names like “patriots” as their mascot.

    Some of the best mascots are the one-offs. For example, the Cairo High School Syrupmakers from south Georgia. If you were their opponent, which would get inside your head and throw you off your game more: facing an eagle, or a Syrupmaker?

  2. I should have thought of a prize before I offered one. : ) In addition to the great honor, I’ll be sure to give you something when I see you next, which I hope will be soon.

    I doubt that there have been many patriotic school names or mascot names post 9/11. The common recent names seem to emphasize animals and nature.

    I agree that there are some weird mascot names out there. Earlier mascot posts and comments list a bunch of funny ones, including Yuma, Arizona “Criminals”, Marshall HS “Lawyers” in Cleveland, and 9 (yes 9) “Unicorns.”

    My alma mater, New Trier, is a good example of a shift away from Inidians. I went to New Trier West, which had Cowboys as the mascot, and New Trier East was the Indians. When the two schools merged, there was a debate about what the new mascot name should be. We ended up with the Trevians, which means a person from Trier. I don’t believe that anyone at the time actually wanted the Trevians, but school administrators selected it because, I suspect, they thought it would give the least offense.

  3. Oh, and a small correction to Eric’s answer — It is the Fayetteville Purple Bulldogs. Just saying Bulldogs would not distinguish us from our arch rivals, the Springdale Red Bulldogs.

  4. Patrick says:

    Is wolverine in the list twice (19 and 31)? Or is my dyslexia acting up again?

  5. That’s my typo. Number 19 should have been wolves and 31 wolverines. I’ve corrected it in the post now. Thanks for catching that, Patrick.

  6. “Jaguar” is on twice as well at #36 and #37.

    You went to New Trier West? I’m a graduate of Highland Park High. We were the “Little Giants” in my day, but eventually it was changed to “Giants.” The eighth-grade rec center team was the “Mighty Midgets.” I’m pretty darned sure that’s been changed.

  7. Hi Joanne. Thanks for catching another error. There were 133 jaguars and 1 jaguar (singular). My mistake for listing it twice. I’ve corrected that, renumbered the rest, and added the new 60th — the Buffalos.

    And yes, I went to New Trier West for one year and then it was merged with New Trier East. So I was a Cowboy for one year and a Trevian for three.

    I can tell you that there are still four “Little Giants” out there. And there are nine “Midgets.”

  8. [...] Mascot Mania Strikes Back at Jay Greene’s blog. Graduates of rival high schools (”Trevians” vs. “Giants”), Greene and I share a fascination with this issue. But he’s a lot more compulsive. He’s analyzed 19,785 mascot names (including some private and Canadian schools). Some 182 names account for 88 percent of mascots; he counted 1,566 unique names. Human or humanoid (like devils) mascots are about 36% of all names. The remaining 64% are almost all animals, with a sprinkling of weather names (e.g., blizzards, hurricanes, tornadoes). [...]

  9. My high schools were Bulldogs (Baton Rouge) and Panthers (Indianapolis), pretty common. Owls (Rice U.) are a bit more distinctive. A friend’s school is the Tarpon Springs Spongers, named after the local and presumably fierce Greek sponge divers. My wife’s favorite opponent (she was a Bulldog in California) were the Yuba City Honkers.

    At the elementary near our house, they repaved part of the play area and covered up the very faded “Greendell Guppies” paint.

  10. tamaraeden says:

    Let’s see. My high school were the Highlanders. Yes, our band wore full Scottish garb imported from Scotland. Yes, our boys were man enough to wear kilts while marching across the football field :)

    My college was The Aztecs and they recently went through a legal battle and mascot change to some ax or something. They are still the aztecs but no more indian dude.

    Where I taught the last three years we were the Barristers! That’s the worst. Most inner city high school kids have NO idea of what the hell a barrister is. To make it worse, the mascot is Johnny Barrister a short chubby pig faced judge. The mascot is so unclear that I was told recently that it’s actually a BEAR who is a judge…no idea.

    I’m part of starting a brand new high school this year and we are the Dragons. We surveyed the middle school kids who are coming to the school and they had four choices (one was Barracuda :) ) . Our logo is quite shnazzy not sure what we’ll name our dragon yet. :

    Thought I’d share :)

  11. New Trier really missed an opportunity. They could have been the New Trier Nutria.

  12. Anything might have been better than Trevians. And if people want a taste of unususal mascot names, how about these: the Coachella Valley “Arabs” in Thermal, California; the Pendleton Heights “Arabians” in Pendleton, Indiana; the Poplar Springs “Atomics” in Graceville, FL; the Blooming Praire “Awesome Blossoms” in Blooming Praire, MN (no word on sponsorship from Outback Steakhouse); the Lee Davis “Confederates” in Mechanicsville, VA; the Community “Cutthroats” in Sun Valley, ID; the Aniak “Halfbreeds” in Aniak, AK; the Laurel Hill “Hoboes” in Laurel Hill, FL; the Lower East Side Prep “Immigrants” in NY, NY; the Hickman “Kewpies” in Columbia, MO; the New Berlin “Pretzels” in New Berlin, IL; and the Bagdad “Sultans” in Bagdad, AZ.

  13. Caitlyn says:

    I am currently working on a project for the 40th class reunion of NTW. I am in desperate need of a picture of the Cowboy mascot, and cannot seem to find one any where. Do you happen to have one?

  14. Mr. Greene,
    I am writing a book about owls and one chapter is devoted to Owls on the Campus. Apparently you have done so much research on the subject of mascots, and the frequency at which each occurs that were I to do this all over again I would be “reinventing the wheel”. Do you have a list of the schools that use the OWL as their mascot? If you do have such a list, would you share it with me? Such a list would be extremely helpful. I would happily give you credit for the list and your blog in anything I write. I would even be willing to let you take a look at what is written which uses your material before I submit it to my publisher.

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