A School of Many Names

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University officially opened on Oct. 1, 1872, as Virginia’s white land-grant institution.* During its existence, the university has operated under four different legal names. The founding name was Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College. Following a reorganization of the college in the 1890s, the state legislature changed the name to Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute, effective March 5, 1896. Faced with such an unwieldy name, people began calling it Virginia Polytechnic Institute, or simply VPI. In 1944, the Virginia General Assembly followed suit, officially changing the name to Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

The act that changed the name, signed by Governor Colgate W. Darden Jr. on March 16, 1944, resulted in another change (and another use of the name) when on June 23, 1944, Radford State Teachers' College was merged with Tech and became "Radford College, the Woman's Division of Virginia Polytechnic Institute." The two schools operated under one board of visitors but eacg retained its separate institutional life. Due to the growth of both schools over time, the relationship was dissolved on July 1, 1964.

The last name change didn't come easy. Duncan Lyle Kinnear, in The First 100 Years wrote that adding "university" to the name was recommended by the Virginia Higher Education Study Commission in a 1965 report. Discussion of a possible name change on campus exposed a situation faced by the administration: "Every possible name change appeared likely to be objectionable to at least one or more important segments of public opinion in the state." Exhaustive consideration of the matter seem to limit the alternatives to a very few. The one name which seemed to emerge with any degree of widespread acceptablilty appeared to be Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University." (although Kinnear notes that the name "State University of Virginia" was floated as a possibility by the Faculty Senate). The University Council, however, recommended to President T. Marshall Hahn that he should seek legislation to add "and State University" to the existing name. The Board of Visitors voted for the addition and the General Assembly passed the act in 1970, making Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University the name of the institution effective July 1, 1970.

The name change in 1970 lead to some short-term traditions, such as pronouncing the new abbreviation VPI&SU as "Vippy Sue." There was (and still is) confusion about whether "VPI&SU" and "Virginia Tech" are two different schools. In the 1980s, two committees examined the issue. They considered a name change or ways to deal with the problems surrounding confusing references to the university and the difficulty of using a six-word polysyllable name. The committees decided in favor of retaining the name but have indicated the major problem lies in the variations and abbreviations of the name applied by the university community and unknowing media agents. Out of these meetings grew university policy 12,000, "Policy on the Usage of the University Name," which states "The accepted references to the university are (a) Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and (b) Virginia Tech. We refer to ourselves primarily as Virginia Tech. This should be used in all but the most formal applications." (There is still a long-running battle against those who refer to "Virginia Tech University" and sportscasters who call us "Vaaa Tech" during games.)

*Hampton Normal and Industrial Institute, founded in 1868, was designated the commonwealth's first black land-grant school. This continued until 1920, when the funds were shifted by the legislature to the Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute in Petersburg, which in 1946 was renamed to Virginia State University by the legislature.