What’s in a university name?

UK university names tend, on the whole, to be pretty straightforward. Although the Higher Education and Research Act was intended in part to usher in a new era of exciting new challenger institutions, there aren’t yet that many with thrilling and edgy names.

Most universities are named after their locations but some newer institutions have chosen names based on famous historical figures or benefactors in order to differentiate themselves. These are arguably the most interesting names in UK higher education:

Arden University
De Montfort University
Liverpool John Moores University
BPP University
Wrexham Glyndwr University
Newman University
Anglia Ruskin University
Edinburgh Napier University
Harper Adams University
Heriot-Watt University
Leeds Beckett University
Birkbeck, University of London

And my two personal favourites:

Bishop Grosseteste University
Plymouth Marjon University, formally called the University of St Mark and St John but long known as Marjon.

And there is also, of course NMiTE, the New Model in Technology & Engineering, which is a rather strange name but is in reality just a working title pending the announcement of the real name of Hereford’s new university.

The US though has a cornucopia of unusual university names as this recent best college name tournament in the Chronicle demonstrated.

The 64 qualifiers were divided thematically:

There was the Pantry Deathmatch Division (Rice, Curry, Berry, Citrus), the I Was Not Aware Of These Saints Division (St. Olaf, St. Norbert, St. Cloud, St. John Fischer), the Great Sweatshirt Division (Hickey, Holy Names, Isothermal, Defiance), the Generic Male Names Division (Gordon, Barry, Alfred, Bob Jones), and so on.

The full list is here:

The final came down to Slippery Rock University versus the Moody Bible Institute (not sure who won) but the earlier eliminations included some very impressive names including:

D’Youville College
Whatcom Community College
Epic Bible College
Millsaps College
Brazosport College
Assiniboine Community College
Wright Graduate University for the Realization of Human Potential
Visible Music College
Tougaloo College

And, unlike the list of some fake universities, these ones all appear to be real. What’s your favourite (real) university or college name?

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7 responses to “What’s in a university name?

  1. City, University of London, used to be the Northampton Polytechnic Institute.

    It wasn’t actually in Northampton, but in Northampton Square, London. Which I am told led to occasional confusion (and no doubt high jinks too) at enrolment.

  2. University names are funny things – to take one of your examples, ‘Wrexham Glyndwr University’ uses a ‘ŵ’ in it’s branding but not in their house style when using their own name, and is legally dual-named as “Glyndŵr University”/ “Prifysgol Glyndŵr” (no Wrexham at all). I remember it fondly as the only university with a circumflex (or indeed, any kind of diacritic) which made life fun when manipulating any kind of UK-wide HE data.

    I’d argue that there’s been greater number of name-changes as part of branding approaches over the last few years: witness the ‘University of X’ to ‘X University’ moves several have undertaken.

    Alas, I always associate Leeds ‘Beckett’ with Margaret, rtraher than Ernest…

  3. I thought it was Samuel Beckett. “Fail. Try again. Fail better” as the mission statement. Modules include: No Answer, In the Mud, and Employability skills in a paradox.

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