What’s in a name? A Crash Course in College History

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Despite being in contact with people from a range of different colleges on a daily basis, not many people seem to know the origins of their institution’s name. So, I set out to uncover the history of our University and delve into stories of nomenclature.

The name Collingwood originates from Edward Collingwood, a famous mathematician, who was former Chair of the University Council. Grey College was founded in honour of Charles Grey, the Second Earl Grey (yes, that Earl Grey!), who was Prime Minister at the time of the University’s foundation. Thomas Hatfield was Prince-Bishop of Durham from 1345 until 1381 and hence earned his place as the College’s name-sake. John Snow was, funnily enough, not named after the Channel 4 Presenter or the King in the North, but a 19th century physician who trained in County Durham.

John Snow was, funnily enough, not named after the Channel 4 Presenter or the King in the North

Durham’s newest college takes its name from Josephine Butler, a Victorian feminist protestor, also grand-niece of Earl Grey (of tea/Grey College fame). George Stephenson, a 19th-century engineer born in Northumberland, was the inspiration for Stephenson College. It is theorised that he created the nickname ‘Geordies’ for those from the North East. George Macauley Trevelyan was a 20th-century social historian, and Chancellor of the University from 1950 until 1957. Like Trevelyan, Sir Peter Ustinov held this same title, but at the time of Ustinov College’s formation, which had previously been known as the Graduate Society since 1965. Ustinov’s seemingly vast career history involved acting, writing, film-making, comedy, journalism and he was a TV and radio presenter.

George Macauley Trevelyan was a 20th-century social historian, and Chancellor of the University from 1950 until 1957

Castle, the oldest of all the colleges, was deemed the ‘foundation college’ with the intention of more institutions to follow. As such it was named the University College. William Van Mildert was a key figure in the foundation of the university, as Prince-Bishop of Durham at the time of its foundation. He funded the university with £2000 of his own funds every year from its opening until his death in 1936.

There are numerous colleges whose names come with particularly religious meanings. St. Aidan’s namesake was an Irish monk from Lindisfarne who restored Christianity to Northumbria, while St. Chad helped bring Christianity to his kingdom of Mercia along with St. Bede. The college of St. Hild and St. Bede was the product of two single-sex colleges merging in 1975, Venerable Bede for men, and St. Hilda’s for women. Bede, a monk of St. Paul’s monastery in Northumbria now buried in Durham Cathedral, wrote a lot about Hilda in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People. She was important in the English conversion to Christianity, also residing in Northumbria as a nun.

St. John’s was formerly a theological college, named after John the Evangelist. St. Mary’s is named after the very same Mary who birthed Jesus. St. Cuthbert’s still retains the title of ‘Society’, originally intended to be a common room for students. Another monk of Lindisfarne, after his death, he became an important figure in the establishment of the ‘Palatinate of Durham’. The inhabitants of the Palatinate became known as the haliwerfolc, which translates as ‘people of the saint’. He was buried in Durham Cathedral, along with the Lindisfarne Gospels until the 16th-century, when they were moved to London.

The inhabitants of the Palatinate became known as the haliwerfolc, which translates as ‘people of the saint’

The origins of our college names seemingly fall into two categories: people who held some position of power, be that in relation to the university or not, and those whose religious influence stretched over the university to help shape what it is today. This is what our motto states: ‘Her foundations are upon the holy hills’.

 

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One thought on “What’s in a name? A Crash Course in College History

  • St Hilda was also the founding abbess of the Abbey at Whitby, and was partially responsible for the Synod of Whitby in 664. The Synod has effects to this day, including the decision about when to celebrate the date of Easter*. Think on that as the Easter holiday approaches.

    * for completeness – Easter Sunday is the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox.

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