What’s in a name…?

15 03 2012

On this exact day, back in 1861 Joseph Williams, along with the State Board of Education reorganized the structure of the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan. They would pass an act renaming the school to the State Agricultural College, a name that this university would hold for nearly 50 years. The place that we so closely identify with as being Michigan State University has not always been called such. In fact, MSU has gone through a series of six name changes.

On February 12, 1855 Governor Kinsley Bingham signed an act that would officially recognize the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan. This was the first name of our school and would stick for a mere six years. Once the reorganization of the college took place in 1861, the name of the school changed to State Agricultural College. This name would remain around for a little bit but eventually the school began being called Michigan Agricultural College. This informal name was used for several years before becoming official in 1909. As the university began to grow and expand, the State Board of Education as well as the State Agricultural Board and Michigan Senator Norman B. Horton saw a need to change the name once again. A name change had been contemplated since 1912, but it was not until May 13, 1925 with the support of Senator Horton (class of 1902) that a bill was passed officially changing the name of the college to Michigan State College of Agriculture and Applied Science. The school had broadened its offerings beyond agriculture to mechanical and electrical engineering, home economics, veterinary medicine, chemistry, physics, bacteriology, botany, horticulture, applied science, language, liberal arts and more and therefore the name change seemed suitable. During this time, until 1955, the college name was shortened to MSC.  The next name change took place in 1955 when the school name was changed to Michigan State University of Agriculture and Applied Science and finally Michigan State University in 1964.

During all of these name changes, our mascot changed as well. No, unfortunately we weren’t always the Spartans. With the name change to MSC in 1925, it was a general consensus among students and staff that the mascot of an Aggie for our athletic teams was no longer suitable as we were no longer solely an agricultural college. The Lansing State Journal decided to hold a naming competition. The most popular winner from this contest was “Michigan Staters”. When Lansing State Journal sports writer George A. Alderton got a hold of this information, he decided that “Michigan Staters” was too cumbersome for news columns and headlines, so he decided to take matters into his own hands. Alderton, along with Dale Stafford of the Capital News dug through rejected entries. Eventually they stumbled upon a submission from Perry J. Freemont. While traveling with the Michigan State baseball team on their first southern tour, Alderton used Freemont’s entry. From that point on, the name “Spartans” stuck! Alderton explained his reasoning for choosing Freemont’s suggestion: “When the young men of ancient Sparta went off to war, they were told to come home with their shield on high or come home carried on it”. To Alderton, this concept of a Spartan was extremely powerful and shows valor, strength, and perseverance – the name has been around ever since!

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