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University of Virginia (UVA) Cavaliers – Nickname Explained
The University of Virginia Cavaliers share a nickname with the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA franchise, but that’s where the similarities end. The explanation for the nickname University of Virginia Cavaliers actually involves a story of historical significance to the area.
Located in Charlottesville, Virginia, the school with a total student population of nearly 20,000 is often simply referred to as UVA for short (based on the VA post office state abbreviation for Virginia). The orange and navy blue now worn by the Cavaliers first came into effect in 1888 when sports teams representing the college faced off with local YMCA teams for lack of more formal competition. Many people are interested to learn that in the early days of collegiate athletics, playing games against local YMCA groups was the norm across the country. In fact, the University of Kentucky basketball program that currently has the most wins of any college team in history began its success with just one win in the 1903 season against a YMCA team ( the British team finished a disappointing 1-2 in that first season). ).
The origin of the Cavaliers nickname comes from what was happening in this region of the world in the 17th century when England was embroiled in a civil war which pitted the supporters of the parliamentary system of government against King Charles I who asserted absolute power in rule terms. The use of the word Cavalier predates the formation of the United States of America with a very similar version of the word used by William Shakespeare in his famous play Henry IV. Shakespeare chose the word to describe a swordsman who was reminiscent of the University of Virginia’s current mascot, which is a man on horseback wielding a sword. Before being written by Shakespeare in the last years of the 16th century, the historical nature of the word Cavaliers goes back to the Spanish word caballeros (translation: horseman) which is actually a derivation of the Latin term caballarius – which has a similar meaning to the Spanish term.
With a solid foundation of the etymology behind the term Cavaliers, it’s important to understand how it relates to the Virginia program at Charlottesville. Prior to the days of the American Revolutionary War, the modern state of Virginia was known as the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Commonwealth of Virginia was reputed to be home to a large number of loyalists who were very supportive of the British Crown. When the University of Virginia officially took the name Virginia Cavaliers in 1923, it was to pay homage to a bygone era when, during the tumultuous British Civil War of the 17th century, the brave people of the Commonwealth of Virginia stood aligned with Royalist supporters who were often referred to as Cavaliers.
Next time you watch the University of Virginia Cavaliers face off against the University of North Carolina Tar Heels (the oldest rivalry in the South – dating back to 1892), be sure to lean in. a friend and to impress him with your in-depth knowledge of the British Civil War of the 17th century and the subsequent role that era played in the eventual selection of the UVA Cavaliers nickname.
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