Along with the name change from Columbian University to The George Washington University in 1904, the mascot and colors were also altered to commemorate George Washington. The colors – buff and blue - were chosen to match the uniform George Washington wore as he resigned his position as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army on December 23, 1783. The original colors of the Columbian University were blue and orange.
GW teams were referred to as the "Buff and Blue" for many years, and in the 1920's the football team was known as the "Crummen" (after coach Henry Watson Crum) and the "Hatchetites" (after the student newspaper called the Hatchet). The name "Colonials" came into use in the fall of 1926. An editorial in the Hatchet from October 27, 1926 explained the new nickname:
Dissatisfaction has been expressed for the past several years with the nicknames usually associated with the George Washington University’s athletic teams. Some years ago the name “Hatchetites” was invented for the team and it, or some corruption of it has been used ever since. Now the terms “Hatchetites,” “Hatchetmen,” “Hatchets,” Crummen,” “Axemen,” “Tongmen,” and so forth, are all very well, if not entirely euphonious, but they hardly carry the dignity that our team should bear. In the place of the names the University Hatchet suggests the use of the connotation “Colonials” for the teams of the Buff and Blue. What name could be more fitting? This, the school named after George Washington, and having as its colors the Continental Army buff and blue, the colors of Colonial America, should be entitled to bear the name of “Colonials” if any school is so entitled. George Washington University, in its antecedents, is a colonial school. Dating back to very early post-Revolutionary days, it was founded when the term “colonial” still applied to an era which was then passing. Let us then, in just regard for our precious heritage, adopt as the name for the warriors wearing the Buff and Blue the term “Colonials.”
The “Colonials” nickname has also been attributed to a faculty member and former student at GW, Elmer Louis Kayser (who held a number of positions at GW from 1914-1985 [this is not a typo, he was affiliated with GW for 70 years!], the last being University Historian. Perhaps he suggested it to some students who took it to the editorial board of the Hatchet. At any rate, GW teams have been known as the “Colonials” ever since.
As for mascots, "George 1" has been GW's mascot since 1948. “George” is the head of George Washington on top of a student wearing a colonial uniform, and used to appear at football games (this sport was abolished at GW in 1967), sometimes with wife Martha. In October 1982 Acting Men’s Athletics director W.R. “Chip” Zimmer announced that George would be replaced that season with the new “Colonial” mascot. Zimmer said the decision was made based on consultations with members of the Bleacher Bum’s, cheerleaders and the staffs of men’s and women’s athletics. He said he was told by Bob Guarasci, Bleacher Bums vice president, that most students liked the old George, but he commented, “The students like George but not really for the reasons they should like a mascot.” Zimmer added, “The people who liked it liked it because they liked having a circus-type imagine (for the mascot).” The new mascot, who could be male or female, was to be dressed in a colonial outfit, “with no mask or anything like that,” Zimmer said. Something must have changed his mind, because the mascot has continued to wear the uniform - and the George head - up to the present. The University Archives contains three old "heads" of George along with one of his uniforms (from the 1980's - the original has long disappeared). The “fighting George” emblem with “Colonials” emblazoned beneath George Washington wearing a tri-cornered “GW” hat came into being in 1998.
Unofficial mascots include dogs named Shorty in 1934 (found in the Cherry Tree yearbook), Smoky in 1947, and a horse named Nelson in the 1960’s (found in the Cherry Tree in 1963 and football media guide in 1965). A little boy in full football regalia named Mike Ryan was also a mascot/cheerleader for the team in the late 1940's (the archives has a photo of him and the Shah of Iran in 1949 when the Shah attended a game). Since 1996, the GW Hippo has also become an unofficial mascot, and appears at basketball games in the form of a student in a plastic blow-up Hippo costume.
GW's association with hippopotamuses began when President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg bought a statue of a hippopotamus in 1996 and gave it as a gift to the class of 2000. It stands on campus by Lisner Auditorium at the corner of 21st and H streets. Students rub its head and put coins in its mouth for good luck. Almost immediately, it began to appear in advertisements and campus publications.