What’s In A Name?

Kansas University Jayhawk

Every school I know of has a mascot. They’re said to bring good luck, especially on the sports field. One such mascot is the Kansas University Jayhawk.

The Jayhawk is a mythical creature that combines two birds—the blue jay, a noisy, cantankerous bird who steals other birds’ nests and a sparrow hawk, a stealthy hunter. You wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of a Jayhawk.

The name itself was probably coined in 1848 and was used from Illinois to Texas.

Around the time of the Civil War, the name was used to identify Kansas residents who were violently enthusiastic about their opinions for Kansas statehood. It started as a description of both those who wanted Kansas to be a slave state and those who wanted it to be free. These two factions looted, sacked one another’s settlements, stole horses, and rustled cattle.

Eventually, the name came to identify the free staters and grew to be a symbol of patriotism rather than violence. The then governor of Kansas, Charles Robinson, raised a regiment called the Independent Mounted Kansas Jayhawks. But 1886, the name was included in a cheer that would become the famous Rock Chalk chant. When the first Kansas University football team took the field in 1890, it seemed only right to call them Jayhawkers.

The question remained, however. What does a Jayhawk look like? Henry Maloy drew the first cartoon version in 1912. You can take a look at it and all the other iterations here.

Harold D. Sandy’s smiling Jayhawk is the symbol used today. It was copyrighted in 1947.

Although for many years there was only one Jayhawk mascot, another was born on the fifty-yard line during the 1971 Homecoming game. Ever since, Big Jay and Baby Jay have brought good luck to KU’s teams.

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