A Note on Nicknames

Introduction

The phenomenon of athletic team nicknames (sometimes called “mascots”) for high schools probably started in the 1920s, though most high schools did not adopt nicknames until the 1930s and '40s. Naperville and Wheaton, for example, became known as the Redskins and the Tigers, respectively, about 1939, while Freeport and DeKalb became known as the Pretzels and Barbs, respectively, in the early to mid-1920s, if not earlier.

      There are many stories in Illinois about sportswriters whose newspaper columns inspired high school nicknames, such as the Hoopeston Cornjerkers, the Centralia Orphans, the Monmouth Zippers, the Canton Little Giants, and the Fairfield Mules.[1]

      One of the more famous examples of this phenomenon was Edwin N. “Eddie” Jacquin, sports editor of The News-Gazette [Champaign, Ill.], 1925–1942, who inspired such names as the Atwood-Hammond Rajahs, the Fisher Bunnies, and the Arcola Purple Riders. Jacquin was “said to have supplied most member schools of the old Okaw Valley Conference with their nicknames.”[2]

      In the absence of formal nicknames, sportswriters often described high school teams by their colors—for example, “the blue and white” for Geneva (1919), or the Crimson for Batavia (1939–1944).

  

Batavia

Batavia’s famous bulldog first appeared in the mid-1940s, but Batavia High School had other nicknames as early as 1932.

      Long before Batavia’s athletic teams were called the Bulldogs, they were the Vikings. (Yes: It’s true!) There is little doubt that the predominance of boys of Swedish descent on the football field and basketball court led to the Vikings nickname. The alliteration of the V in Batavia probably helped, as well, and the name may have been inspired by a Swedish fraternal organization that was (and still is) active in Batavia, the Independent Order of Vikings. The lodge in Batavia (Ring #18) was established on 6 March 1904.

      The Vikings name was prevalent in the Batavia Herald and Geneva Republican beginning with the 1932–1933 school year. In a special edition of the East High Auroran (Thursday, 9 March 1933), which served as a program for the district basketball tournament, Batavia was the only team with a nickname: Vikings.

      The Vikings name appeared less frequently after Batavia dropped football in 1934 (for three seasons) and, by the late 1930s, the Batavia Herald regularly referred to the team as the Crimson (1938–1944)—occasionally in combination with other monikers, such as Crimson tiger, Crimson tribe, and Crimson tide. The Batavia sportswriters clearly were trying out different names on their readers, an idea for which there is significant precedent (as noted in the Introduction to this section).

      We can only speculate as to why the Vikings name fell out of favor. Alvin C. Sager, a 1937 Batavia graduate, suggested two possible reasons: East Siders—mostly not Swedish—probably disliked the name, and the lack of a yearbook, 1918–1944, probably hurt the cause.

      Perhaps the last reference to the Batavia Vikings in the Batavia Herald occurred in 1938: “The monicker [sic] ‘Vikings,’ which for many years has been the label used by sportswriters when identifying Batavia athletic teams, is about as appropriate this year as the ‘Fighting Irish’ title is to Notre Dame …. Most of this year’s high school heavyweight football eleven was composed of students claiming German and English descent …. Arnie Stenman was the only ‘Viking’ to play a major role.”[1] Ironically, the team was called the “Crimson tide” in the sports section of the same edition.[2]

      Why Bulldogs? Paul W. “Peeler” Bergeson, Jr., a 1945 Batavia graduate—as well as football captain and class president—noted that Coach Howard J. Lester (1944–1948) had arrived in Batavia and desired a nickname. The Vikings name had fallen into disuse and was picked up by Geneva (circa 1942–1943). Peeler recalled that the Bulldogs name was chosen by a student vote, though no such records survive.

      The first known reference to “Batavia bulldogs” occurred in the Batavia Herald on Friday, 16 February 1945. The name appeared for the first time in the 1946 Echo (for the 1945–1946 school year).

      In November 1967, the bulldog was officially named Brutus in a contest won by Diane Schroeder, then a junior at Batavia High School.

 

prior to 1932

No nickname  

about 1932–1938, but apparently survived until 1942

Vikings

Batavia Herald; Geneva Republican, 6 January 1933, p. 1; 10 February 1933, p. 6

      In a special edition of the East High Auroran [East Aurora High School] (Thursday, 9 March 1933), which served as a program for the district basketball tournament, Batavia was the only team with a nickname: Vikings.

      The nickname Vikings appeared less frequently after Batavia dropped football in 1934 (for three seasons, 1934–1936). The last known use in the Batavia Herald occurred in November 1938. However, the Geneva Republican was still referring to Batavia as the Vikings as late as 1942.

      Ironically, by 1942, the Batavia Herald was calling Geneva the Vikings!

1937–1944

Crimson and Gold

Crimson

 

Crimson tide

 

Crimson tiger

Crimson tribe

Red Raiders

Batavia Herald, 1937; 22 September 1944; 29 September 1944

Batavia Herald, 15 September 1939; 1 November 1940; 29 November 1940; 6 December 1940

Batavia Herald, 11 November 1938; 22 September 1939; 29 November 1940; 17 November 1944 (as Crimson Tide); 24 November 1944 (as Crimson Tide)

Batavia Herald, 29 November 1940; 6 December 1940 (as Crimson Tiger)

Batavia Herald, 6 October 1944, p. 5

Batavia Herald, 15 November 1940

1945—

Bulldogs

Batavia Herald, Friday, 16 February 1945 (first known use); 25 October 1945; 1946 Echo for the 1945–1946 school year (but not in the 1945 Echo for the 1944–1945 school year)

 

dog.jpg

1949: Cover of a commercially produced student scrapbook, which was owned by a member of the Class of 1949 

 

Battlin’ Bulldogs: The sobriquet “Battlin’ Bulldogs” appeared in the newspapers as early as 1971.— The Herald, Wednesday, 1 September 1971, p. 14

     Bob Hansen, owner of Funway Entertainment Center, has suggested that Rudy Dubis (Class of 1970, Batavia) invented the name “Battlin’ Bulldogs.” One thing is certain: Dubis popularized it.

     Dubis began to announce Batavia basketball games in 1970 as a Batavia High School senior, and was inducted in the Illinois High School Basketball Hall of Fame in 1997 as a “friend of basketball.”—Heun, "40 years of Bulldog Basketball," Daily Herald, Tuesday, 30 November 2010

 

Brutus: The bulldog was named “Brutus” on 10 November 1967—Spectator [Batavia High School], November 1967, p.1; The [Kane County] Herald, Wednesday, 6 December 1967, Section 1, p. 18

  

Geneva

The early history of nicknames in Geneva is not yet complete.

 

prior to 1942

“the blue and white”

Gecohi

Blue and White

1919

 

Geneva Republican, 6 January 1933, p. 1

Batavia Herald, 1937

1942—

Vikings

By 1942, the Batavia Herald was calling Geneva the Vikings.— Batavia Herald, Friday, 16 October 1942, p. 9

      The nickname began to appear in the Gecohi, Geneva’s yearbook, in 1944 (for the 1943–1944 school year)—but did not appear in the 1943 Gecohi (for the 1942–1943 school year).

      The Gecohi was renamed the Viking in 1948.

 


[1]For further reading on this and related topics, please see Willman, Why Mascots Have Tales: The Illinois High School Mascot Manual from Appleknockers to Zippers.

[2]Hesse, “Local, Area Nicknames Shrouded in Mystery.”

[1]“Batavia Banter.”

[2]Batavia Herald, Friday, 11 November 1938, p. 9.