Blue Devils? Tar Heels? Camels? The history behind some unique NC college nicknames.

You don’t have to live in North Carolina to be familiar with college mascot names like Wolfpack, Tar Heels and Blue Devils.

But even some who do call North Carolina home may not be familiar with all the history behind some of the state’s team and mascot names.

Here’s a look at lesser-known details on some of the schools’ mascots and sports program nicknames.

N.C. State

Most people know N.C. State is home to the Wolfpack, with a mascot obviously being a wolf, and that its core color palette is red, white and black.

It may come as a surprise for some to learn the school’s teams once wore pink and blue, went by the nicknames “Farmers” and “Techs” and had both a bull terrier and, by mistake, a coyote as their mascot, N.C. State’s historical timelines show.

The name “Wolfpack” came about in 1921, when an alum complained that the football team was “as unruly as a pack of wolves,” according to the athletic department.

After N.C. State’s third live wolf mascot escaped its pen, students raised funds for a new wolf in conjunction with Carter Stadium opening in 1966, the historical accounts show. But instead of a wolf, the animal named Lobo III turned out to be a coyote that howled often and won over the crowds.

Since 2010, a Tamaskan dog has served as N.C. State’s live mascot, Tuffy.

Another notable tidbit that outdates some fans: Wake Forest’s Demon Deacon conducted the wedding ceremony for State’s manned mascots, Mr. and Ms. Wuf, in 1981.

Mr. and Ms. Wuf, the mascots for N.C. State University athletic teams, were married during halftime of the Wolfpack's basketball game against Wake Forest on Feb. 28, 1981, at Reynolds Coliseum. The Wake Forest Demon Deacon mascot presided. Photo Courtesy of N.C. State Photo Courtesy of N.C. State


Though it has been accused of having satanic ties, Duke’s mascot is actually more tied to patriotism than religion, according to university archivist Bill King.

Blue Devils, or "les Diables Bleus," was the nickname given to the Chasseurs Alpins — blue uniform-wearing French soldiers of storied courage during World War I.

Students nominated the name in 1922, when Duke was called Trinity College, and the name was used by university newspaper The Trinity Chronicle that fall, according to King. A win over the Blue Devils in football in 1923 also led to Wake Forest’s mascot being dubbed the Demon Deacon.


People raised in North Carolina have likely heard the turpentine story — that the term Tar Heels originated with naval supply workers collecting pine tar or pitch on the bottoms of their feet.

The term was once derogatory but later became an expression of pride and was adopted by UNC in the 1880s, according to university archives.

Rameses, UNC's ram mascot, came into view when Vic Huggins, the school's lead cheerleader, decided in 1924 that if other schools had animal mascots, UNC should, too.

As the story goes, Huggins proposed a ram in likeness to UNC star fullback Jack “The Battering Ram” Merritt.

The costume version of Rameses arrived during the 1987-88 basketball season, according to school history.


Geographically speaking, East Carolina makes sense as a home to the Pirates. The eastern part of the state with its Outer Banks was a known haven to plunderers several centuries ago.

A tale told by former ECU football star Jerry Tolley claims the most feared of all pirates — Blackbeard — made his way up the Pamlico and Tar rivers to bury his treasure on what is the modern-day site of the ECU campus in Greenville.

The Pirate mascot was actually affixed to the school in 1983, and Pitt County elementary students helped come up with its name, PeeDee.

Athletes at another coastal school, Elizabeth City State, were also known as Pirates until 1964, when ECSU shifted to its current name, the Vikings.

Appalachian State

Clearly, the Mountaineers also borrow their name from a geographic region.

Their mascot, Yosef, actually got his start as fictional student “Dan'l Boone Yoseff from Appalachian,” who helped fill out ASU’s 1942 yearbook. But nowadays, the university claims Yosef (with one "f") is mountain talk for “yourself.”

If you are an Appalachian alumnus, fan or friend and have a heart filled with black and gold, you are Yosef,” the school’s athletics site explains.


Campbell has a rather popular mascot named Gaylord. But not even the university is 100 percent certain why the Camel replaced the Hornet as the nickname for Campbell’s athletic teams in the early 1930s.

One historian’s account says it possibly dates back to the turn of the century. After a fire burned down nearly the entire campus, the story goes, a visitor told school founder and president James Archibald Campbell: "Your name's Campbell; then get a hump on you! We've got work to do" — but instead, Campbell heard "You're a camel, get a hump on you."

As for Gaylord, he’s named after Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry, who attended but did not play at Campbell, according to the North Carolina History Project. Campbell’s baseball stadium is named in honor of Gaylord’s older brother Jim Perry, who did play for the Camels before his own major league career.

UNC School of the Arts

The Winston-Salem conservatory has one of the most unique mascots, despite not having official athletic teams.

“Mascot mastery can happen anywhere,” Cheetos icon Chester Cheetah said in naming UNCSA’s Fighting Pickle the Cheesiest College Mascot in the nation in 2012.

A campus-wide contest produced the name for an intramural homecoming football squad in 1972, but it’s still unclear why, according to the school. Another contest led to the official mascot design that was unveiled in 2010 in the school’s snack bar, the Pickle Jar.

Here are a few more notable mascot mentions.

Elon may have borrowed the idea for its former mascot, the Fighting Christian, from nearby Duke and Wake Forest universities, according to UNC-Chapel Hill archivist Nick Graham. Elon paid tribute to its own fire of 1923 when it changed its mascot name to the Phoenix in 2000.

UNC-Wilmington picked up the name Seahawks in 1947 from the popular Iowa Pre-Flight Seahawks of that time.

Western Carolina chose Catamounts over Mountain Boomers (ground squirrels) in 1933 — a logical match given wildcats are common in the mountain region.

UNC-Charlotte’s 49ers nickname has nothing to do with the California gold rush of 1849, though it worked out well since the surrounding North Carolina region was home to the first gold rush in American history and since the school is on N.C. 49. The numeric namesake comes from 1949, when Bonnie Cone lobbied state lawmakers to save the school — an extension of UNC known at the time as Charlotte College.

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