“Jonathan” was decided by a student poll almost 90 years ago. Who says we can’t do another?
With Oct. 5 marking our beloved mascot’s ninth birthday – happy belated, bud – I found myself asking how we came to the name Jonathan itself. 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 first University of Connecticut Husky the following year, and although his term was cut abruptly short in 1935 due to his passing, the Jonathan mascot has remained the face of the university ever since.
The Jonathan origin story, however, is not one of school spirit; Rather, the name of our special Siberian has a much darker history, one which must be addressed.
According to university archives, Jonathan’s namesake is Jonathan Trumbull, the first governor of Connecticut. A 1727 Harvard graduate, Trumbull received honor from Yale University, with a residential college in his name, as well as honorary law degrees from Yale and the University of Edinburgh. As an advisor 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 account both UConn and Yale present on their websites regarding the history of the mascot and residential college’s namesake, respectively. What is left out, however, is Trumbull’s racist past.
In 1736, with the aid of his father – a pattern of nepotism persisted throughout Trumbull’s life – Trumbull purchased Flora, a “slave for life,” from Eliphalet Adams, a prominent minister in New London, Conn. In the years following, he sat on the Connecticut General Assembly, where he served to enforce the state’s “Black Codes,” laws which existed to limit the freedom of people of color. During one case, in which three men by the names of Cato, Newport and Adam were being tried for nightwalking – walking around without the permission of their master past a certain time of night – Trumbull ruled that the men were to be “publicly whipped on the naked body for nightwalking after nine in the evening without an order from their master.” All of this took place prior to his appointment to governor in 1769, during which he continued to uphold the tail-end of Connecticut’s anti-abolitionist legislation.
To go back to our Ivy-League Connecticut counterparts for a moment, Yale renamed another one of its residential colleges in a similar manner to that which I am proposing should take place at our own university. In 2017, Calhoun College, named after John C. Calhoun, a prominent defender of slavery as Vice President and fellow slave owner, was renamed to Hopper College to both honor Grace Hopper and reinvent the university’s image as one disassociated with colonialism and slavery. In the same vein, UConn should take active steps in separating itself from America’s racist lineage in all aspects of campus life.
I must acknowledge a few caveats. To start, I do not want this to take away from more tangible actions which seek to ensure racial equity on campus, such as increasing funding to cultural centers; The name of a mascot is nowhere near as important as improving the resources allocated to these vital centers. It must also be noted that the Jonathan name is not the only way in which the university is connected 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 our mascot’s name as an unchanging or inherent truth of the university; Connecticut’s slavery and colonialist heritage must not remain a part of any feature – let alone the face – of our institution.
UConn is no stranger to renaming significant aspects of campus. The university itself has existed under multiple titles, including the 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 the Center for Undergraduate Education buildings were renamed to the Philip E. Austin and John W. Rowe Center for Undergraduate Education buildings by a Board of Trustees vote in honor of the university’s 13th president and former Board Chair, respectively.
This is also not the first call for the renaming of a significant UConn component. In March, 2022, the Undergraduate Student Government Senate passed a bill aiming 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, the same time in which 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 sports-related contender, after Harrison “Honey” Fitch, who became the first Black student-athlete to attend the university in 1932 – not to mention the nickname is gender-neutral; who says our mascot has to be male? Rivers, after Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, who attended both Mansfield Middle School and E.O. Smith High School, would be a hilarious yet fitting name given the band’s recent resurgence in popularity.
Granted, I am most definitely the last person to look toward in thinking about possible names for our furry friend, and it should be decided by the student body just as it was in 1933. However, the point stands; UConn must acknowledge Connecticut’s racist history and remove itself from its colonialist past – and present – in every way possible, and this includes renaming our university mascot.