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
|5||wildcat (or kit)||706|
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|
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!