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SDSU officially went by the name California State University San Diego for a brief period. Above, a sign near the original Student Union. SDSU officially went by the name California State University San Diego for a brief period. Above, a sign near the original Student Union.

Terrible with Names

The story of SDSU’s least popular name, and how a future U.S. president helped change it.
By Jeff Ristine

Forty years later, it still doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

It’s a repressed memory, stored in San Diego State University’s collective subconscious but rarely brought to the fore even on occasions as special as a 125th anniversary. The disgraced relative never mentioned at family reunions. The airbrushed photograph where a historic figure has mysteriously vanished.

California State University, San Diego.

For just over a year and a half, that was the official name for the institution previously known as San Diego State College. It was displayed on a monument sign at the entrance to the school and on diplomas and official correspondence.

On campus, however, the university’s legal name was widely disdained from the moment it took effect on June 1, 1972.

Critics said it brushed off the longstanding, shorthand use of just “San Diego State” that dated back to 1921 when it was San Diego State Teachers College. The new name sounded too much like the University of California’s campus nomenclature. And by literally placing San Diego below California, it subtly minimized the historic importance of the region, some said.

Stories from the time say it was Glenn Dumke, the first CSU chancellor, who insisted on uniformity in the names of all campuses designated as universities, with the city at the end.

But the Daily Aztec completely rebuffed California State University, San Diego, announcing at the beginning of the fall 1972 semester that it would use San Diego State University in all articles (and even its front-page logo). It encouraged readers to do likewise.

Associated Students similarly disregarded the official name; representative Barbara Rustad is reported to have led a petition drive that collected 5,000 signatures supporting SDSU.

The “Underground Campaign for Creative Vandalism” repeatedly carried out nighttime raids rearranging the letters on redwood signs to spell out the preferred name, a news article said.

The campus bookstore carried clothing and other materials with both versions of the name; the SDSU merch was said to have sold much better.

And a September 1973 story in San Diego’s Evening Tribune held that President Brage Golding “never ordered more than a 30-day supply of letterheads, anticipating another change.”

The sentiment, while strong, was not unanimous.

“Editor, please be informed there is no such place as ‘San Diego State University,’” an assistant professor of classics sniffed in a September 1972 letter to The Daily Aztec.

But pressure snowballed.

CSUSD was “linguistically ridiculous,” said Larry Kapiloff, a Democratic state assemblymember who introduced a bill to rename the San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco and Humboldt campuses in line with local preferences. Mayor Pete Wilson, a Republican, supported it.

The CSU name “has not been satisfactory to a large segment of the community,” Wilson said in a letter to Governor Ronald Reagan. “Many years of tradition and longstanding identification and pride are associated with the name San Diego State.”

The future president agreed and on Sept. 9, 1973, signed both the Kapiloff bill and a similar measure carried by a state senator from Santa Clara County, which like all legislation took effect on the first day of the following year. On January 1, 1974, it was San Diego State University both in spirit and name.

Three weeks later, in the first Daily Aztec edition of the year, a hand-drawn ad from Aztec Shops crowed, “Happy San Diego State University!”

The store offered 10,000 free decals to celebrate the new — and now official — name.