The Silver Lining: Renaming Jonathan
“Jonathan” was decided by a student poll nearly 90 years ago. Who said we couldn’t make another one?
With October 5 marking the ninth birthday of our beloved mascot – happy belated, mate – I found myself wondering how we came to the name Jonathan himself. It turns out the name was the top result of a 1933 student poll, establishing the name of the university’s mascot. Jonathan I began his tenure as the University of Connecticut’s first Husky the following year, and although his tenure was abruptly cut short in 1935 due to his death, mascot Jonathan remained the face of the university. from.
Jonathan’s origin story, however, is not one of school spirit; On the contrary, the name of our special Siberian has a much darker history, which needs to be addressed.
According to university records, Jonathan’s namesake is Jonathan Trumbull, Connecticut’s first governor. A graduate of Harvard in 1727, Trumbull received honors from Yale University, with a residential college in his name, as well as honorary degrees in law from Yale and the University of Edinburgh. As an adviser to George Washington, his legacy includes providing vital resources to the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War and being revered as “Brother Jonathan” by Washington himself.
This is the narrative that UConn and Yale present on their websites regarding the history of the residential college mascot and namesake, respectively. What is left out, however, is Trumbull’s racist past.
In 1736, with the help of his father—a pattern of nepotism persisted throughout Trumbull’s life—Trumbull purchased Flora, a “life slave,” from Eliphalet Adams, a prominent minister in New London, Connecticut. . In the years that followed, he served in the Connecticut General Assembly, where he served to enforce the state’s “black codes,” laws that existed to limit the freedom of people of color. During a case, in which three men named Cato, Newport and Adam were on trial for wandering at night – walking around without their master’s permission after a certain hour of the night – Trumbull decided that the men were to be “publicly flogged.” the naked body to walk in the night after nine o’clock in the evening without order of their master. All of this took place before his appointment as governor in 1769, during which he continued to enforce the end of Connecticut’s anti-abolitionist legislation.
Going back to our Ivy-League Connecticut counterparts for a moment, Yale has renamed another of its residential colleges in a way similar to what I propose should take place at our own university. In 2017, Calhoun College, named after John C. Calhoun, a prominent slavery advocate as Vice President and co-owner of slaves, was renamed Hopper College to both honor Grace Hopper and reinvent the image of the university as a dissociation from colonialism and slavery. Along the same lines, UConn should take active steps to separate itself from the racist American bloodline in all aspects of campus life.
I have to admit a few caveats. For starters, I don’t want this to take away from more tangible actions that seek to ensure racial equity on campus, such as increasing funding for cultural centers; The name of a mascot is not nearly as important as improving the resources allocated to these vital centers. It should also be noted that Jonathan’s name is not the only way the university is tied to colonialism, with direct ties to the military-industrial complex and mission trips to apartheid states still in place. That being said, we cannot accept the name of our mascot as an immutable or inherent truth of the university; Connecticut’s slavery and colonial heritage must not remain a part of any feature – let alone the face – of our institution.
UConn is no stranger to renaming important aspects of the campus. The university itself has existed under several titles, including Storrs Agricultural School, Storrs Agricultural College, Connecticut Agricultural College, Connecticut State College, and finally the University of Connecticut, a name established after Jonathan’s. In 2012, the CLAS and Center for Undergraduate Education buildings were renamed the Philip E. Austin and John W. Rowe Center for Undergraduate Education by a vote of the Board of Trustees in honor of the 13th president and past president of the university’s board of trustees, respectively.
This is also not the first call to rename a major UConn component. In March 2022, the Senate of Undergraduate Student Government passed a bill to rename the Wilbur Cross Building due to the former governor’s ties to eugenics and forced sterilization, all of which occurred in the 1930s, just as Jonathan’s name was decided.
Possible alternatives? I’m sure many would advocate for Geno, commemorating the coach who will leave behind the most successful legacy in college basketball history. Honey is another strong contender in sports, after Harrison “Honey” Fitch, who became the first black student-athlete to attend college in 1932 — not to mention the nickname is gender neutral; who said our mascot had to be a man? Rivers, after Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, who attended both Mansfield Middle School and EO Smith High School, would be a hilarious but fitting name given the group’s recent resurgence in popularity.
Admittedly, I am most certainly the last person to turn to when thinking of possible names for our four-legged friend, and that should be decided by the student body as it was in 1933. However, the point remains; UConn must recognize Connecticut’s racist history and step back from its colonialist past — and present — in any way possible, and that includes renaming our university mascot.